At the heavily-trafficked corner of Vance and Beaman streets in Clinton sits a small church, one without a pastor or a congregation.
On Sundays, when parking lots at places of worship across Sampson County are full, the small chapel’s spaces are most often empty. But the chapel stands as a beacon, open to anybody every day of the week, welcoming all who feel the need to pray, sing or sit in silent reflection. There are Bibles and hymnals in the pews, scriptures and art on the walls at the entrance and stained glass windows that invite the sunlight to dance around the small sanctuary, meticulous in its appearance.
It is known as the chapel at the corner, aptly named the Corner Community Chapel. At Christmas, an illuminated Nativity is put on display outside the church for motorists and pedestrians alike. For a long time, the small chapel was open 24 hours a day. Just recently, those open hours for prayer were whittled down to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., still seven days a week.
The church may not host regular services, but it is truly a place of worship, a house of the Lord offered for everyone, blind to race and background. And while it may not have a choir that regularly fills it with song, the church does serve as a venue for people to gather, vows to be exchanged and — most importantly — for visitors to feel closer to God.
Located at 203 Beaman St., the church building was built in 1908 as an outgrowth from Red Hill Church in the Taylors Bridge community. The church disbanded in the early 1970s and the building was acquired by the Liberty Assembly Church. Over the years, several different congregations have been in and out of the structure, which became worn as time went on.
In 2009, the church saw a rebirth.
The Foundation for Good News, Inc., a non-profit organization headed by George E. Wilson and his family, purchased the building when the last congregation faded away and the building had fallen into disrepair. It was purchased in March of that year.
“It has always been there,” said Wilson of the church structure. “Several different congregations had been there since the 70s.”
The last congregation was Hispanic and Wilson recalled driving by and seeing a yard sale set up every Saturday where the parking lot is now. When a “for sale” sign went up on the property one day, Wilson saw his next project come into focus. Wilson, who owns G. Wilson Realty and a great deal of property in downtown Clinton, has restored historic buildings in and around the downtown through the years.
“I just felt that didn’t need to be torn down and something else be put there,” he said of the chapel. “It probably wouldn’t maintain that historical flavor. I wanted to restore the building and have a chapel where folks could go and pray or meditate at will.”
On a trip to France to visit his daughter Michelle, Wilson made a late-night visit to one particular Catholic church whose architecture was rich and ornate. He adored it. He found that the church never closed and thought to himself that it would be nice to have such a place in his hometown.
“If anybody in our town wanted to go into a little church or chapel and have a moment of silence or prayer, you could probably do it after you went through all the church officials or tried to find a (phone) number for a person and then get a key to come in at a certain time,” Wilson said. “I wanted to provide something for our folks around here where they could just walk in at will.”
After it was purchased, the Corner Community Chapel was completely repaired and refurbished. New pews and stained glass windows were installed, as was a new parking lot. For many years that followed, the chapel was open all the time, just like that beautiful church in France.
One of the reasons the hours were changed was due to some vandalism, which Wilson said was nothing major. It was repaired and the church remained open. Other times, some would take overnight refuge in the church, which Wilson understood, but provided an unsanitary situation due to the lack of restroom facilities in the chapel.
Taking precautions, Wilson decided to cut down the hours and add some additional security, which included automated door locks. He didn’t want the church to be closed down.
“That way we can make sure no one is in there and then lock it with our phones,” said Wilson. “If someone happens to be in there, they can flip the lock and get out.”
Upon entering, visitors to the church will hear soft organ music playing and see artwork and scriptures that adorn the walls of the small foyer just inside the chapel’s doors. The artwork was created by Wilson’s grandson Sidney G. Tew III and Julie Stefanovich. There is a guest book where visitors can sign in and leave testimonies.
Since the chapel opened, many have shared just how much it has meant to them.
One woman went to the chapel every day during her oncology treatments. Another man stated that a visit to the chapel saved his marriage. Many people signing the guest book request prayers, while others offer a scripture, a “Praise Jesus” or words of encouragement for a soul seeking salvation. There have also been quite a few weddings in the chapel, which can be reserved for intimate occasions that may be dwarfed by a larger sanctuary.
“That little place at the corner is doing what I felt like the Lord wanted it to do,” said Wilson.
For years, the Wilson family’s Foundation for Good News provided homes for missionaries through the Clinton Pentecostal Holiness Church on Sunset Avenue, now called the Clinton Community Church, which serves as Wilson’s home church. The Wilson family also owns Christian radio stations out of Fayetteville, including Christian 107.3, which offers contemporary Christian music, and WGQR 105.7 The Christian Listening Network, a Southern Gospel station.
“Faith is very important to me,” Wilson said. “I have four children, 20 grandchildren and one great-grandchild and it’s very important for me to pass that on to my children and grandchildren.”
The church is just another vessel through which that faith and love can be shared with others. A G. Wilson Realty pen that accompanies the Corner Community Chapel guest book offers the only indication that Wilson is even affiliated with the chapel. Wilson is just fine with that.
“It’s not for our glory,” he said. “It’s for the Lord’s glory.”
Wilson takes solace in knowing that the chapel is there for everyone, whether they use it or not. He delights in hearing the stories and reading the testimonies of those who have been positively affected by simply having the chapel in their community. After all, that is why the chapel is there and why it was restored after a century of life, so that it might breathe life into others.
“The main purpose of the chapel is to have a place that it is open to everyone to come and pray,” said Wilson’s daughter Sharlene Tew. “The chapel is a place to go when you are overwhelmed. It is a quiet place for reflection, a place for prayer, a place to meet God and lay your burdens at His feet. We do feel that it has been a real blessing to the Clinton community.”
“People have enjoyed the chapel,” Wilson added. “It’s doing what I wanted it to do and I think what the Lord wanted it to do, and that’s important.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.