Pastor retires after 60 years of ensuring worship space for Southern Baptists

charley@beaufortgazette.comJune 16, 2012 

For the past 60 years, the Rev. Robert Cuttino has made sure that traditional Southern Baptists in South Carolina have had places to worship that are convenient and close to their homes.

"If they are without a church ... we will go ahead and form a church," said Cuttino, who has helped open several churches in the Lowcountry, including Grays Hill Baptist Church, Shell Point Baptist Church, Sea Island Baptist Church on Lady's Island (now known as Meadowbrook Baptist Church) and North Island Baptist on Hilton Head Island.

Cuttino, who lives in Beaufort, retired this spring as pastor at his most recently formed church, Sea Island Chapel, which opened eight years ago on Hilton Head.

As a young man, Cuttino always knew he would work for a church. He said he was impressed with how his church had helped to stabilize his and other families during the war.

A high school football quarterback and fullback who later became a coach at Wofford College and Yale University, Cuttino set his sights on being a youth minister early on, but later found a greater need to fill the pulpit.

Music was another draw for him.

"I loved music, and that is where the pretty girls were," said Cuttino, who met his wife, Molly, when she was singing in the choir.

The 82-year-old is a traditionalist and said he prefers conventional music as well as conventional worship "versus the happy, clappy-type music."

In the late 1980s, Cuttino was recognized by the Southern Baptist Convention as having started the highest number of ultra-conservative/moderate-view Baptist churches within 18 months. At that time, there was not a Southern Baptist church between Beaufort and Sheldon.

Currently, Cuttino sees a shift in local worship, with more people attending nondenominational churches.

"A lot of churches are ones in which it is whatever meets your needs or whatever fulfills your best ideas," he said.

Over the years, Cuttino has been the go-to person for many of the community's needs -- whether it be breaking new ground on churches for speakers of other languages or helping fight crime.

"The chief of police walked into the Baptist Church of Beaufort and asked me if I could do something about the terrible crime record in the Northwest Quadrant of the city," Cuttino recalled. With the help of Patricia Bush and Chuck Chapman, Operation Good Neighbor was formed in the 1990s and four black churches and four white churches teamed up to clean 40 blocks in Beaufort. They also offered Bible classes and cleaned area parks.

Their efforts continue to be successful to this day.

Betty Rhoads, the pianist at Meadowbrook Baptist Church, said she is amazed by Cuttino's ability to get to know and remember people.

"(He) is the most remarkable man to be sure," she said. "He never forgets a name. When I first met him, I was one of hundreds to meet and welcome him at the Baptist Church of Beaufort, and six months later I ran into him, and he remembered not only my name, but that I was music director for the Laurel Bay Baptist Church. I think he is one of the greatest pastors I've ever met."

Helen Valois, a member of Sea Island Chapel, also was a congregant under Cuttino at North Island Baptist.

"No one equals him," she said.

"You know how church people are, we never agree, but with him as our leader we never had a disagreement. He could keep a group together and never, ever have any confrontations."

Cuttino has retired for health reasons, but he will return to Sea Island Chapel to offer monthly sermons. He also is available as an alternate pastor and will continue to teach his "Walk Through the Bible" series at churches of all denominations and the University of South Carolina Lancaster and University of South Carolina Beaufort, where he has been an adjunct professor for 30 years.

Cuttino said he hopes his work inspires others.

"I am so proud of young people in the churches that I have served who have gone on to do church work. Maybe it is it because they saw me having so much fun there."

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