New scholarship named for Hilton Head pastor on his 10th anniversary

The Rev. Douglas K. Fletcher, senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church on Hilton Head Island, S.C., during a special service marking his 10th anniversary at the church on Sunday, June 3, 2018.
The Rev. Douglas K. Fletcher, senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church on Hilton Head Island, S.C., during a special service marking his 10th anniversary at the church on Sunday, June 3, 2018. Submitted

First Presbyterian Church of Hilton Head Island marked the Rev. Douglas K. Fletcher's 10th anniversary as senior pastor Sunday by announcing a scholarship in his name for Lowcountry students who are the first in their families to attend college.

"First Presbyterian Church is contributing the first $25,000 to this scholarship fund and we invite members and their friends to contribute to the scholarship fund as well," clerk of session Michele Green said.

She said the scholarship fund is in keeping with the church vision and mission adopted under Fletcher's leadership — "Every member in ministry" and “Changing lives … making disciples."

Fletcher, 65, spoke of needs in the Lowcountry during Sunday's special service.

He pointed to an "amazing contrast" between the wealth of Beaufort County and the poverty of five surrounding counties, and what that means to a church.

"I think of our church and all its capabilities and all the talent and all the discretionary time and resources here," Fletcher said. "We all need to understand that we need to step in. Every one of us can make a difference beyond what we can imagine."

He told members they were made by God to serve, not to be consumers and not to be comfortable.

"We are to live a life of purpose, significance and meaning, to make a difference as best as we can," he said.

Fletcher and his wife, Wesla, arrived in the Lowcountry shortly before a hurricane scare, which had them mumbling words from the Gospel of Matthew about building a house on the sand.

That was followed by the Great Recession that took a heavy toll on the savings of retirees, who make up a majority of the 1,400-member church.

"The can-do spirit of the congregation really impressed me and surprised me," Fletcher said.

He said the congregation flew into the teeth of the recession, raising $4 million then and a total of $7 million over the decade to expand, remodel and repair facilities.

The facilities help the church, founded in 1957 in a small chapel at Honey Horn, to continue its tradition as a "community church," he said, opening its doors to many organizations.

He also called it a "destination church," with visitors from around the world and members coming from a variety of backgrounds nationwide.

"We have a distinct ministry," he said.

"There isn't a lot of community in the world, and the church can help provide that."

Before coming to the Lowcountry, Fletcher led a church in Austin, Texas, which counted among its members Texas royalty in football coach Darrell Royal, and President George W. Bush confidant Karen Hughes.

He and Wesla both hold doctorates. She is an ordained United Methodist minister whose grandfather W.Y. Chen was Methodist bishop in China and imprisoned for his beliefs. In the Lowcountry, Wesla Fletcher is a psychology instructor at the University of South Carolina Beaufort.

Fletcher was asked about his travels, which he said included teaching in an underground seminary in China.

"I grew up in Iowa in the 1950s and '60s," he said. His travels, often with parishioners, have given him a chance to get "a sense of the bigger church and see the faith people have in circumstances where they don't have so much. It made me realize the church is not an American mid-20th century phenomena, but it reaches across centuries and continents.

"It's a very big thing we've been invited to be a part of," he said. "I've always found that people of faith live bigger lives, not living just for their entertainment or comfort."

As to the future, Fletcher said the church must put more focus on youth and young families.

"We need to pass on the faith and the hope and the love of Jesus Christ to the generation behind us," he said, noting that he and Wesla have become grandparents since moving here.

"The church of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world," he said.

David Lauderdale: 843-706-8115, @ThatsLauderdale