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‘A big shoe to fill:’ Rev. Hamilton, of Hilton Head St. James Church, dies at 65

Pastor of historic St. James Baptist Church on Hilton Head Island sings with choir

Rev. Dr. Charles E. Hamilton Sr. , the pastor of Hilton Head Island's historic St. James Baptist Church, sings with the men's choir at a service in January 2019. The pastor died in May. He was 65 years old.
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Rev. Dr. Charles E. Hamilton Sr. , the pastor of Hilton Head Island's historic St. James Baptist Church, sings with the men's choir at a service in January 2019. The pastor died in May. He was 65 years old.

The Rev. Dr. Charles E. Hamilton Sr. was on the front page of The Island Packet earlier this year when he talked about the foundation of the historic St. James Baptist Church on Hilton Head Island.

He said it rattled as jets flew over his head from the Hilton Head Island Airport.

But Hamilton, who died May 29 at age 65, was the foundation of the church.

And he never rattled.

“If it was a bad day you would never know it,” friend Sharon Brown said Friday. “He had a glow about him regardless ... those kind of people are very rare nowadays. He was thankful to be on this Earth.”

Hamilton, who was retired, said he considered himself a “new” pastor at the church, although he was there for 19 years. Churchgoers regularly shared photos and videos of him as he sat at the piano and belted songs. He was known for starting a ministry group for mothers and a men’s chorus.

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Sheilah Mervin Submitted

Terrence Wallace, who was Hamilton’s chairman deacon for eight years, said he was a “great preacher and a great teacher.”

“He was definitely the glue that held us all together through the good times and tough times,” he said.

Hamilton last spoke with The Island Packet in March about the church’s long-fought relocation by The Town of Hilton Head Island to remove the building from the object-free zone of the airport.

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A business jet takes off over St. James Baptist Church in February 2010. The boom of commercial jet service to the Hilton Head Island Airport has put places such as the church and the Old Cherry Hill School in jeopardy. Island Packet staff.

Hamilton discussed being the pastor that was going to take the congregation through the transition period of moving to a new building, and away from the plot where the church was first established in 1886.

“As a pastor your first responsibility is the safety of your people — your congregation,” he said in March. “There should be enough room on this island for all of us.”

Hamilton lived in the Simmonsville Road area Bluffton and was a deacon at First Zion Missionary Baptist Church before his move to St. James. He was a spirited church musician there too, according to the church’s website.

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Sheilah Mervin Submitted

Hamilton was a father who “didn’t tolerate no nonsense,” when his boys were at Bluffton High School, Brown said.

Hamilton told The Island Packet in March his role as a pastor was to represent the church’s history and “speak on behalf of those ancestors that established the literal foundation of St. James.”

“They’re going to have a big shoe to fill at that church,” Brown said.

There will be a public walk-through viewing from 3 p.m. until 4 p.m. on June 3 at First Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Bluffton.

Another walk-through viewing will be held from 5 p.m. until 6 p.m. on June 3 with a wake service immediately following from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. at St. James Baptist Church on Hilton Head.

His celebration of life ceremony will be held starting at 11 a.m. on June 4 at Campbell AME Church in Bluffton.

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Katherine Kokal moved to South Carolina in 2018 after graduating from the University of Missouri and loves everything about the Lowcountry that isn’t a Palmetto Bug. She has won South Carolina Press Association awards for in-depth and government beat reporting. On the weekends, you can find Kati doing yoga and hiking Pinckney Island.
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