CHARLESTON, S.C. A stroll southward through historic Charleston with its elegant mansions, statues, churches and historic buildings as old as the country, and ever-present palmetto trees, ends at Battery Park at the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper rivers. Charleston Harbor from here includes the Ft. Sumter National Monument on an island in the distance.
The firing on Fort Sumter, held by U.S. troops, by artillery of secessionist South Carolina in the early morning hours of April 12, 1861, sparked the Civil War, fulfilling prophecies Joseph Smith made nearly 30 years earlier about "the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls" (Doctrine and Covenants 87:1; see also Section 130:12).
Today, historic Charleston and its harbor are peaceful places in an area growing in population and the strength of the Church. The Charleston South Carolina Stake has 11 wards and branches, and a temple stands just 100 miles away in Columbia.
A native of Charleston, Dee Dee Squires was born and raised in the historic area on the southern tip of the peninsula between the rivers. There are very few members in that part of the city where important events in American history were staged, including some from the American Revolution and the War Between the States and where various other churches have been entrenched for centuries, Sister Squires said. Tradition and social order have a grip on the people that is hard to break.
Sister Squires herself was born into a prosperous family and she grew up with family traditions and societal privileges, including her own debutante ball when she was a teen. One of her direct ancestors had captained blockade-running ships during the Civil War, and her grandfather was a prominent citizen and respected naval architect.
She doubts she would have ever joined the Church if she hadn't gone away to Salem College in Winston-Salem, N.C. It was there that a friend introduced her to the Church, leading to her baptism in 1975.
She holds deep respect for her family and pride in her heritage as the daughter of good parents who had good parents before them. "Faith and religion were very important to them," she said.
She and her husband, Pat, who was also baptized in 1975 and married her in the Atlanta Georgia Temple in 1983, are members of the Mount Pleasant Ward. They have three sons.
Outside of downtown Charleston, the Church is doing well, according to stake President Les Cooper. "We have an active, vibrant stake," he said.
President Cooper is another Charleston native, a lifetime member of the Church whose great-grandparents joined the Church in southern Georgia. His family moved to Charleston when he was 9 years old.
"It's a wonderful place to live," President Cooper said, adding that it's a "good place to raise a family."
Membership is made up of Charleston natives, move-ins and a significant number of military personnel stationed in the area. There is also a thriving young single adult branch near downtown Charleston attended by single members of the military as well as students at schools such as College of Charleston and The Citadel.
Members of the branch "are very active and do good missionary work," President Cooper said.
There is also a thriving Spanish branch, due in large part to the efforts of branch President Clemente Torres and his wife, Miriam, according to Sister Squires. She said Sister Torres is a fearless representative of the gospel, sharing it generously with many who then respond positively.
President Cooper said President and Sister Torres are humble people who "want to promote the Church in the Spanish language group around here. It is a growing branch. Sister Torres is a top-notch missionary."
Primarily because of the active involvement of the members, missionary work is successful throughout the stake, President Cooper said. He noted that the stake consistently leads the South Carolina Columbia Mission in number of baptisms.
So while Charleston continues to be known for its culture and history, the Church is making its own history in the area.
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