Rock Hill church turns former nightclub into sanctuary

The red, green and blue disco lights that dance across the floor are reminders of the building’s bygone days as a comedy nightclub and dance hall.

Kent Reeder turns off the lights, pauses and jokes that the lights are appropriate. “After all, we are Illumine Church!”

The disco lights are just some of the items that resourceful members of Illumine Church have have kept or salvaged as they turn the space on Riverchase Boulevard just off Celanese Road from a bar into a house of worship.

The horseshoe bar that once dominated the space is gone, but the tile sides have been turned into tables. The rails that once separated the dance floor from the bar have become table legs. A tiki bar is used as a buffet table for the church’s potluck dinners.

The bar’s kitchen still has some of the basics needed for commercial use. Reeder, the church’s 28-year-old pastor, envisions a day when it can be a community soup kitchen. His ultimate goal is to have a building that in some way serves the community each night of the week.

The only furniture with an obvious religious connection is a baptismal font donated by another church. It doesn’t fit the still spartan bar-like decor, and Reeder says Illumine will likely use it to collect aid for the poor.

The efforts to turn a bar into a sanctuary have been humorous, Reeder said. “We are the church with most bottle openers,” he said, and “we joke about sliding you a communion cup.”

But, “this is a good use of space that people were once comfortable with in a different context. It has reached a pinnacle in redemption. We have taken down the bar to serve the Gospel.”

Reeder was sent to Rock Hill to plant a church after completing his training at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. The Minnesota native had some experience in South Carolina, serving as an intern at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Summerville.

The experience taught Reeder he wasn’t just planting a church, he was planting a church in the South, in a community that has a church on every corner, and in a community where every denomination is represented.

He was also planting a Lutheran church in a community where the Lutheran church is considered by some as one of the more liberal denominations. Illumine Church, he says, is part of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and it is “the most conservative Lutheran church.”

“I rely heavily on the meaning of grace,” Reeder says, “with the Holy Spirit walking inside you.”

Preaching, he continues, “is simple, all you have to do is reflect God’s word as clearly as possible.”

Reeder started Illumine with a core of 15 people, most of whom had been worshiping at Grace Lutheran in Charlotte.

They held services at the Regal Manchester Cinema before moving to the Riverchase Boulevard building. Members of the congregation are still transforming the building, and a grand opening is scheduled for Dec. 14.

The work is consistent with Illumine’s three-part focus. Members worship, learn, and serve their community.

With that outlook, Reeder admits his job is part pastor and part entrepreneur. People who come to Illumine will find themselves putting their talents to work for the church and community.

“This is not one shepherd and a lot of sheep,” Reeder said. “We need more shepherds; everyone needs to be involved.”

To grow Illumine, Reeder wants to focus on those not in church, “not those already being fed.”

Two challenges Illumine faces, Reeder says, are the strength of the matriarchal church and a move to more secularism.

When he talks to people who do not go to church, many often say if they went back to a church, “it would be their mother’s.” But, he says, there must have been a reason they left that church.

The secular challenge will rise as Rock Hill brings in more technology-based businesses with more young workers, people who are less likely to be connected to a church. It will be Reeder’s job – and that of others – to help those workers “be responsible for their own spiritual journey.”

“Life in Rock Hill as we know it will change,” Reeder said. “Christendom will no longer be the reigning force.”

But, that’s OK, he says. “Jesus will still win.”