Coastal towns are a testament to resilience. The ocean, the sand and the wind work slowly to corrode infrastructure. Storms and hurricanes bring a more sudden form of destruction. Yet residents continue to return, rebuild and restore their towns. In Southern communities, this intrinsic determination to remain is augmented by a strong love for the preservation of tradition and history. The Pawleys Island House of Worship exemplifies these qualities.
First built in Georgetown, the chapel originally served as a Pentecostal church. In 1946, the chapel moved north to Pawleys Island. Over the course of two years, the Georgetown Laymen’s Association rebuilt the chapel on the island, where it became the Pawleys Island House of Worship.
Only six years later, Hurricane Hazel hit the island. The Category 4 storm touched down near Little River with 106 mile per hour winds and storm surges over 15 feet tall. All in all, the storm caused $27 million in damage.
In 1989, Hurricane Hugo struck and Pawleys Island residents again faced a decision on whether to repair the chapel. The hurricane, which touched down on Sullivan’s Island, resulted in more economic damage than any prior hurricane. Hugo introduced Pawleys Island to a new level of destruction. Houses were destroyed and the island became so flooded that it was split in half, and fast currents flowed between the two halves.
In both instances, the Pawleys Island Rotary decided to restore the chapel. Due to these efforts, the chapel has not only survived but also has remained a centerpiece of community on the island. The chapel can be rented out for marriages from Labor Day through Thanksgiving, and last year, over 20 couples tied the knot there.
Moreover, the chapel remains Pawleys Island’s only religious space. Every Sunday, residents and vacationers alike make their way to the chapel for its 10 a.m. service. The service is volunteer run, and pastors from nearby churches visit to give sermons. In response to the diversity of belief systems present, the visiting preacher often offers the audience an alternative to the sermon: If an audience member finds him or herself in disagreement with the sermon’s message, he or she can simply look past the pastor out of the chapel’s back wall of windows and admire the calming marsh view.