Exploring Religion in Beaufort: St. Helena Parish Church

10 October 2021

Bobby Clagett

Sunday afternoon, the class got a wonderful opportunity to learn all about the Parish Church of St. Helena. This church struck us with its beauty and rich history. As one can imagine, this church has seen a lot considering that it is one of the oldest churches in North America. Through the many hardships of America’s history, the church is still well and adored by those who are a part of it. Elaine Yates, who was one of our three tour guides, represented that love and appreciation extremely well. Her enthusiasm and pride in the church and the city of Beaufort made a very pleasurable experience for the class. The other two tour guides, Carl Howk and Jim Andrews, did as well. They were very knowledgeable about the history of the church and the town of Beaufort.

Side view of the church

At first, we stood in the main entrance of the church and learned about St. Helena and the ties that the church had to its roots in England. Then we sat in the pews and Jim told us about the start of the church in America. He told us about the journey that the church had as our country went through its ups and downs from the time of the first settlers all the way to post-Civil War.

View of the inside of the church from the alter

We were then able to walk around the church and look at a few of its highly esteemed artifacts and features. As we were doing so, we would chat with Elaine, Jim, and Carl, and they would tell us some asides of interesting stories and facts about the church and the people associated with it. Finally, Carl gave us a tour through the graveyard, which fills entirely the front, side, and back yard of the church. Here we learned about the people of the church which helped us shape the narrative of the history behind the church. The graveyard consisted of entire families and several known soldiers. We were told stories of a few of the families and their contributions to the church, the town of Beaufort, and even America. It was interesting to learn about the various types of people in the graveyard and their stories.

Just a few of the many graves that surrounded the entire yard of the church.

I think this church definitely helped construct an idea about the “place” of Beaufort and its people. We discussed a little bit about how a church is traditionally a center or a foundation for a town. Therefore, learning about that church and its history is important for learning about the town, especially a town as historic as Beaufort. Wallace Stegner in his essay “Sense of Place” says, “If you don’t know where you are, says Wendell Berry, you don’t know who you are”. After learning about this church and its history, we got a better understanding of where we are and who Beaufort is.

Through this experience I learned that I find joy in meeting new people in new places. It was fun to learn about the history of religion in a town which is something I have never done. It truly did help with getting a better sense of place for the town of Beaufort. Something else I learned in a more general sense of our trip was how important religion is to many of the people in the low country.