“We’re just having the best time.”

That’s how retired school teacher Margaret Mills describes her association with Carolina Church in rural Itawamba County.

61-year-old Mills and a group of like-minded others started Carolina Church two years ago, meeting first in the former Carolina schoolhouse, which now serves as a community center. Just over a year ago, they bought and renovated a dilapidated former store in the small hamlet Mills calls home.

“This has been a store since any of us can remember,” she said. “It’s in the center of the community and it’s always been a gathering place. We want it to be a gathering place again.”

Mills said the newly refurbished two-story structure was a bit of a fixer-upper.

“The roof had termites and it was about to cave in,” she said. “We actually had a snake fall out of the rafters right on top of us. It was a challenge.”

Though small in size, Carolina Church is clearly not afraid of big challenges. Mills explained that the congregation, which is temporarily without a minister, has done just fine.

“We’re doing better than I thought we would without a minister,” she said. “We’ve enjoyed having guest speakers and people contact us asking if they can come speak. We’ll start looking pretty soon, but as long as we’re reaching people, it doesn’t matter.”

Mills said members of Carolina Church are reaching out to people of all ages and backgrounds with an ambitious slate of ministries.

“We have a food pantry, a clothes closet, a blessing box, and a monthly meeting for seniors called ‘The Gathering,’” she said. “We have a van ministry and on Wednesday nights we have a youth program where we serve a meal. Then on Thursday nights, we have a Bible study that meets in someone’s home. Oh, and we have a women’s ministry that meets once a month.”

Mills said when the church is ready to hire a minister, they’ll be looking for someone who’s ready to roll up their sleeves.

“We need to find someone willing to jump into everything,” she said. “We want to find someone who’s really active.”

Mills said with or without a minister, the 40-or-so active members of the church have all chipped in to shoulder the load from the very beginning.

“People have been so generous,” she said. “Not just our members, but people in the community. We’ve got so many talented members. I think that’s why we’ve been able to carry on without a minister. Everyone serves and gives. We love each other and we love Carolina.”

Mills said the burgeoning church is focused on its mission and has its eyes set on the future.

“We want to save souls,” she said. “We’re here to give. That’s what we’re about, but we’d like to have some help. Our goal is to reach 200.”

Angie Engles is the volunteer children’s minister at Carolina. The 45-year-old Peaceful Valley resident said service to others is “baked into the cake,” even for younger members.

“We’re teaching our children stewardship,” she said. “We teach them to take care of our elders and serve the community. They’re not just coming in and coloring a 10 Commandments coloring page and singing ‘Jesus Loves Me.’”

Engles said community response to the church’s outreach has been positive, and the congregation is already discussing plans for expansion.

“We basically outgrew our building when we moved in,” she said. “It has served our purposes, but we’re discussing either adding on or building a new structure.”

Engles said teamwork has been the key to the congregation’s growth and unity.

“We’re like gears in a motor,” she said. “On our own, we’re useless; but when you put it all together, it all works.”

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