Pastoring an Island Without a Bridge
Founded in 1881 by former slaves, First Union African Baptist Church is a testament to unity and heritage.
Daufuskie Island, only accessible by boat, is a diverse blend of longtime residents, native Gullah descendants, and wealthy newcomers. “I have always had a love for this church because my sixth generation of family has attended this church,” church member Sallie Robinson said. Around 500 people live on the island full-time and as many as 2,000 are on the island in the summer.
First Union African Baptist Church serves as a testament to the island’s historical legacy and the enduring contributions of the Gullah people. The Gullah community built the church, and their influence permeates the island’s culture to this day. “We live carrying on their heritage, which is why it’s so important for us as a church to honor that,” pastor Aaron Crosby said.
A Church’s Legacy
When the Civil War ended, there were many newly freed slaves who happened to be Christians without a true house of worship. “A group of them get together, they take out of their meager means, they buy 12 acres of land, and they build a church,” Crosby said. “It had to be sacrificial giving because they had nothing.” Tragically, that building burned down within a couple of years, but the members dug even deeper to build a second church building. This is the one that still stands to this day.
“One of the unique things about this church is it’s the only church on Daufuskie Island. If somebody wants to worship Jesus, this is where they come,” Crosby said. Because of accessibility, the island’s diversity is represented each Sunday on the church pews. “We get a sense of diversity that a lot of the churches on the mainland would just love to have,” Crosby said.
A Pastor’s Journey
Pastor Aaron Crosby says his journey to Daufuskie is “a story that’s got God’s fingerprints all over it.” He moved to the island in 1994 and met the woman he would marry and the people who would lead him to Christ. Dr. Clarence Edmondson, the former pastor of FUABC, took Crosby under his wing and mentored him. Crosby began teaching a Sunday school class and was asked to preach a sermon. From there, he continued learning and preaching until he was ordained, and when Edmondson retired in 2015, Crosby was called to serve as pastor.
“We’re cut off from the mainland, but as a pastor, metaphorically speaking, I’m also on an island without a bridge,” Crosby said. With no formal training in pastoral leadership, Crosby recognized his limitations and consulted with a local Associational Missionary who encouraged him to participate in the NextStep process for leadership development.
“When I became pastor here, I didn’t have a network, and so, being isolated already by the water that surrounds our island, I was further isolated because I didn’t have this established network of other pastors,” Crosby said. Through NextStep, Crosby found connections and mentors that could strengthen him in his role as pastor. “It’s hard to say how much better I am as a result, but I can promise you this, I am a better pastor because of it,” Crosby said.
Following the Holy Spirit’s leading, the church voted to cooperate with the South Carolina Baptist Convention in December 2022. Now, thanks to NextStep and the Janie Chapman Offering, “a bridge is built that connects me to the mainland. No longer am I on my own,” Crosby said.