Meet the pastor of Rock Hill Missionary Baptist Church, Mr. Leon Winn
by Laura Stone | July 8, 2018 6:05 am
Last Updated: July 7, 2018 at 11:09 am
Business owner, salesman, cosmetologist or pastor, there are many ways to describe Leon Winn, pastor of Rock Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Manning.
Winn grew up in Hinesville, Georgia, and graduated from high school at Bradwell Institute. With a desire to serve his country, Winn joined the U.S. Air Force, active for his first few years, then on reserve. During his 16 years in the Air Force, Winn served as a jet engine mechanic.
While in the reserves, Winn worked in a variety of positions outside the military. He graduated the Criminal Justice Academy in 1975 and became a police officer in Columbia. Within a few years, he returned to Hinesville, Georgia, to work as a deputy sheriff. He hoped to become the first African American sheriff in that county.
After a year, however, Winn returned to Columbia where he worked as a bounty hunter and grocery store clerk. After leaving the grocery store position, Winn asked God to help him create his own job. The next day, he spoke to a barber, asking about barbering school. The barber wisely advised Winn that he’d make more money fixing women’s hair, so Winn attended Fairfield Beauty School in Columbia.
Upon graduation, he went to work in cosmetology, remaining in that field for 25 years, eventually owning a series of beauty shops. Throughout those years, Winn also worked in a jewelry store part time, owned a carpet store and worked in car sales, part of that time with his own car lot.
A few years after he began working as a cosmetologist, Winn received a call from God to become a pastor. He very quickly entered seminary at Morris College, earning a bachelor’s degree in theology. He then earned a doctorate in divinity from Overcoming Outreach School of Religion in Columbia.
In the mid-1980s, while working other jobs, Winn began preaching at Red Hill Baptist Church in Fairfield County, where he stayed until the early 90s. His next six years were spent as pastor of New Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Lancaster.
Winn had begun working at Webber Elementary School in Eastover as the in-school suspension supervisor and basketball coach. There he met a man who later became a pastor, and Winn invited him to preach at New Zion.
Later the man invited Winn to preach at Rock Hill Missionary Baptist, as they were seeking a new pastor. Winn accepted the invitation and preached his first sermon at Rock Hill. Although he continued to work at Webber Elementary for a few more years, Winn realized he had found where he needed to be.
“It has to be a spiritual connection or reckoning with God,” said Winn. Winn sold his Columbia salons and moved to Sumter, although he continued to work at Webber Elementary for a few more years.
Winn has now been at Rock Hill for 21 years, and he has been through a great deal in his own life and with the church body.
“Every conceivable thing a pastor can go through with a church, I’ve been through. But through it all, we’re still here. Pastoring is like a marriage. If you stay through it all, you see the blessing of it,” said Winn.
The 310-member body averages 75-100 members present each Sunday, with occasionally close to 200 members present. The church has opened their arms and hearts to the Clarendon County community through service and friendship.
As president of United People Pushing for Progress, Winn has led Rock Hill to save residents from losing their homes, even sending members to Columbia to put a new roof on the house of a woman in need. During the 2015 flood, the church set up in and fed over 1000 people. They also set up another cooking station at Scott’s Branch High School to feed those in need. During Hurricane Matthew, they went to Manning High School and cooked fish for six hours, feeding those who came.
Winn was the first pastor in South Carolina to instate a “Biker Sunday,” encouraging folks to come to church on their motorcycles. Although only a few attended the first year, it has grown to over 100 bikers.
Rock Hill is also the first church in the area to bring African American and white churches together. A four-night revival was held, which included Rock Hill Missionary Baptist Church, Home Branch Baptist Church in Manning, Lakewood Baptist Church in Rock Hill, and Providence Baptist Church in Sumter. The revival meetings were held at a different church each night.
“Now they’re churches where we know people. I could go in and sit down, and we’re not strangers. We’re part of the community,” said Winn. “It just takes people to bring it together.”
Although leading the church consumes much of his time, Winn still works outside the church. He is currently a sales consultant at Nissan of Sumter.
“I’ve never had only one job as a man,” said Winn.
Winn is also the second vice-chair of the South Carolina Republican Party and is chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party Minority Outreach. Although he is a member of the Sumter County GOP, he remains active with the Clarendon County GOP as well, as he pastors in Clarendon. Winn has run for a South Carolina senate seat twice and intends to run for the senate seat in District 36 in 2020.
In his free time, although he says he doesn’t have much of that, Winn enjoys hunting and states he is just shy of professional level with his deer and wild hog hunting skills. He is also beginning to fish again. His heart, however, is with people and his congregation.
“My greatest joy is to change people’s lives to the better,” said Winn. “[The congregation and I have] been through a lot, and through it all, they’ve stuck with me. What more can you ask of people? It’s not only their love for me but their love for my family and my wife. It’s genuine.”