Event chips away at racial divisions, political differences

                                                Leon Winn was having fun. The 59-year-old pastor of Rock Hill Missionary Baptist Church had run into a little rain Sunday morning, so he was late. And when he strode to the pulpit, he was still wearing his leather vest. A bandana was tied on his head. He's a biker. And a man of faith. He recently lost in the Republican primary to face off against longtime 6th District U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., but he's lost none of his upbeat outlook. And a little bit of rain was only going to slow him down and certainly wouldn't stop him. "I'm a hardcore man," he said with a grin to the audience, a mix of black people and white Republicans visiting the cozy Clarendon County church. Winn joked easily with the congregation, whose laughter flowed like the rain falling outside. Among the visitors for the 2nd annual Faith, Fellowship and Biker Sunday event were S.C. Secretary of State Mark Hammond and his wife, Ginny. Sitting next to the Hammonds were Moye Graham, the Clarendon County GOP Chairman, and Matt Moore, the S.C. GOP Chairman. "This is truly a day the Lord has made," said Hammond from the pulpit. "It's truly a blessing to be here." Hammond, in his 12th year as secretary of state and up for re-election this fall, spoke briefly about his father, who served in the Highway Patrol for 33 years. One of his most honored assignments as a state trooper, Hammond said, was watching over voter registration. "So everyone can vote," he said to warm applause. Hammond presented Pastor Winn with an official Recognition of Achievement for his work with the church. "These are the decent, decent good people. Give them a hand. They're really trying to bring the state together in a positive way," and improve the state, Winn told the audience. The current political climate in America, Moore said, separates us. "There's nothing here but sinners saved by grace," he said. "We're all in the same boat fighting for the same things." Graham, who also chairs the 6th Congressional District for the GOP, noted that it was great to see people of all faiths under one roof. Sunday morning is usually one of the most segregated hours across America, he noted. "That's not true here at Rock Hill Missionary Baptist Church," he said. "There's no divisiveness." God judges you by what's in your heart, he said, and not the color of your skin. "Right here, in Clarendon County, at Rock Hill Missionary Baptist Church, we are changing the world," Winn said, as he recognized Republican party officials from all around the state. The Lord allowed "each and everyone to come here today in unity and a sense of worship," he said, before delving into a sermon built around 2 Corinthians 4:16-20. "Therefore we do not give up," he said. "Don't lose heart. Don't lose heart. Don't give up regardless of the circumstances ... First and foremost you've got to trust God." "Amen," several people said in unison.                 Winn said he'd like to assemble a coalition of young people to walk from the Clarendon County Courthouse to the Statehouse in Columbia. Some people laughed, and Winn smiled. Young people need to build character and learn endurance, he said, as life is not easy. But if you keep moving, you will reach your goal, and every time you fall you get back up. He then shared a story about how the battery in his car died one day many years ago and he had to walk 25 miles -- one way -- to get a new battery. Walking back, he was only a few miles away when people stopped to offer him a ride. He refused. He had to find out -- he had to know he could do it without help, he said, his voice raising to a fevered pitch. "If you give your heart to the Lord, the Lord will come and see about you," he said softly. After the service, there were hugs and handshakes. Bikers in vests easily mingled with Republicans in suits. Hampton McMillan stood under a tent, dipping strips of coated catfish into pots of bubbling oil and a line quickly formed. "We have more in common than we don't," Jim Ulmer, the Orangeburg County GOP Chairman said over lunch. "Especially in this hustle bustle world, we don't know our next door neighbor, and this type of thing helps us get past that barrier." Tony "Shorty Da Dawg" Dowdy, who co-founded the Midlands Biker Association, sat outside the church afterward with fellow bikers from Sumter, Columbia, Aiken, Lancaster and Winnsboro. Winn was chaplain for his group, he said. "The pastor came to us and asked us about it," Dowdy said. "And the next thing you know, this happened." On Monday, Winn reflected about change and about how mindsets are changed. "It has to start somewhere," he said. "And it can start right here."                            


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