This area once belonged to the Catawba Indians and for many years it was a hub of the textile industry. Recently, it has grown exponentially due to its proximity to Charlotte, N.C. I, like many, many others, have moved to Fort Mill within the last ten years.
Lately, large, oval magnets have been appearing on the backs of cars, SUVs, and minivans. They have “FMN” on them. It stands for “Fort Mill Native.” Many “FMNs” are members of the church I serve and they are lovely people who have made me feel welcomed and wanted. Even so, I’m sure some “FMNs” feel as if their town has been taken over and I did hear one woman lament that she no longer knows everyone in the post office, in fact the last time she went in to mail a package she knew no one. Certainly, there is loss in such radical change. I, too, whine about traffic and packed classrooms. But today I noticed another aspect of Fort Mill’s growth. Fort Mill is … diverse!
I went to a strip mall a few miles from my home and was hit with the reality that this small collection of capitalism is a microcosm of my community and my old, Southern town is a microcosm of the world. In this one strip mall you can wash your clothes in a laundromat where most of one’s fellow customers speak Spanish. My broken dryer afforded me the opportunity to meet Carlos, a three-year-old from Mexico, and his exhausted mother. I bought a six-inch turkey sub from the national sub chain just next store. The man behind the counter is from India. A few more doors down I could have had a nice pedicure at the nail place that is owned and staffed by people from Vietnam. If I’d kept walking I could have gotten a great latte from a lovely Chilean woman whose café attracts speaking-in-tongues Christians from the nearby formerly PTL complex. Then I could have bought pizza from the family-owned Italian restaurant or gotten Chinese food. I always marvel when I watch the young woman take phone orders. She says, “House Lo Mein” and “Hunan Chicken” in English but writes them down in beautiful Chinese characters.
Today, though, I got back in my car and drove two blocks to a produce stand. My daughter wanted to stop and buy a pumpkin. As she wandered through the patch a man came and told us the prices. He has a lilting accent and as we talk he tells me his home country is El Salvador. He lives in Shelby, works at the farm in Chester, and sometimes travels to Fort Mill to help at the stand. We talk about children, the joy they bring, the money they require. After a thorough inspection of all of the pumpkins my daughter chooses one. I give the money to an African American man whose baseball cap tells me that he is a Vietnam War Veteran. I make a mental note of the complex connections of history that are evident even in “my” little town.
My daughter and I are headed home. The news is on the radio and I hear about partisan rancor. The recent voting cycle already exhausted me with its signs, mailings, and news reports. Even with it behind us, there still persist so many schisms, so much disagreement, so little willingness to work together. But my few hours of errand running won’t let my cynicism take over completely. I know there is much that needs to be addressed, but I also know that there is something right about all of these people from all over the world coming here to make a living and a life. I am thankful that I can hear three different languages within three hours and a three mile radius. I find that the image of God is much richer when I see God’s image expressed in so many ways. I think about how diminished Fort Mill would be if it were inhabited with solely “FMNs.” And I long for the Sunday morning when I look out from the pulpit and see a congregation that is reflective of that strip mall and all of the people I’ve been blessed to encounter today.
Maybe Pentecost 2011.
JILL DUFFIELD is associate pastor of Unity Presbyterian Church in Fort Mill, S.C.