WHO WE ARE
In 1956, the Diocese of South Carolina was given a gift of land off 11th. Avenue North in North Myrtle Beach by the Tilghman family. In late 1968, the rector Rev. Herbert C. Gravely and the parish of Trinity Church in Myrtle Beach began planning a summer chapel on the property. After many months of work, the ground-breaking ceremony was held on Palm Sunday, March 31, 1969. On Sunday, August 31, 1969, the first Holy Eucharist was celebrated in the unfinished building. Until June 1974, vacationing clergy conducted worship services while enjoying the use of the apartment in the original building. St. Stephen's became a year-round congregation organized as a mission of the Diocese of South Carolina in April, 1974.
The congregation of 32 who had transferred their membership from Trinity, called the Rev. Edward M. Covert to be their first full-time priest. On August 1, 1981, the Rev. Preston B. Huntley, Jr., succeeded Rev. Covert as Priest-in-Charge. In 1985, St. Stephen's was granted parish status by the Diocese and Rev. Huntley became the first Rector. In April 1997, the Rev. J. Grafton Cockrell succeeded Rev. Huntley. In January 2000, Rev. Cockrell called the Rev. Dr. Wilmot T. Merchant, II to be his assistant. On Easter Sunday, April 15, 2001, Rev. Cockrell retired.
St. Stephen's entire congregation, through its wardens, implored the Bishop to allow Dr. Merchant to become their next rector. On March 18, 2002, with the support of the whole parish, the Vestry unanimously elected the Rev. Dr. Wilmot T. Merchant, II, to succeed Rev. Cockrell. Dr. Merchant was officially installed as the third rector of St. Stephen's on August 1, 2002, which was 33 years after the first Holy Eucharist celebrated in the unfinished building. Dr. Merchant had served St. Stephen's in various positions from October 1999 until he was elected. Dr. Merchant is the first black priest to be called by a parish that was 99.9% white in the more than two-hundred year history of the Diocese. As a growing parish, we invite you to come and grow with us.
The Rev. Dr. Wilmot T. Merchant, II is a native of Liberia, West Africa. His paternal great-great-grandparents were among the freed slaves who were returned to Africa fom the United States during the 1800's. His maternal ancestors were indigenous of the land that became known as Liberia.
He is a 1986 graduate of Cuttington University, Liberia, with a BA in Theology. He was ordained a Deacon on December 30, 1986, and advanced to the Priesthood on December 30, 1987, in the Episcopal Diocese of Liberia, Province of West Africa. He is now a resident priest in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. In 1987 he received a Certificate from St. George's College, Jerusalem, Israel. In 1992 he received his Master of Divinity degree from the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and in 1993 he received his Master of Theology degree from the Weston Jesuit School (Roman Catholic) of Theology also in the City of Cambridge. Weston is now a part of Boston College. In 2000 he was awarded his Doctor of Ministry degree from Drew University, Madison, New Jersey.
Dr. Merchant has served churches and institutions in Liberia and the United States. His family relocated from New York City to Loris, South Caroina, because his wife, Dr. Eugenia Cooper Merchant, a pediatrician, was employed by Loris HealthCare System. At the present time, she is employed by Health Care Partners of South Carolina, Inc.
On March 18th, 2002, the Vestry of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church unanimously elected Dr. Merchant as their third Rector to succeed the Rev. J. Grafton Cockrell, their retiring rector.
As a result of a prolonged Civil War in their home country, Dr. Merchant and his wife became American citizens. They have two sons and a daughter, Wilmot, III, Charles and Victoria Ann. Dr. Merchant has two older children, Wilma, who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Wilbert, who still lives in Liberia.