By Peg Eastman

Part I covered the Rev. Rick Belser’s life and ministry until he moved to the Lowcountry. Part II brings the reader up to the present time.

After many years of prayer, Rick was asked to become the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church on John’s Island. As his predecessor the Rev. Edward Guerry had served in that capacity for 28 years, Rick couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to follow such a long-serving and much-beloved priest. God answered Rick’s prayers and the faithful people of St. John’s accepted him warmly into their community.

Rick is a devoted fisherman and hunter, and this appreciation for the outdoors has served him well in bonding with fellow sportsmen and in crafting colorful sermons about being lost and found and so forth. Those who have been in the woods and on the water with Rick would agree that he would merit a bookshelf of volumes about his adventures.

In 1974 John’s Island was a rural sea island and pure Americana. There were two drawbridges and no traffic lights. Mr. Guerry’s ministry was Bible-oriented with old-fashioned family values. Under Rick’s leadership, the parish pioneered the diocese’s Cursillo movement and expanded the ministry at the Chapel of the Palms at Camp St. Christopher into a new congregation, The Church of Our Savior.

In the fall of 1985, Rick was called to be the 20th rector of St. Michael’s Church, where he began his ministry in January 1986. The parish membership included a strong contingent of faithful people with long ties to the congregation and their openness to newcomers expanded membership considerably. The congregation supported bazaars, wrote a cookbook, published an updated history of the church and enjoyed Anne’s annual Thanksgiving dinner served to the entire membership.

Rick’s sermons were succinct and, following Jesus’ example, started with a story that people could identity with before moving to the message. One example came from a mission trip to Central America where Rick observed a fence constructed of sticks that had been driven into the ground and grew into fence posts. The spiritual message — dead wood, anchored in faith, could come alive and serve a useful purpose.

St. Michael’s corporate faith was challenged when Hugo blew into town in September 1989. The church survived the devastation with relatively minor damage and never closed. The blessing was that God used this as an opportunity to provide the funds to restore the original Johann Snetzler organ case and to construct a new tracker pipe organ built by Kenneth Jones of Bray, Ireland.

One of the ministries that Rick brought to the church was Christian healing. Jean Corbett, the parish secretary at St. John’s, accepted the call to serve as St. Michael’s parish administrator and ultimately, director of pastoral care. She and her husband, Johnnie, expanded the healing prayer ministry at St. Michaels and beyond by leading healing missions to Ukraine and, today, North India.

The congregation continued to grow and decided to undertake the renovation of the parish house and the Sunday school building. The largest expansion came when the congregation, aided by major gifts from parishioners Bill and Laura Hewitt, purchased and reconfigured the office building at 71 Broad Street. This was the first expansion in 81 years. In the churchyard, a columbarium walk was constructed to provide burial space for nearly 200 people. The old Sunday school building was renamed the Belser Building and a gift shop and bookstore opened at 71 Broad Street, providing a daily retreat for many passersby. During this time, Rick lost his mother in 1991, his father in 2000 and his marriage of 23 years in 1989.

St. Michael’s continued to expand its overseas ministry. When Rick remarried, his wife, Anne, willingly joined him in a three-month sabbatical at Holy Spirit Episcopal Church in Tela, Honduras. They later participated with teams serving in the Dominican Republic and in Ukraine. A more far-flung invitation was for Rick to lead a retreat for Anglican Frontier Mission missionaries in Southeast Asia. Meeting in Singapore, they met Tabatha Wang, a China-born American citizen, whom St. Michael’s later supported through the process of ordination in South Carolina.

The Belsers made several trips to China with Tabatha. They encountered the vitality of the Chinese Christian church, traveling west from Kunming to meet members of the underground church near the Myanmar border, where they were threatened by the government’s deputy governor. Heading north to the mostly-Muslim state of Xinjiang, they took a night bus through the Gobi Desert from the edge of Mongolia and worshiped with a large Three Self Christian congregation in Urumci.

Rick retired in 2007 and began a series of local and foreign assignments. After nine months at Holy Trinity West Ashley, he served for six months as pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church on Archdale Street when the pastor had military duty. Coincidentally, this was the church home of Christian Belser, the first Belser in Charles Town, who arrived about 1760. Christian Belser became president of the German Friendly Society and served on the vestry of St. John’s; he and his family are buried in the churchyard. Rick enjoyed being a Lutheran pastor but found their music difficult to sing.

In 2010 he spent nine months as interim rector of St. Mary’s Church on Virgin Gorda, in the British West Indies. The Afro-Caribbean congregation welcomed the Belsers warmly and blessed them with their wonderful singing. In return, the Belsers introduced the Alpha course to the Virgin Islands and arranged the congregation’s first Christmas pageant.

Back in Charleston, Rick was invited to be interim rector of Christ Church in Mount Pleasant. The Belsers liked the church so much that they made it their worship home. In 2011 Rick met the Rev. Emad Mikhail, dean of the Alexandria School of Theology and, through him, was invited to teach pastoral care in Egypt. What he didn’t know at the time was that these visits would prove newsworthy and exciting, for each of his trips to Egypt was punctuated by a regime change.

On the first trip, four days after the Belsers arrived, Egypt was in revolution when the government of President Mubarak was overthrown. Cairo was under curfew and the army had positioned armored vehicles everywhere. They were blessed to have some Australian missionaries introduce them to the local culture and continued their teaching assignment once the curfew was lifted.

On the second trip in 2012, Rick taught the same course. This time there was a general election and Mohamed Morsi was chosen president. He was a strong proponent of the Muslim Brotherhood. Again there was a lot of commotion in the streets, making it unsafe for foreigners to move about freely.

The Belsers returned to Cairo the following year. This time Rick served as priest in charge of the English-speaking congregation at All Saints Anglican Cathedral, while Anne managed the Diocesan Guest House where they lived. The political climate was still chaotic with General El Sisi, backed by the Egyptian Army, taking power. Marchers for both sides stormed past their building, some carrying guns and Molotov cocktails to rally in Cairo’s Tehir Square. As always, God protected them from harm.

Since his return to the Lowcountry, Rick has kept busy with other assignments. In his spare time, he has even written a book, Son and Heir.

Rick feels that he and Anne have been truly blessed to see God at work in South Carolina and reminds us to remain faithful to Jesus’ calling to his first followers — “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”

Mercury newspapers can be found at the following locations:


Buxton Books

Caviar & Bananas

The Meeting Street Inn (Rack)

Clair's Service Station, Folly Rd. (Rack)

Harris Teeter, Houston-Northcutt Blvd. (Rack)

Mt. Pleasant Library, Mathis Ferry Rd. (Rack)

Pitt St. Pharmacy

The Square Onion, I'On (Rack)