Learning and Leading with an Open Heart (Champ Squires)

Learning and Leading with an Open Heart

By Mary Hurston Zuelke

This article appeared originally in the fall 2021 issue of Frontiers Magazine

Shortly after being born, Terence Irvin Squires, Jr. ’13 earned his nickname of “Champ” for his persistence in overcoming obstacles. The name stuck and so did Champ’s drive to face challenges head-on.

Champ was born with cerebral palsy, which does not allow him to walk independently. He utilizes mobility devices such as canes, wheelchairs, and scooters to get around. His attitude toward the physical challenges he faces is, “Tell me something I can’t do, and that just makes me want to do it more.”

But if you had told Champ in high school that he was going to be a pastor of three churches, he wouldn’t have believed you. He was interested in pursuing a career in law. He was also interested in attending a big university. That was until he and his mom visited SMC. “They rolled out the red carpet during my college visit,” Champ said.

He remembers a meeting with then-provost Dr. Ann Bowles, who encouraged Champ to apply because of SMC’s supportive community.

And so, in the fall of 2011, Champ enrolled at the College.

One of his first experiences as a Pioneer was to sign the honor code during first-year orientation – an experience that he said laid the foundation for his journey into ministry. Champ recalls the ritual as “a moving and powerful act that set in stone what it means to be an honorable student and an honorable Christian.”

From his first year on, Champ continued to learn what it meant to be an honorable student and Christian. Alongside him were mentors that encouraged, challenged, and showed him the value of relationships.

“SMC was the place where family really took on a whole new aspect for me – a large family that welcomed and accepted me and never worried about my physical limitation,” Champ said.

Among his mentors was Dr. Lanny Lanford, professor of music, who, like Champ, was new to SMC. Dr. Lanford was charged with getting a music program off the ground, and Champ was one of his first students to go through the program, known as the Troubadours. As a part of the Troubadours, Champ performed in choral concerts on campus and throughout the Southeast with the team that Dr. Lanford closely fostered.

“Dr. Lanford was like a pastor to me. He really taught me a lot about ministry and how to build teams,” Champ said.

In addition to Dr. Lanford, Champ found mentorship in then-chaplain Candice Sloan, who would often pray with Champ before the start of classes. He said Chaplin Sloan, along with Dr. Bowles, “were the two driving forces behind my success at SMC and made sure that I kept going."

Champ did keep going and, in the spring of 2013, he graduated with his Associate of Arts before heading onto Southern Wesleyan University (SWU) to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Ministry. After SWU, Champ attended Asbury Theological Seminary where he earned his Master’s of Divinity.

Heading into his final year at Asbury, his dad was diagnosed with large B-cell lymphoma. The same week Champ was scheduled to attend classes, his dad had major surgery. “That was another defining moment for me that confirmed the ministry was where I needed to be,” Champ said. “There were times during that season that we didn’t know if my dad was going to make it. I would pray, ‘Lord, whatever you want but I promise to trust you. No matter what.’”

All through Champ’s last year in seminary, his dad was undergoing treatment for his cancer. Champ recalls the song “Even If,” by MercyMe, and how it became his battle hymn during the trying time. “It is well, it is well with my soul,” Champ said, recalling the lyrics.

When Champ graduated from Asbury in May of 2020, pastoral appointments were put on hold due to the pandemic. Champ was patient and knew that the right opportunity would come along.

His patience paid off. In March of 2021, Champ received a phone call about an offer for a pastoral appointment in Bishopville at not one but three churches. Not to be deterred by a challenge, Champ accepted the appointment, which began this past summer.

As the pastor of Ashland United Methodist Church, Concord United Methodist Church, and St. Matthew United Methodist Church, Champ stays busy, preaching at each church on Sunday morning and serving each congregation throughout the week. During one of his first sermons, Champ’s faith, patience, and belief were rewarded as he faced one of his new congregations with his father sitting proudly next to his mother and brother.

The new pastor is eager to get to know his new church community. “I love meeting new people, building relationships, and learning new things,” Champ said. “The Lord has taught me so much, and I have no doubt that he’s going to teach me so much over the course of my life."

From the relationships, Champ formed with mentors and friends at SMC to the new relationships he’s building with his congregations, Champ has welcomed them all with an open heart.

“I’m not a guarded heart kind of guy. I’m incredibly inspired by people and their stories,” Champ said. “We’re all part of a greater story. SMC was a big part of my story because I allowed it to be. I could never repay SMC for what I got out of my time there.”

When asked for his advice to current SMC students, Champ puts it simply, “Never turn an opportunity down. Give yourself fully and completely. Have an open heart.”

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