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Posted: January 28, 2011 12:00 a.m.

A quarter-century of service

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These days it seems rare for a pastor to experience a long tenure at one church. A quarter-century of service is certainly an occasion worth celebrating, and one local church is marking such an achievement: First Presbyterian Church in Covington this weekend is commemorating the 25th anniversary of its pastor, the Rev. Billy Wade.

Wade was born in Gastonia, N.C., and raised in Decatur. He graduated from Presbyterian College and Columbia Theological Seminary before pastoring a church in Charleston, S.C., for six years. In 1986, Wade began his tenure at First Presbyterian. The Rev. Louly Hay, parish associate and longtime First Presbyterian member, says that the church easily voted him in as pastor.

"Billy Wade came to us early in his career, and he’s been here ever since," said Jean Blair, a member of the church who is heading up the committee in charge of the anniversary celebration.

Wade’s wife, Theodosia, remembers the early days, when the ladies of the church came over to help them unpack boxes. Members of the church shared vegetables from their gardens and watched their sons while they took the youth group on trips.

"First Presbyterian has always been such a nurturing congregation," she said. "These families were taking care of us while we took care of their families."

Dr. Joseph Moon, dean of campus life at Oxford College, moved to the area in 1988. He says that at that time, Wade was already building a reputation as a fine pastor and speaker.

"My family and I were shopping for churches, and we repeatedly heard that the best sermon in town came from Billy Wade at First Presbyterian Church," said Moon. "We gave it a try and were impressed with Billy and his family."

Wade’s reputation as a pastor and leader grew, as did the historic congregation under his leadership. Over the past 25 years, Wade has seen the church through two building projects and has raised the value of outreach in the church. Additionally, people throughout the community view Wade as a leader and a man of great faith and action. In addition to his work in the local church and community, Wade has served as moderator of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta and on the boards of Presbyterian College and Columbia Theological Seminary.

"He’s been a tireless advocate for people on the periphery in the community and in God’s world," said Hay. "I view him as a person of commitment to the justice and mercy of God without any bounds. He has never been afraid of speaking and acting out and doing his ministry."

"I feel he has always been a strong leader in the community," said Dennis Cheek, director of FaithWorks in Covington. "Billy is a ‘doer,’ a man of action. He’s not one to just sit around and identify problems. He provides solutions. He invests his time, energy and resources to benefit others.

"He’s always been involved in the community," said Theodosia Wade. "From the start, he has had the idea of ministering to both the church and the community, and he’s developed great relationships with people from all walks of life. It’s been such a great experience."

"Billy Wade has been a tremendous source of support and encouragement to me and the other members of the clergy in the Covington area," said Timothy Graham, rector at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Covington. "He is the one we all look to for leadership on issues that bring our churches together. This is partly because he has been here longer, but more because he is wise, caring and a unifying presence. He is a pastor with a deep integrity and quiet strength. He has been a shining example to me, other clergy, and hundreds of others by the way he lives the gospel of Jesus Christ and cares for the least among us."

"He possesses abundant patience and genuine love for people," said Moon. "When he speaks, he speaks clearly thoughtful, heartfelt, and faithful words. He enjoys people, and the role of pastor comes naturally to him."

Wade has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of people throughout the community. He has been involved in the Community Food Bank, FaithWorks, and Habitat for Humanity. Many of his friends, associates, and church members have seen tremendous growth in him over the years as he has reached out to the community.

"He has come to have an increasingly comfortable presence in any circumstance," said Hay. "He grows more and more beloved and exudes justice, compassion, and love, and he points not to himself, but to God."

"He’s given more of himself that a lot of people might know," said Blair. "Billy is loved and respected in the church, and he’s a good, gentle person."

"I continue to appreciate how his reputation has grown," said Moon. "You can see it his values, in the way he reaches across racial and denominational lines, and in the way he works with ministers throughout the county."

"Billy has always reached out to other churches, and that has helped him grow," said Theodosia Wade. "He believes that everybody should be included in building the community."

As he has established himself in the community, Wade has made many friends, and there are plenty of stories of what he means to those friends.

"Billy and I used to play church basketball together, and he was a crack three-point shooter," said Moon. "It was fun to watch other teams try to guard the pastor. He’s a good athlete and was great on the court."

Hay put it most simply and succinctly when she said, "everybody loves Billy Wade."

As the church celebrates the first 25 years of Billy Wade’s leadership, many people in the community wish him and his family the best.

"Thank you for all you’ve done and all you do for our community," said Cheek. "You have truly made Newton County a better place for all its residents. I pray that God will bless you abundantly as you have been such a blessing to others."

"It is a joy and privilege to be his friend and colleague in ministry," said Graham.

"I entrust him and his vibrant, wonderful family in his continuing ministry to God’s grace and energy and power," said Hay.

"I want to share my best wishes," said Moon. "I know he won’t be comfortable with the accolades, but he really deserves this pat on the back."

Billy and Theodosia Wade have three sons. Graham is a physical therapist in Charleson, Cam works for Blunt Construction in Atlanta, and Grady works for Locum Tenens, a temporary agency for medical professionals in Atlanta. Their eight-year-old grandson, Bryson, goes to school in Rockdale County.

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