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Posted: May 22, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Hand-in-hand

The Episcopalian Church of the Good Shepherd brings food to the table and binds hearts in fellowship

The tables were lit with candles and the lights were down low. The congregation processed out of the church and into the parish hall to sit down for a Middle-Eastern style meal: olives, hummus, pita and dates.

It was Maundy Thursday, and this was the Agape feast--a Christian ritual meal which dates back centuries.

But this was the year 2014, and the feast was happening at The Episcopalian Church of the Good Shepherd in Covington, Ga.

Fr. Edwin Beckham, Good Shepherd’s priest-in-charge, had read about the ritual, but had never participated in one until he brought the idea to his parish. The Agape feast is intended to be akin to the disciples sharing the Eucharist in the upper room with Jesus.

“It’s a way of reminding everybody that sharing a meal is a big part of who we are,” Beckham said. “It reminds us of our heritage. It reminds us of Christ and hopefully brings us closer to the idea of being a disciple of Jesus.”

But just 60 years ago, there was no Episcopal Church in Covington. In 1950, Covington’s families called for an Episcopal Church in Newton County and the bishop answered.

“That was a time when the Episcopal Church was expanding,” Beckham said.

The Episcopal Church is the fourteenth largest denomination in the United States. It is a part of the Anglican Communion, a group of churches internationally that honor the Anglican tradition established in the British Isles hundreds of years ago.

“We have this 500-year-old Anglican tradition, and of course 1500 years of the church before that,” Beckham said. “And we’re trying to be faithful to that tradition—to worshipping, praying, interpreting the Bible and serving our neighbors in a way that’s faithful to that tradition."

Beckham seeks to answer the question of how being faithful to that tradition and being a good citizen of the Covington-Newton community come together.

“How are we called to go out and serve others in our everyday lives?” Beckham asked.

So what started as an Episcopal Church in its original building on Church Street has expanded into a beautiful, Carpenter Gothic-style campus on Clark Street.

The new campus, built in 2008, affords the parish to expand more than ever, said Beckham, who became priest-in-charge after moving from his post in Athens 16 months ago.

Beckham said his predecessor, Father Tim Graham, led the parish through the process of building the new church with “tremendous financial commitment on the part of the parish.”

“We still have a mortgage,” Beckham said. “And that mortgage kind of reminds us that we stepped out in part because we wanted to grow and invite more of the community in—maybe people who had never considered that this might be a church family for them.”

Good Shepherd currently has about 300 people on the rolls, according to Beckham, though turnout for Sunday service totals around 110 for both the 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. services.

And following every Sunday service, the congregation gathers for coffee fellowship. Beckham explained that he has never quite experienced this fellowship the way he has here.

Beckham has observed the parishioners, who stay anywhere from 10 minutes to half an hour, just enjoying beverages and each other’s company.

“It’s a great opportunity both for people to catch up with friends they haven’t seen all week and then greet new people.”

It allows parishioners to engage in something Beckham said the church is very proud of—its hospitality.
“Food is always a catalyst for conversation,” Beckham said.

And at The Church of the Good Shepherd, food, worship and outreach frequently go hand-in-hand.

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