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Posted: April 22, 2009 12:01 a.m.

First Presbyterian celebrates payment of sanctuary with mortgage burning ceremony

Submitted Photo/

The debit is paid: Pastor Billy Wade burns a copy of the mortgage at a ceremony celebrating the payment of First Presbyterian's debt on its new sanctuary.

On March 22, the First Presbyterian Church of Covington, celebrated its mortgage burning. The mortgage was incurred in 1995 when the church built a new sanctuary and educational facilities. Since then it has continued to renovate its other buildings and grounds. The Presbytery of Great Atlanta, consisting of 109 Presbyterian churches, called it the most successful building campaign in its history, considering the size of the church and the congregation.

The present sanctuary was built on land the church purchased from Dr. E. B. Hendrick in 1877. A sanctuary was built a year later on the property that had been Dr. Hendrick’s garden, and it eventually became the site of the first Newton County Clothes Closet and Community Food Pantry, housed in the church buildings. The sanctuary was moved in 1918 to the center of the block between Hendricks Street and Brown Street. The sanctuary burned in 1926 when Dr. Samuel Burney Hay was the pastor. It was rebuilt the same year and served until the new one was built in 1995.

The last worship service in the old sanctuary was held on April 30, 1995. At the end of the service, the Rev. Tom White who pastored the church from 1960 to 1981, stood to pray and bless the members as they left the old sanctuary and went to the new one. They were led by a bagpiper and Elmer Blankenship who carried the cross as he did again 14 years later for the mortgage burning. The procession was met at the door of the new sanctuary by some of the older members. The congregation prayed again, knocked on the door and then entered the new sanctuary.

A dedication service was held the next Sunday, led by the Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, invited guests from the Presbytery and community and the pastor the Rev. Billy Wade. On the very night that the congregation moved from the old sanctuary, lightning hit the old sanctuary, blowing a large hole in the roof. A children’s program was just beginning, but no one was hurt.

The day of the mortgage burning, the congregation moved out of the sanctuary to the front lawn as handbells played and the congregation sang. After the Rev. Wade, recited some of the history, the congregation was reminded that, while the buildings are instrumental in its mission, the church is really the people and that this congregation is only part of the larger body of Christ. Former members of the building committee — Jerry Bouchillon, Linda Boyd, Sarah Chesnut, John Howard, Steve Jordan, Pat Patrick and Louly Hay, chair — were thanked. Then the mortgage was burned to the cheers of those gathered. The service concluded with the singing of "Blest Be the Tie That Binds" and the playing of "Amazing Grace" by the bagpiper.

The educational facilities, built at the same time as the sanctuary, now house the Early Learning Center, a preschool with 85 children. The very first sanctuary built by the First Presbyterian Church was located next to the railroad tracks near the old city jail. The church was established in 1827, dissolved in 1848 and began again in 1877.

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