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Church in the Now services in Covington
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Church in the Now will have its first worship service in Covington this month.

The church plans to have service on Sept. 30 at a former industrial building at 13183 Harland Drive.

Covington city council members voted unanimously to approve a special use permit for the church to operate in the heavy industrial zoning district.

However, council approved the special use permit under two conditions - that parking be limited to on-site only and if the church decided to establish services in addition to worship services, those services would require additional separate special use permits.

Lead Pastor Bishop Jim Swilley spoke to council, as dozens of church members packed council chambers to show their support. Swilley told council that his family has been in the Covington community since 1985. He said his church has a membership of about 300 people. He said the church's membership was too big to operate in a storefront or the building they were in before.

"After we went through a foreclosure at our Iris Drive property in Conyers, we searched every place that was available in Rockdale and Newton counties," Swilley said. "There really is no other place."

Swilley said the church would have two Sunday morning services at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. and one Wednesday night service. He told the council he was sure everyone was familiar with the story of Church in the Now.

The former mega church's 43-acre property at Iris Drive in Conyers went into foreclosure in March 2011.

The church's membership exploded in the late 1990s and, according to a story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the church took out a loan of $18 million in 2003 as it sought to expand further. However, the recession hit, followed by lead pastor Bishop Jim Swilley announcing he was gay in late 2010, and membership slowly declined to around 1,000 members before the church went into foreclosure.

Earlier this year, Springfield Baptist Church entered into an agreement with the mortgage holder Evangelical Christian Credit Union to purchase the Iris Drive property.

"We've gone through a lot. We might have to rethink what Church in the Now is," he said.
After the vote, council member Chris Smith commented about the parking conditions at the location.

"If you would make sure your congregation fully understands that they cannot park on Harland Drive," Smith said. "Believe me, your neighbors would be calling police and they will cite you. Please don't allow that to happen."

Mayor Ronnie Johnston and council member Janet Goodman both welcomed the church to the city as members cheered and applauded after the decision.

The 33,688 square-foot vacant building at Harland Drive was previously used as an industrial warehouse and office space. The church signed a three-year lease agreement with the property's owner Lanners Development to hold its worship services at the location.

Debye Swilley, Church in the Now's pastor, CFO and administrator said in August that the church had been conducting worship services at the Stonecrest Mall movie theater on Sundays and at a school auditorium in Rockdale County on Wednesdays. She said the church is excited about coming to Covington and helping out the community in any way that they can.

"We're excited about partnering with some of the local charities and making a difference here in Newton County as we did in Rockdale County."