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Sweet sixteen

David Epps's picture

Just about this time 16 years ago, I was both very nervous and excited. After being in the ministry for 25 years and having turned 45 years old earlier in the year, I and several others were about to embark on a new adventure.

We were about to plant a church.

I had never been part of such a venture and, understandably, experienced a bit of fear and trepidation. It didn’t help when one man, whom I knew and considered a friend, said, “Well, when it doesn’t work out, I hope things go well for you wherever you wind up.” Not the most faith-filled statement I had ever heard.

We met for the first time on a Sunday morning on the second Sunday of September 1996 in the chapel of Carmichael-Hemperley Funeral Home in Peachtree City, Ga. We met as a small core group and didn’t advertise the new church at all.

In fact, it would be a full month before we invited anyone new to church or submitted ads or news releases. We wanted to work out “all the bugs.”

Of course, no church on the planet ever gets rid of all the bugs. A church, because it is composed of human beings, is, by its very nature, subject to flaws and imperfection. Yet, because the Church was established by Jesus Christ, who said that “the gates of Hell” would not prevail against it, it is also divinely inspired, protected, nurtured, and strengthened.

We thought we would meet in the funeral home for six to 12 months. We actually worshipped there for over six years — and we grew. The people at Carmichael-Hemperley were gracious and hospitable and, after a while, the chapel felt like home.

Our very first baptism was there, followed by dozens of others. There were four weddings held in the funeral home chapel, spawning a number of jokes, including, “Which room is the body laid out in?” A few funerals were held there too.

Our nursery was across the street at the local Kids R Kids and children’s church classes were held in viewing rooms — minus the usual occupants, of course.
In a place which often meant death and loss to so many, people were born again, came to new faith, returned to church, and discovered that, truly, the Church was the people and not the building.

After six years, we constructed a new sanctuary and, on the last Sunday morning in the funeral home, a number of people actually wept. It was like moving away from home.

Yet, the same day we had an evening service in the new building that was full of life and promise and hope. The transition was made. A few years later, we added a fellowship hall, a kitchen, and a number of classrooms.

It’s not been a seamless or painless journey. Along the way, people we love have moved away, some have died, and some have simply left. Such is the way of all churches.

Our core group began with 19 people, eight of them my family members. Last Easter we had about 300 in church and, on an average Lord’s Day, we have somewhere between 100 and 150, depending on the season, the weather, and the condition of people’s hearts.

Not large by local standards but, on the other hand, we are still a new church. As least that’s the way I look at it.

When a young person celebrates their 16th birthday, we understand that he or she is no longer a child. Neither is he or she an adult. It’s an awkward age but everyone celebrates this “sweet sixteen” event and everyone knows the birthday kid has a lot of growing and experiencing to do.

That’s where we are. We are 16 years old this Sunday, Sept. 9, the second Sunday of September. Like most 16-year-olds, we often feel all grown up. Also, like most 16-year-olds, we have barely begun our life.

Still, it’s the Sweet Sixteenth. Happy Birthday to us. It’s time to take a moment to celebrate.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which includes Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org). He may be contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]

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