|Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Thomasville, GA, from their website.|
There are exciting times ahead in Thomasville, Georgia, for the Episcopal churches in that city, and one of them in particular: Good Shepherd Episcopal Church.
I have never been to Good Shepherd, but I know of its existence and have been supportive of their efforts through my work with my former spiritual director, Rev. Nancy Mills. I know that when Rev. Nancy was their priest, there was a simple lunch prepared for those attending services on Wednesday. I am aware that it serves a predominantly black congregation, and that it is in one of the poorer sections of Thomasville. So, I knew these particulars about the place. Then I went to church at St. Thomas on Sunday, and was immersed in a dream of what could be in Thomasville at Good Shepherd... with God's help and a little elbow grease from the Episcopal faithful in this small southern city.
For approximately a year, members of St. Thomas, Good Shepherd, and All Saints have been diligently working and hammering out the plan for what is being called the "Episcopal Development Agency Thomasville" or EDAT. The bishop of Georgia is a supporter of this cause and has secured some initial grant funding to help get it under way. The EDAT has a goal of starting a community garden on the grounds of Good Shepherd that would allow people in the neighborhood to grow their own food. There are hopes for classes on nutrition and teaching people how to can and preserve some of their bounty which they may be able to market down the line. There is a desire to renovate the Good Shepherd vicarage, built in 1908, and turn it into a community center with arts and other activities. The hope is to build up the people in the Oak Street neighborhood of this church, and have Good Shepherd be a catalyst for change that lifts them up and improves their lives. As one lay member at St. Thomas noted, and I'm paraphrasing, "Jesus said that we would always have the poor among us, but he didn't say we don't have an obligation to build up others and give them the tools they need to break free from the cycle of poverty." Amen to that!
The excitement about this project was palpable on Sunday. There were people making inquiries, and offers of tours of the church and vicarage for those, like me, who have never been there. Parishioners were piping up with offers of equipment, like tillers and such, to break ground on the garden. And, best of all, it was a joy to see representatives of all three churches sharing and talking with people in the parish hall of St. Thomas. Like most churches in this region, there have been divisions in the past, and splits over prayer books and women, etc. But this project is bringing the faithful from these different congregations together to show how, in Christ, there is one body... and this body is determined to make all of its members healthy and whole.
Work on the garden project is slated to begin on Saturday, September 7th. God speed!