Christ Church Frederica

David Epps's picture

When I first moved to Georgia in 1983, it wasn’t long before I discovered St. Simon’s Island on the Georgia coast. As I was driving around and exploring, I came across a church that held a special fascination for me.

I grew up a Methodist and would serve two Methodist churches as I worked with youth and I would later serve as a pastor in two assignments, one in Carter County, Tenn., the other in Greene County, Tenn. I developed a taste for all things Wesley. John and Charles Wesley, that is.

The Wesley brothers, priests in the Church of England, began what became known as the Methodist Movement. John was the preacher and theologian; Charles, while a good preacher himself, became known for his hymns.

In 1736, a congregation, a mission of the Church of England, was established on St. Simon’s Island, within the walls of Fort Frederica. The Reverend Charles Wesley preached the first sermon. The Reverend John Wesley, rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Savannah, also served the church on St. Simon’s. At that time, the church was known as “St. James.”

After the Revolution, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America was formed and, St. James, which became Christ Church, was chartered in 1808 and given a state grant of 108 acres.

In 1823, Christ Church was one of three parishes operating in the Diocese of Georgia. In 1820 the first permanent building was constructed, which was almost totally destroyed during the War Between the States. The present building, on the same site, was built in 1884.

It was with great anticipation that I attended the 9:15 a.m. service a few weeks ago while I was staying on the island. The church was full at that early hour, which surprised me. The church has an 8 a.m. service that uses the 1928 Prayer Book. The 11:15 a.m. service, along with the service I attended, use the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

I suppose that I expected the church to be barely filled, like many of the historic churches in Europe, barely struggling to get by. I expected a dry and dusty museum. It was anything but.

The music was uplifting and well done, the preaching relevant and interesting, the congregation friendly, and the Eucharist satisfying. After 268 years, the church is lively and bustling, with an eye to the future. All of which was a great encouragement to me.

This September will be the 18th anniversary of the church I helped to found, Christ the King. Compared with Christ Church Frederica, we are in the early infant stage. The possibility that our congregation will be actively ministering to the community and to the world in the year 2282 is a wondrous and joyful consideration.

In some ways, I consider myself the spiritual descendant of the Wesley brothers. I, too, had “my heart strangely warmed” and have seen my share of difficulties.

But if John and Charles could look upon their offspring — even if they only saw Christ Church Frederica — I believe they would be fulfilled. St. Simon’s Island has always been a place to retire and refresh. On this trip, it was a time to be inspired!

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, Ga. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U.S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]

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