Pastors of Conyers churches, including, from left, Joe LaGuardia of Trinity Baptist Church, John Beckman of Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dan Crockett of St. Simon's Episcopal Church and John Kieran of St. Pius X Catholic Church, will work together to present the 23rd Annual Community Thanksgiving Ecumenical Service on Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. at St. Pius X Catholic Church, 2621 Ga. Highway 20.
With news of national scandals, hurricanes, floods, a presidential contest that has left a country more divided than ever, what is there to be thankful for? A man who is facing his own set of challenges is ready to answer. The Rev. John Beckman of Epiphany Lutheran Church will be the preacher for the 23rd annual Community Thanksgiving Ecumenical Service and he will offer a message on faithfulness.
He said faithfulness is something he has been dealing with of late since being called to serve another church after pastoring Epiphany for 13 years. Beckman said he is at a "real crazy place in my life" right now as he and his family, including three school-age children, prepare to move to California where he will serve a church and a church school in Marin County.
"It's very hard for me to leave my church here," he said. "It's been a tremendous blessing. I'm grieving mightily, but trusting the Lord."
Such trust in the Lord will be a key point of the message Beckman will bring to the Community Thanksgiving Ecumenical Service next week as churches from across Rockdale and Newton counties worship together and collect an offering to benefit a local homeless ministry.
The service will be Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 7 p.m. at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Conyers. A reception will be held following the service and churches of all denominations as well as area residents not affiliated with any church are invited to attend.
Sponsored for 23 years by its three founding churches and newest member church, Trinity Baptist, the annual community Thanksgiving program has become a tradition, thanks to St. Pius X Catholic, Epiphany Lutheran and St. Simon's Episcopal, which have taken turns hosting the event each year.
"It's delightful to meet the people from the different churches and fellowship together afterward," Father John Kieran of St. Pius said. "It's one of the few times we come together ... I'm particularly glad it will benefit Family Promise of NewRock."
Kieran also had kind words for Beckman and said he will be missed.
"He's been a good neighbor and a good community man," Kieran said.
Despite his family's sadness in leaving behind friends in Georgia, Beckman said there is much to be thankful for.
"We live in a free country that can change or re-elect a president without people (rioting) in the streets," he said. "Our foundation is in Jesus Christ. It is our duty and joy to come back to Him. Our fear is replaced by love. He will help us home...
"It's not because we're good or we're better than anyone else, but that we trust a savior who died on the cross and said, 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.' Who can fear a savior like that?"
Beckman said he talked this week to his staff and asked them where they find solace. One person said in her grandchildren. Another person said they turned to a hobby.
"We look for places of light," he said. "These places come from our Lord.
Beckman said one of his greatest blessings was having Thanksgiving dinner at his grandmother's house.
"We would say grace, eat and the all the guys would go out and play football. I've lost half of them now, but one day soon we'll be at that banquet table ... Therein lies the promise," said Beckman.
When the area churches come together for the ecumenical service, they will also help their neighbors in need as the offeratory will be donated to the Family Promise of NewRock. Family Promise of NewRock is a nonprofit ministry that assists homeless children and their families in Rockdale and Newton counties.
Kathryne Pusch, who helps with the program, said Family Promise is a 25-year-old national effort that is run by a network of local churches and volunteers. In Newton and Rockdale, 15 churches have signed on to help host homeless families as they work to stabilize their lives.
Churches take turns housing homeless families for a week at a time. Sunday school rooms and offices are temporarily turned into bedrooms where homeless families spend the night. During the day, the children are taken to school and the parents get help from volunteers in such matters as parenting, budgeting, interviewing skills and securing a job.
The local Family Promise program can help 14 homeless people at a time, Pusch said, adding that the van transportation they have accommodates 14 people plus a driver. The goal is to help participants become independent within 65 days.
Pusch said Family Promise is a ministry that offers a volunteer opportunity for people of all ages to get involved. She said people do not have to travel to Haiti and other mission fields to serve.
"We can have an impact on families right here," she said, adding that a recent report showed there were 246 homeless children in school in Rockdale County. "Helping these children and their families is an opportunity to experience the joy of giving."
Beth Sexton is a freelance writer based in Loganville. If you have a story idea, email Karen Rohr, features editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.