St. Thomas welcomes new rector

lgierer@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 14, 2014 

ROBIN TRIMARCHI/rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.comThe Rev. Grace Burton-Edwards is the new rector at St. Thomas Episcopal Church.


Her grandfather and father were Baptist pastors. Her husband is a Methodist elder.

But it is another denomination that has brought The Rev. Grace Burton-Edwards to Columbus. She is the new rector at St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Hilton Avenue.

Burton-Edwards, 46, was hired in December and began work Feb. 16.

She was previously employed in Indianapolis where she served as associate rector at Trinity Episcopal Church and school chaplain at St. Richard's Episcopal School.

She is a founding board member of the Center for Interfaith Cooperation in Indianapolis.

Burton-Edwards is replacing the Rt. Rev. Dr. Doug Hahn, who was named as the seventh bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington in Kentucky in 2012.

The Rev. Pat Merchant served as an interim for about a year.

"It is an honor to follow a man so loved as Doug Hahn," Burton-Edwards said. "He created a very loving congregation."

Burton-Edwards is excited about being in a city of this size.

"The church can be an important player in this community and this looks like a community that can get things done," she said.

The mission of St. Thomas is "To know Christ and make Christ known."

Burton-Edwards is eager to help people discover God through the Episcopal church.

"I believe we can really change lives," she said.

The mother of two boys said Columbus is a perfect location for her family.

Her husband, the Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards, serves as director of worship resources for the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church, and Columbus is not far from Nashville, Tenn., where he must occasionally travel for work.

Burton-Edwards loves music and is thrilled with the great tradition of the music program at St. Thomas. The church she came from also had a strong choir.

She is impressed with the church's programs for children, which includes a pre-school, but wants to increase and improve education programs for adults.

She wants to continue the strong outreach of St. Thomas with some growth in that area. Two major projects of St. Thomas are the Wynnton Neighborhood Network and the Chattahoochee Valley Episcopal Ministry.

It was only recently that Burton-Edwards felt she had reached the stage in her life that she was ready to take on the position of rector. She began searching for church openings and accepted God's call to come here.

She wanted to be sure she was prepared for the job before accepting a rector position. Also, she does not have small children to care for now.

Burton-Edwards, raised in Southaven, Miss., a suburb of Memphis, Tenn., has a connection to Columbus. Both her grandmother and great-grandmother were born here. As a girl, she would visit her grandmother in Atlanta.

She said it was as a child attending Baptist services that she was taught to love the Bible. The eldest of three children said it was pretty clear as a youth that she had a calling to the ministry but figured there wouldn't be many opportunities for a female in the pulpit of a Southern Baptist church.

"I told my father that if I was a guy I would be a pastor. My father said to wait and see what would be possible," she said.

Burton-Edwards received an undergraduate degree in English from Mississippi College. She attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. She received a master of Divinity from Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis and a doctorate of Ministry at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill.

Burton-Edwards was ordained in the American Baptist Church in 1994. She said she has served in American Baptist, United Methodist, and ecumenical settings before discerning a call to the Episcopal church.

Burton-Edwards was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 2007.

She said she first became acquainted with the Episcopal church visiting Anglican churches while studying in London.

"It just worked for me," she said of the Episcopal church.

"The Episcopal church puts emphasis on reason and intellectual inquiry. I found that attractive," she said. "It is also very inclusive, which I like."

She said there is a "fruitful diversity" at St. Thomas. "The disciples of Jesus were all different," she said.

Burton-Edwards smiled and said she has served about nine different denominations at one time or another.

She worked alongside her husband at a Methodist church in which he was the religious leader.

"There are so many ways of being Christian," she said.

She does think it best that families go to church together.

Burton-Edwards said there is plenty of room for different denominations.

"People of different faiths need to talk about what they have in common rather than their differences," she said.

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