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Church celebrates 50th anniversary on Sunday

Twenty-five years ago, when the Rev. Ernest Fitzgerald was bishop of the South Georgia United Methodist Conference and the Rev. Gilbert Ramsey was Columbus District superintendent, the quarter-century celebration of Epworth United Methodist Church, founded in 1960, began with a picnic on the grounds. A hymn-sing and music by the Chancel and children’s choirs followed.

The trend for churches in the ’60s and ’70s was to build in neighborhoods.

“Epworth was an intentional church plant. Neighborhoods were the way to go then,” said the Rev. Scott Hagan, the pastor since June and the church’s 12th.

Epworth is on Devonshire Drive, in the Winchester subdivision across from St. Francis Hospital. It has about 540 members.

The 50th celebration is Sunday and will feature speakers spanning the five decades.

They are: Charter members Lonnie and Ann Whitehurst (at the founding, they were two of 41 members); the Rev. Ronnie Culpepper, a former Epworth pastor and now retired as Columbus District superintendent; the Rev. Dick Reese, another former pastor, also recently retired; Diane Morris, director of perioperative services at Hughston Hospital and a member who joined in the last 20 years; and Matthew Ledbetter, a recent member who’s a student and a local surveyor.

Two services are 9:30 and 11 a.m. The speakers will present at both. (The 10 a.m. contemporary service will not be held Sunday.)

Morris is speaking after a hymn, “Victory in Jesus,” which is an inside joke about a former pastor, the Rev. Marcia Cochran.

“She hated that song,” said Morris, who joined with her family. “I remember that whole period had a lot to do with her, and how much we grew with her.”

Cochran, who led Epworth from 1989-2004, has been the Waycross (Ga.) District Superintendent since 2007.

As well, the celebration will include the song “Epworth Is,” written by retired Epworth music director Tommy Mayton.

A luncheon will follow the second service.

Since the 1990s, Epworth has been a ministry partner with South Columbus United Methodist Church. And in recent years, Epworth has sent one of its own to seminary. Ben Gosden is a senior at Candler Theological Seminary in Atlanta and works part-time at Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon.

“It’s a big deal for a church to send people into ministry,” Hagan said. “We want to provide a space — create an environment — where they can answer the call.”

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