Soar­ing with the spirit

Graves Chapel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church con­tin­ues to serve com­mu­nity

The Covington News - - RELIGION - By Colleen Capes Jack­son

Cedar and hard­woods hover over the two acre grounds of the his­toric meet­ing place of Graves Chapel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church lo­cated at 1575 Al­covy Tres­tle Road in So­cial Cir­cle, a half of a mile off U. S. In­ter­state 20.

Span­ning over 119 years, the church ex­ists in its third struc­ture, a ren­o­vated brick build­ing topped by a white steeple. The church bell from the orig­i­nal build­ing that once beck­oned the com­mu­nity to come wor­ship, praise and pray, is pre­served in front of the church.

In min­istry since 1982, the Rev. Char­lie Frank Stem­bridge and wife Sharon came to Graves Chapel in 2001 af­ter serv­ing in A. M. E. churches in Tal­lapoosa, At­lanta, Ho­gansville, and Dal­las.

While in high school, Pas­tor Stem­bridge said he re­al­ized that a spe­cial call­ing was placed on his life. “ I knew that the lord wanted me to serve by de­liv­er­ing the word to the saved and un­saved,” said the Rev. Stem­bridge. “ I ac­cepted that call­ing by stay­ing in­volved in the church, study­ing the word and ac­cept­ing God’s plan for my life.”

Born in Han­cock County, in Sparta, the pas­tor grew up in a home where Christ was al­ways first. “ We were taught at an early age that help­ing oth­ers is a true way of pleas­ing God,” said Stem­bridge. The rev­erend is a grad­u­ate of Beu­lah Heights Bi­ble Col­lege.

The cou­ple met through Sharon’s brother- in- law who in­tro­duced them af­ter a ser­vice where Stem­bridge was preach­ing. “ It seemed on that day that we had known each other for a long time,” they both agreed. “Af­ter that ini­tial in­tro­duc­tion, we be­came friends and were mar­ried three years later.”

In ad­di­tion to work­ing with the De­part­ment of Hu­man Re­sources where she has trained adop­tive and fos­ter par­ents for the past 26 years, Sharon serves in many ca­pac­i­ties in the church. “ The Chil­dren’s Min­istry is where I am most in­volved,” she said. “ I co­or­di­nate many of the ac­tiv­i­ties for the chil­dren in­clud­ing the an­nual church pic­nic, chil­dren’s church and spe­cial pro­grams at Easter and Christ­mas.” Sharon also con­trib­utes as a soloist and mem­ber of the Se­nior Choir.

The Stem­bridges’ daugh­ter, 17year- old Jas­mine who as­pires to be a pe­di­atric neona­tal nurse, at­tends Rock Solid Chris­tian School. Also in­volved in the church’s min­istry, she sings in the choir and sub­sti­tute teaches in Sun­day school. Son, Char­lie Jr. a grad­u­ate of Ge­or­gia South­ern Col­lege, is em­ployed with DHR.

The Rev. Stem­bridge says that the most valu­able les­son he has learned is to al­ways live life in a pos­i­tive man­ner and to be an ex­am­ple for oth­ers. The pas­tor ex­tends that mes­sage through his mem­bers as they reach out to the com­mu­nity in prepa­ra­tion of Har­vest Sun­day this week­end. “ Ev­ery­one brings canned goods or mone­tary do­na­tions to help the sick and shut- ins,” said Stem­bridge.

In ad­di­tion to the spa­cious class­rooms, Graves Chapel built a fel­low­ship hall and kitchen two years ago. ” Now we are able to serve break­fast be­fore Sun­day school to the chil­dren who ride the church van,” said the pas­tor’s wife.

Graves Chapel A.M.E. Church up­holds the be­lief in the Holy Trin­ity; Fa­ther, Son and Holy Ghost. Their ser­vices in­clude Sun­day school at 10:00 a.m. fol­lowed by wor­ship at 11:30 a.m. and Wed­nes­day Bi­ble Study at 6:30 p.m. For the past 15 years, they have com­bined their fifth Sun­day ser­vice with two other lo­cal churches.

The pas­tor looks to church leader Eb­bie Syphoe, one of the most knowl­edge­able mem­bers about the church’s his­tory, to get things done. Syphoe shares the pas­tor’s vi­sion to some­day build an­other sanc­tu­ary that will hold 400 peo­ple.

The pas­tor’s ad­vice to fam­i­lies is to build com­mu­ni­ca­tion within the home and learn to lis­ten to each other. “Put the Lord first, and teach your chil­dren to love their neigh­bor,” he added.

His fa­vorite bi­ble pas­sage is Isa­iah 40:31: “but those who hope in the lord will re­new their strength. They will soar on wings like ea­gles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Mandi Singer/The Cov­ing­ton News

Jas­mine Stem­bridge, left, Pas­tor Char­lie Stem­bridge and his wife Sharon Stem­bridge pause in fel­low­ship hall of Graves Chapel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church Wed­nes­day evening.

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