Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith Dan Commerford, the new pastor at Bethany Presbyterian Church in Newton County, stands inside the church's sanctuary.
As a young man of 18 on a mission trip in Egypt and Israel, Daniel Commerford said he felt God had placed a call on his life to go into the ministry. Years of studying and seeking God's will followed and have culminated with the Rev. Daniel Commerford now settling into his first pastorate as a Presbyterian minister.
The congregation at Bethany Presbyterian Church in Newton County welcomed its new pastor in January and Commerford said he already loves the people.
"My first few months here have really confirmed all the preparation I've done and all the questions I've asked myself about where God is leading me," the pastor said. "Being here at Bethany is the confirmation and it's where God wants me to be. The congregation is a great group of people. They have been very supportive of me and in my developing my pastoral identity ... This is such a great congregation and they have made my first few months here wonderful."
Growing up in Edina, Minn., Commerford said faith served as the cornerstone in his family.
"Our faith in Christ was always the context in how we lived our lives," he said. "For me growing up, whatever experience I had or lessons I learned were always in the context of my relationship with God. Youth group was such a huge part of my life. A lot of my best friends today are who I was with in youth group in middle and high school.
It was during a mission trip to Egypt and Israel with Youth on a Mission that Commerford said he sensed God calling him into the ministry.
"It drove me to start studying and to go to college," he said.
Commerford received a bachelor's degree in biblical and theological studies from Bethel University in Minnesota and earned his master of divinity degree at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Va. He graduated in 2011, and Bethany Presbyterian is his first pastorate.
"Bethany is a church that is really full of life," Commerford said. "There is demographically a good representation of every stage of life. There's a good group of people in their retirement years, a good group of people who are kind of in the middle age years and a really good group of young adults in their 20s and 30s beginning to form their own families and their own traditions.
"That's one of the things that drew me to Bethany that all of these generations are so represented. There's also a good youth group. You don't always see that in a church this size. It's really full of life and there's a lot going on all the time. The congregation is full of people seeking God and learning how to integrate their faith into their everyday lives," he said.
Bethany Presbyterian is mission-minded and each month the congregation prepares sack lunches to distribute throughout Porterdale. Middle and high school students also attend camps each week and the church has been hosting fundraisers to help finance the camps.
"Members here have a high priority on its youth and equipping the younger generation in the faith so as they grow older, their faith is part of their lives too," Commerford said.
Throughout his own life, Commerford said God has placed people in his path to encourage him in the faith.
"I've had many mentors," he said. "As I've reached different stages in my life, God has put different people in my life that kept me going, challenged me and nurtured me in my faith. Each season in my life whether (it was) a pastor or professor or an elder, there has been a person who has come in and taken me under their wing. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for all of them."
As he serves his first pastorate, Commerford said it is important to him that he is a preacher who proclaims God's word.
"When I say God's word, I mean Christ and how we all know about Christ and who Christ is through the Scriptures," he said. "My preaching is very rooted in Scripture. It's very important for me that those in the congregation have an understanding of what's going on in the Scripture and be able to apply it to their lives."
Commerford is married and his wife, Rachel, is finishing her degree in business and accounting at Bethel University at St. Paul, Minn., and will join her husband in Covington in May.
Bethany Presbyterian Church is located at 1002 Bethany Road off Ga. Highway 212 in Covington. Sunday School is at 9:30 a.m., followed by worship at 11. The church is busy planning for its Vacation Bible School from June 3 to 7.
Founded in 1842 by 23 men and women who came together from the Covington, McDonough and Smyrna Presbyterian Churches, Bethany Presbyterian Church today is surrounded by subdivisions that sit on land that was once the farms and homes of its founding members. The first church building constructed on the site was later converted to a school named Bethany Academy and was about a mile southwest from the church's current site.
A new church sanctuary was dedicated in 1852, and was renovated and added onto in 1947 and 1948, with a Sunday School and assembly hall addition. In 1980, the sanctuary was totally reconstructed and a new nursery and Sunday School facilities were added in 1986. In the past few years, the sanctuary and fellowship hall, as well as the kitchen and several Sunday School rooms, were again renovated.