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Pastor with history degree takes helm at Good Shepherd Episcopal

Special Photo Pastor Edwin Beckham, shown here next to wife Laura, and sons, top from left, Simon and Eliot, is the new priest-in-charge at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Covington.

Special Photo Pastor Edwin Beckham, shown here next to wife Laura, and sons, top from left, Simon and Eliot, is the new priest-in-charge at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Covington.

Working in a brownstone on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., for the American Historical Association, Father Edwin Beckham was on his way to becoming Professor Edwin Beckham when his own course of history changed.

He was in graduate school in Maryland preparing to become a history professor when he realized he was more excited about helping people in their struggles and helping them grow in their faith than in teaching a history class.

Ten years later, Edwin Beckham was ordained as a minister in the Episcopal Church.

"I took it very slow," he said. "I had just left graduate school and had a family. It took almost 10 years before I was ordained. The Episcopal Church has a very deliberate and very thorough process to figure out if you have a call. Between my own caution about it and the church's caution about it, (it took a while)."

Today, Beckham, who prefers to be called Father Edwin because he says Father Beckham sounds "too old," has been assigned as the new priest for Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Covington. He delivered his first sermon at the Newton County church Sunday -- a message on the Old Testament story of Jeremiah's calling to be a prophet.

This is Beckham's first priest-in-charge position. Prior to coming to Covington, he served as an associate minister for Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Athens for a number of years.

Beckham, who grew up in Greenville, S.C., comes from a family that was and still is active in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. It was during his undergraduate years in college that Beckham became involved in the Episcopal denomination and when they were 21, both he and his wife Laura, were confirmed into the church.

"We've just passed the point where we've been Episcopalian longer than we were not," he said.

Beckham began his college years at Georgia Tech, finishing with a bachelor's degree in history at Furman University in South Carolina. He and the former Laura McHugh married in 1991, and are the parents of two boys, Eliot, 18, a freshman at Georgia Tech, and Simon, who will be 15 next week and is a freshman at Oconee County High School near Watkinsville.

When he was still planning to become a history professor, Beckham had worked on his postgraduate degree at the University of Georgia and the University of Maryland, where he worked as a graduate assistant teaching history. In 2005, he moved his growing family to Austin, Texas, to complete his master of divinity degree at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest.

"As I was deciding that I was not cut out to be a history professor, I realized I was more of a generalist and more excited about gathering people and being with people," Beckham said. "I was also reflecting on all of the good stuff I'd been involved in at the church, like working at a summer camp for handicapped kids and being a leader in my youth group in high school."

"I also had mentors. I had encountered several Episcopal priests and others on their way to becoming Episcopal priests and the United Methodist minister on the Georgia Tech campus was also a mentor."

Beckham was ordained into the ministry in 2008, and while his life's focus is now on helping those around him, points of history are never far from his thoughts.

"I still love history and will always be able to remember dates," he said. "I have this timeline in my head and everything that happens, I can sort of stick it on the timeline and remember it that way."

He also brings his love of history to help him in his work as a priest.

"Everybody comes from somewhere is what history means to me now in my life," he said. "We all bring our past with us and that shapes who we are. I'll always be fascinated in hearing other people's stories and where they're coming from out of their own history.

"One of the things that will be fun for me in Covington and the new community is hearing the stories of Covington and its past. I've already sort of poked around about learning about the Porterdale Mill and that community. There's always something in history."

Beckham said he is looking forward to getting to know his new congregation at Good Shepherd Episcopal and has already made note of the fact that during its 50-year-plus timeline, the Covington church has already helped start three other Episcopal churches in nearby counties.

"The folks have been particularly friendly and welcoming, very sweet and supportive. We had a very good Sunday morning," Beckham said.

"... I would hope that folks find me unassuming and just ready to meet them wherever they are. I'm happy to spend time with people to get to know them and I'm excited and eager to help them discover what their gifts and passions are in relation to their own ministry."

Beckham also wanted to remind the community that Good Shepherd Episcopal will hold a pancake supper from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12. This will be a celebration before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. The church will have Ash Wednesday services at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.