Originally created 11/30/02

Priestly path



Franklin Thomas will receive a Bible, a pectoral cross and the vestments of a priest during his ordination at Christ Episcopal Church.

Bishop Henry Louttit of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia in Savannah will consecrate the Augustan at 7 p.m. Monday, the first ordination in the Harrisburg-area church in more than 100 years.

Mr. Thomas, 78, was ordained a deacon in April during a clergy gathering at the Episcopal Conference Center in Waverly, Ga. His first assignment will be as assistant to the rector of Christ Episcopal, the Rev. Theodore Atwood.

Vocations later in life are common in the Episcopal Church although there are no statistics available, according to the diocesan office in Savannah.

Mr. Thomas has been moving steadily toward the priesthood since the 1990s when he made a trip to Savannah to ask if he could become a deacon. The bishop gave him a "no," though Mr. Thomas had been a lay leader in the Episcopal Church since the 1950s.

"That was a kick in the belly - at least, I knew where I stood," said Mr. Thomas, who retired in 1984 after more than 35 years as a civilian training manager with the U.S. Army.

The bishop had other ideas - he wanted him to become a respite priest.

"From that moment on, we got serious," Mr. Thomas said.

Theologically, there is no difference between respite priests and other clergy. They take the same core seminary studies, but skip classes in other areas such as administration and counseling.

"Primarily, the purpose of this job is to relieve a priest, one who is about to burn out, is ill or needs a vacation or (to serve) wherever the bishop sends me," Mr. Thomas said.

After the talk with the bishop, he drove to Cochran, Ga., one Saturday a month to take theology classes offered through Wesleyan University in Macon. He plans to continue his studies after ordination.

Christ Episcopal's last ordination was held near the close of the 19th century when a former mill engineer, John Chipman, was ordained there. Mr. Thomas will take his place Monday in the sanctuary with the same stained-glass depiction of the Good Shepherd looking on.

Originally built in 1869 for the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd on Walton Way, the building was rolled down The Hill on logs in 1882 to the corner of Eve and Greene streets and consecrated Christ Church in 1883.

Mr. Thomas has busied himself this week preparing the service. "It takes quite a bit of planning to support something like this," he said, confessing he is trying "mainly to keep my wife calm."

For more information, call 736-5165 or see the Diocese of Georgia's Web site, www.georgia.anglican.org.

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or vanorton@augustachronicle.com.