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Outside the lines, but in your lane

First Epworth broadens horizons


First Epworth

Members of First Baptist Church in Epworth have developed a ministry painting murals such as this one being completed by Costa Rican schoolchildren.

EPWORTH — Finding your place for ministry isn’t much of a problem at First Baptist Church.

Pastor Tom Jordan counts among 125 different ways to do so in a congregation that averages up to 450 people between its two worship services. Outreach options include quilting, giving food, golf, and even creating diapers out of old T-shirts. Through Morganton Association, the church takes part in medical and dental missions, among others.

Perhaps the ministry that has brought together the largest swath of church members, though, is where murals are painted to be displayed overseas.

There’s something about the north Georgia mountains that draws artists and inspires budding ones, no matter their age. “We’ve become quite the destination [for it],” says First Baptist member Kathy Thompson.

Local artists who aren’t members of the church have helped in painting murals now on display in New York, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Mozambique as well as a local homeless shelter and food pantry. Those artists lend their talents in designing and drawing the murals on canvas before church members finish them.


Using a broad brush

Thompson grew up in the mountains of New York State before in 1966 accepting a teaching job in Atlanta. In 1971 she accepted a position at West Fannin High School in north Georgia, where she met her husband T.J. For 37 years she influenced students as an art teacher before retiring in 2006.

“You find people’s calling, their ministry niche, then open up a door and watch them go.”

Tom Jordan, pastor
Epworth First Baptist Church

An author, publisher, photographer, painter, traveller and member of First Epworth for 41 years, Thompson helps directs mural projects that can include five main artists and up to 50 adults and 40 children and youth. All told, there are around a couple hundred people involved in the mural ministry.

“We have an odd combination of people who paint [professionally] and those who don’t,” she says. “There are a lot of dedicated, hard workers here.”

The mural ministry was born out of a different artistic venture. In the fall of 2009 heavy rains hit the metro Atlanta area, leading to flooding in Austell. With those families busy cleaning up, First Epworth came up with an outreach born from an excess of Christmas decorations donated to the church.

Members created Christmas Tree boxes containing at least a dozen handmade ornaments to help replace decorations lost or damaged. The gifts eventually were shared with more than 60 families.

Most recently, eight murals were sent to a public school in Costa Rica as part of a character development project. “The schools allow religious teaching so the lessons and murals could be Bible-based,” explains Thompson.

FB Epworth

Liz Simonds, a member of Epworth First Baptist, paints Christmas ornaments for Georgia flood victims in 2009.

In addition, a member of First Epworth working in the Peace Corps in rural Guatemala asked if church members could paint individual portraits of sixth grade children in the school. Cameras are rare in the area, so the church member emailed digital photos to Kathy for artists to work from.

The artists painted the 56 portraits while members filled in the background and clothing. A message of the Gospel, on the back in Spanish, accompanied each one.

“I’ve enjoyed seeing the multigenerational painters working on these,” says Jordan, who has been First Baptist’s pastor for 26 years. “You’ve got high school and middle school students all the way up to senior adults putting them together.”


Family of ministry

Jordan’s “Family of Faith” ministry concept works toward opportunities such as the one through painting murals. Each ministry developed at the church, he says, “is developed from the distinctive personal vision of a member or group of members. God created families to nurture, and so too [does] our family of faith.”

The goal for each person is salvation, he stresses, but adds the importance of helping them locate a place to serve.

“You find people’s calling, their ministry niche, then open up a door and watch them go.”

FB Epworth

Church member Nancy Poore paints on a mural for Costa Rica.

FB Epworth

Costa Rican schoolchildren help paint a mural begun more than 1,700 miles away by members of First Baptist Epworth. About 30 adults and 50 children at the north Georgia church participated in the project. Currently preparations are being made for a project in Haiti.

FB Epworth

Kathy Thompson, of Epworth First Baptist Church, and Donna Riddoch of nearby Blue Ridge United Methodist Church prepare to go to the airport earlier this year on their way to Costa Rica. Each is holding a carpet tube containing three murals. In addition, the pair took paint, brushes, and lesson packs for 15 teachers.

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Two GAs help with a painting.

FB Epworth

In addition to providing murals in other countries, others featuring undersea life have been provided for the Fannin County Food Pantry.

FB Epworth

FB Epworth

A painting for Costa Rican children with a "heroes" theme now adorns a school wall.

FB Epworth

A portrait of a child in Guatemala was made possible from a church member working in the area who emailed digital pictures back to Epworth.