Religion

Macon’s oldest church reaching out through healing service Dec. 3

The Rev. Cynthia Knapp is rector at Christ Church, an Episcopal congregation which is Macon’s oldest church, formed in 1825.
The Rev. Cynthia Knapp is rector at Christ Church, an Episcopal congregation which is Macon’s oldest church, formed in 1825. Special to The Telegraph

“Healing ministry is an important part of the church’s ministry because coming to Jesus involves coming to a place of wholeness — Christ ministered to the whole person, spirit, mind and body. As his church we should do the same.”

That’s the Rev. Cynthia Knapp’s answer to why Christ Church, an Episcopal congregation and Macon’s oldest church, is having a special healing service in early December.

Knapp has served as an Episcopal minister for 26 years and as rector — or lead pastor — at Christ Church since September, 2016. She said praying for healing is not new to Episcopal theology. Long-time church member Virginia Green said praying for the sick is not new to Christ Church, either.

“There’s a renewed interest at Christ Church in praying for the sick, partly due to our rector’s heart, to see those suffering find peace and healing,” Green said. “But we’ve been praying regularly for people for more than 20 years at our Wednesday healing services. They began when a dear friend, a young woman, was diagnosed with cancer. She did pass away but we continued to pray for others and have seen God do wonderful things.”

Green said she’s been a member at Christ Church since 1976, apart from a few years after moving to Fort Valley. Though she and her husband, Macon attorney Tom Green, still live in Fort Valley, they attend Christ Church.

Knapp served in the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut prior to coming to Macon.

“I grew up in the Midwest and moved all over the place because my father worked for IBM,” she said. “It rivaled how military kids move all the time. We settled in Connecticut where I finished high school, then went to Duke University majoring in economics.”

Knapp said while a young person in Connecticut she began attending youth group in a neighboring community, St. Paul’s parish in Darien, Connecticut. It was one of the largest Episcopal congregations of its day and led by the Rev. Terry Fullam, a well-known Episcopal Bible teacher and leader in church renewal.

Between her junior and senior years of college, Knapp served in missions in Japan. There she felt called to dedicate her life to missions and ministry and she eventually returned to Japan for an additional year to work with college students. Coming back to the U.S., she earned a Master of Divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria.

Knapp said she married between her second and third year of seminary which meant moving and attending Yale University, but still getting her degree from VTS. She and her husband, Chet, now have three grown children, David, Liane and Laura, who are pursuing their own education and careers.

“That call to ministry in Japan was one of the clearest things I’ve ever felt the Lord speak to me,” Knapp said. “I knew it was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”

Knapp said God put an importance on healing in her ministry. Though she said she’s not a healer and stresses it’s God who heals through the prayers of his people, she said she’s seen documented healings, including people healed of cancer, sprains, broken bones, ear infections and even a child healed of a serious gluten allergy years before “gluten-free became a thing.”

Knapp said she’s more interested in seeing others trained as part of healing prayer teams than become the center of attention herself.

The Dec. 3 prayer service will be a celebration of the Eucharist, Knapp said. In the Episcopal Church, all baptized believers are welcome to share in taking communion. She said non-Christians are welcome and that commonly those not taking communion cross their arms over their chests as a sign they don’t want to be served communion, but do want to receive prayer and blessing, none-the-less.

“Healing is very connected to the Eucharist,” Knapp said. “Healing ministry in the context of the Eucharist is a beautiful way of remembering what Christ has done for us. I’ve always thought it especially good to minister to people in this way as we approach Christmas because the holidays can be a difficult time whether due to physical illness, emotional trauma or other things. We want people to come, be heard and be prayed for and know they matter to us and to God. Why would we not make available to others something God makes available to us? We’re supposed to steward the gifts he gives us through Jesus Christ.”

Christ Church was organized in 1825, making it the oldest church of any denomination in Macon. In 1826, it was the first church in Macon to receive property from the state Legislature with other denominations receiving land grants within a year, also. The congregation sold its grant land and purchased its Walnut Street property in 1833 and completed a building there in 1834.

In 1835, what is thought to be the first church organ in Macon was installed. Reportedly, its use for worship stirred controversy among community religious leaders.

Growing, in 1852, the church built a new sanctuary in which it still meets. It underwent four re-decorations from 1882 to 1922 and a thorough renovation in 2000, including restructuring how space is used and the installation of a Fisk organ.

Christ Church is also where Sidney Lanier married his wife, Mary Day, in 1867. And still, stained glass sets the interior of Christ Church awash in colorful displays.

“The building itself is a beautiful place to worship,” Green said. “There are many outreach ministries at Christ Church and a lot of in-reach, too. You don’t hear as much about it but when something happens in a family everybody gathers around them in support. There’s just a lot of nurturing and love within the body of Christ here. People are truly welcomed.”

Church records show Christ Church has been mission-minded and instrumental in starting other parishes. Its ministry and service in the community includes helping begin or sustain such organizations as Meals-on-Wheels, Loaves and Fishes, Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army’s Safe House, Rebuilding Together and the Macon Volunteer Clinic. Knapp said the church hosts free Saturday and Sunday meals at noon for those in need. She said 300-plus meals are served on any given weekend.

“It’s all part of showing God’s love,” Knapp said. “I’ve always loved God’s word and was underlining my Bible when I was 12. I think it was the great Bible teaching that drew me to the youth group in Darien. What I love about our worship is how it’s rooted in the Bible and we’re continually reading and praying and teaching God’s word. And we want to live his word whether by helping the poor or praying for the sick. Certainly it’s all out of love and there’s no condemnation or judgment for anyone who’s not apparently healed — God’s time isn’t always ours. But we’re eager to love and pray for one another.”

Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

Christ Church

Address: 582 Walnut St., Macon, Ga. 31201

Phone: 478-745-0427

Leadership: The Rev. Cynthia Knapp, rector

Special healing service: Dec. 3, 5 p.m.

Worship: Sunday spoken service 8 a.m., family service 9 a.m., worship 11 a.m., weekly Wednesday healing service 12:05 p.m.

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