I LOVE happening upon exactly what I’m looking for — when I didn’t even realize it existed, much less that it was what I had always wanted.
So I make myself open for such discoveries. I spend hours strolling through department stores rather than shopping online. I listen to the radio instead of CDs. I read newspapers rather than just googling whatever it is that I think I want to know about.
And that’s how I happened upon the Church of the Good Shepherd, a lovely little Episcopal parish five blocks north of the State House and one block west of the Robert Mills House and the Hampton-Preston Mansion on Blanding Street. It is a place, a people, a community that has transformed my life. And it is the most important part of My Columbia.
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The 115-year-old brick Gothic structure invites visitors up broad concrete steps through large rounded doors and into the church, where the original heart-pine floor leads down a wide center aisle past oak pews to a grand altar crafted of white Italian Cararra marble — the focal and spiritual centerpiece of the church’s rich interior.
The eye drifts upward from the altar to the 122-year-old stained-glass rendering of Christ the Good Shepherd, and then to the dark open-beam ceiling from which is suspended a life-size wooden crucifix, which was carved by the grandfather of one of my dearest friends.
Dotted around the nave are brilliant icons that to the uninitiated might feel out of place outside of an Orthodox church. (Visit Good Shepherd’s gallery of sacred art at goodshepherdcolumbia.org.)
It’s just one of the many aspects of the parish that make Good Shepherd feel out of place as an Episcopal church.
If you’ve been to an Episcopal church service, chances are good that you’d feel confused at first. Although the liturgy is standard Episcopalian, the feel is Roman Catholic, from the incense to the bows, genuflections and signs of the cross to the priest singing the Mass and the life-size statue of the Virgin Mary. Roman Catholics often say it’s more Catholic than their churches. The theology and values, too, are closer to Roman Catholicism than modern Episcopalianism.
Good Shepherd is what is known colloquially as high church, more properly as Anglo-Catholic, and you won’t find anything like it in Columbia — or the entire Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina.
But it’s not the smells and bells of reverential worship or the glorious liturgical music that make Good Shepherd special. I have learned to love those very foreign practices because they are part of Good Shepherd, the parish community that embraced me from the moment I gave it the opportunity to do so.
This is the place where I found my best friends, and so many people who have shared my joys and my trials, and who in this most challenging year have seen me through broken bones and home invasion and unimagined new challenges.
This is the place that reinvigorated a faith that had grown flabby from lack of exercise.
This is the place that taught me what it means to be part of a community of faith — from giving of my time and talents to the operations of the church to praying for our sick and mourning our departed to celebrating in our fellowship.
This is the place where I learn daily from the example of our rector, Father James Lyon IV, and so many fellow parishioners to take seriously Jesus’ command in Matthew 25:40 that we serve the least of those among us.
But don’t just take my word for it. Come to Good Shepherd and experience My Columbia for yourself. I’ll look forward to seeing you there, at 10:30 every Sunday morning.
Ms. Scoppe serves on the Altar Guild and Stewardship Committee of the Church of the Good Shepherd and coordinated the parish’s visioning process. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 771-8571. Follow her on Twitter @CindiScoppe.
The Church of the Good Shepherd
1512 Blanding Street, Columbia
Sunday Mass: 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
Weekday Mass: 12:05 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday