For most of the one hundred and sixty years of its history, Christ Episcopal Church served the small farm-market community of Covington. The City of Covington serves as the seat of St. Tammany Parish (parishes being the Louisiana political equivalent of counties). Covington is in the heart of what is called the Northshore, a tranquil, but rapidly growing suburban community north of Lake Pontchartrain. The area has a significant number of native trees, and in spring is known for the beauty of its flowering azaleas. Members of the Christ Church community come from Covington, Mandeville and other small towns in the vicinity.
In 1956, the twenty-four mile long Lake Pontchartrain Causeway was built across Lake Pontchartrain, which greatly reduced driving time between New Orleans and the Northshore. St. Tammany’s wooded land, lower living expenses, excellent schools and more relaxed lifestyle have attracted a burgeoning population of young families, retirees and workers who commute to the City. St. Tammany’s new residents come from New Orleans and from many other areas of the country. In the last few years, this area has been the fastest growing parish in Louisiana and one of the fastest growing regions in the nation.
In response to the area’s growth, a new church building was dedicated in 1967. In 1980, a new parish hall was added to the campus to provide facilities for meetings, activities and fellowship. In 2002 the Church also purchased the St. Tammany Art Association’s building for its administrative office. This made room for a premium child care center in the Parish Hall. Christ Church began the mission of St. Michael’s Church in Mandeville to serve southern St. Tammany Parish. That mission later became an independent church. Christ Church also sponsors the Christ Episcopal School for grades pre-K thru high school and Christwood, a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC).
Sesquicentennial of Christ Church
The Chapel of Christ Episcopal Church was built in late 1846 by Jonathan Arthur who came to Covington from London. He designed the church along the lines of Georgian churches in England and the colonies, including doors similar to the “horse stall pews” in his home country. In connection with the church’s sesquicentennial celebration, the entire interior and most of the exterior of the chapel, including the heart of pine floors, were restored. The wainscoting is a combination of heart of pine and cypress and is stained a dark walnut as is the tongue and groove ceiling.
The chapel is on the National Trust’s Register of Historic Places and is the oldest building in continuous use in Covington. A renovation was conducted with the assistance of an historic preservationist. The initial cost for the chapel, including altar and pulpit, was $1,350. By the time that renovation was completed, some $40,000 plus was spent, much of which has been raised through donations. The bell tower, which has been turned into a prayer/meditation room, was added in the early 1880S and the present altar was installed in the early 1900's. In earlier restorations, the walls were replastered as in the original plans and the glass in the windows was replaced with handmade glass from West Virginia. The windows were made in the same fashion and form as the original glass from England. There are other items currently being looked at for restoration and preservation including the stained glass windows.
The first Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana, Leonidas Polk, consecrated the church in 1847. Polk graduated in 1827 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he was a roommate of Robert E. Lee. He entered the seminary after studying at the military academy and became Bishop of the fledgling Louisiana diocese in 1841. He was a founder of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, and a Confederate General in the Civil War who carried the nickname “The Fighting Bishop.”
Over the years, the Chapel has survived hurricanes, floods, plagues, the Civil War, controversies and neglect. It continued as the main house of worship until a brick church was erected in 1967. Today, the historic chapel is use for daily morning and evening prayer services, Holy Eucharist most week days and Sunday evenings as well as for weddings, baptisms, funerals and special services.
Parish members, headed by an effective and hard-working committee and with contributions from congregation members, extensively renovated the chapel in connection with the sesquicentennial celebration. As part of the renovation, parishioners sponsored pews that had been used by family members for years. The restoration committee reinstated the old practice of hanging in the church all of the flags that have flown over the region since colonial times.