The Rev. Carol S. Fleming
The Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida
I’ve always served in a part-time capacity in small churches in Diocese of Northern Indiana and Ohio. Mostly in churches that were contemplating how much longer can we go on…. The parishes I served learned about joy, the joy of worship. They learned that worship could be exciting and change wasn’t something to fear.
In my first parish, a physician who worked in Chicago but came home on the weekends said he loved coming to church on Sundays… he had come for so long out of obligation but now he couldn’t wait for Sunday, he blurted because Church is just fun! And then he looked to me as if to apologize… and asked is it ok to say church is fun! Absolutely. But I’d use the word joy! That parish grew from 20 on a Sunday to about 60.
Let me tell you a bit about myself. I retired after 20 years of teaching physical education teaching both overseas and stateside. That was followed by 20 years of active ministry. I can say I have two vocations I truly enjoyed and loved. I came upon the Episcopal Church after a crisis of health and the death of my father in law. I decided it was time to join a church. God had been pulling at my heart strings for some time and I was doing my best to ignore. We were living in Lone Pine California, population 2,000; it was November and I thought I’d join a church and sing in the choir for Christmas. There were nine churches in that tiny town, so I settled on the Episcopal Church. There was no UCC in the valley. Of the nine people in attendance that Sunday… I was the youngest with everyone else at least 30 years older than me. I had never been to an Episcopal Church before and from that moment on I never went anywhere else. Ask me to tell you about Father Cowboy Bob and my first worship experience it is very comical.
Every parish after that in their reflections to me said they learned it was ok to embrace change rather than fear it, they learned to be open to new opportunities, and mostly they learned that worship could be a joy-filled experience.
My last experience was as chaplain to a Military School in Howe, Indiana. Chapel went from a group of kids dreading to come to chapel to a group that said it was the highlight of their day. Chapel went from a handful of cadets serving to a waiting list for chapel detail and a waiting list for chapel choir. They learned to run the service. They wrote noonday service, they presided, read scripture, they selected the music, and a few even gave the message at the noon service. Watching the transformation of the students was amazing. We made a difference in their lives.
I won’t go into to my entire history because you’re more interested in this new faith community. You want to know what this mission is going to look like…
I really don’t know… God does! All I know is that I am being drawn to it. I have been asked, I have listened, I have prayed, I sought the wisdom of others and I have said yes. Quitting the best job I ever had… which was retirement… But the teacher/priest in me never really retired and I come to share my gifts as teacher/priest for this new Episcopal church gathering in Parrish. I don’t know what this new community of faith will look like. But I do know that we are not here to replicate a church of our past because this is a church for the present and future. We’re here to meet the needs of this community and to offer a spiritual home.
Here is one thing I do know about this new adventure… one of the most important facts that I know is we have the backing and support of the Diocese of SW Florida. Because we see the growth of this community and the possibility of offering a spiritual home.
My goodness Parrish just opened a brand new high school if my information is correct the 9th and 10th grade was staffed for 440 students and by the end of last week they enrolled 560 with 25 more coming in last Monday. Who knows what is today! A new elementary school and a new elementary charter school opened this week.
We would be remiss if we didn’t pay attention to this growth. We need to part of this growing community. We need to act now rather than later, while the communities are forming, and people are exploring so they may know that the Episcopal Church is here to welcome them.
What are we to do? Right now it is a time to listen and discern. We need to begin by gathering a group of leaders to help create a church home for those seeking a spiritual place for themselves. We need to part of this growing community.
IT IS OUR JOB TO THINK CLEARLY, TO SPEAK BOLDLY SO THAT WE MAY ACT BOLDLY. Let’s step out in faith to a very new beginning and that my friends, is really exciting. It’s why I am here. I pray that we dream big.
How God might be calling you? How God might use you? I ask that you be willing to hear and answer the call and help us be an Episcopal mission in the Parrish community. It is indeed an exciting time and I am excited to be part of this mission with you. Let’s plant a church!