The Rev. Kenneth Gill resigned Friday from his position as senior minister at Longboat Island Chapel after 12 years with the congregation. The resignation came two days before the congregation was scheduled to vote on whether to retain Gill. Instead, the board of trustees and Gill agreed on what Gill described as a “separation agreement.”
The chapel’s board announced the agreement in a Jan. 28 email to members:
“The Board of Trustees is pleased to announce that the matter with Pastor Gill has been amicably resolved,” it stated. “We wish Pastor Gill the best in the pursuit of his future career goals. It is our hope and prayer that the Longboat Island Chapel will continue to be a source of spiritual and social support for our members and an asset to surrounding communities with our Aging in Paradise programs and services.”
“It’s kind of a bittersweet thing,” Gill said. “I’ve had some good years in the community. But now, it’s time to move on.”
Gill’s resignation was the result of a growing schism that occurred in the chapel over the past eight to nine months in which some board members questioned his leadership. In December, the board voted 9-2 to hold a congregational vote about whether to retain Gill, who retained an attorney to represent him. On Jan. 10, the board voted to place Gill on paid administrative leave, a move Board President Sue Reese said at the time was made on the advice of the chapel’s legal counsel.
Since Gill was placed on administrative leave, approximately 40 people, many of whom are chapel members, have met at a private residence for Sunday services, which Gill has led. He said that he believes that he would have kept his position had the congregation voted. (Two-thirds of members present would have had to vote in favor of removing him from his position, according to chapel bylaws.)
Both Gill and Board Vice President Dick Pelton declined to discuss what the separation agreement entailed. Pelton also didn’t comment about whether he believed that Gill would have kept the position had a vote occurred.
“We don’t want to get into the hypothetical,” he said.
Pelton said that, for now, the Rev. Charlie Shook will lead some services, with guest ministers filling in for others. He said that the chapel will embrace the search for a new minister “with enthusiasm.” However, he said that as an interfaith church, the chapel will face a search that is somewhat different from that which churches affiliated with a denomination face, because it has a “modest hierarchy.” To give members a sense of the resources available to the congregation, the board will host the Rev. Donald H. Ashmall, council minister of the International Council of Community Churches, the umbrella organization for the church, at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 4.
Pelton said that the board will eventually name a search committee to help appoint a new minister.
“We want to be very deliberate about this,” he said. “This isn’t something we plan to do overnight or on a deliberate schedule,” he said.
As for Gill, he said he plans to continue speaking and writing for now, but he said he could eventually establish a new interfaith community locally — probably not on Longboat Key, which he described as “kind of saturated with congregations.”
Gill said that despite the schism that occurred in recent months, he said he is choosing to focus on the positive times he has had with the chapel. One example was in 2002, when he was struck by a drunken driver while riding his motorcycle, and the congregation rallied around him. Two of his children were married in the chapel’s garden. And six years ago, he married his wife, Connie, who has been an important part of his ministry at the chapel.
“I’ve had a lot of wonderful experiences, and there are a lot of beautiful people at the chapel,” he said. “I’m choosing to focus on that, rather than the divisiveness of the last couple of months or so.”