When the Rev. Dean Taylor arrived this month at St. Boniface Episcopal Church, he told the staff, “This is your year to do bold and adventurous experiments, because the stakes are so low.”
Taylor, 55, had never set foot on Siesta Key until July. He drove down from Georgia to interview for the position of interim parish priest at the church on Midnight Pass Road, and he was invited to take the position.
The Rev. Canon Edward M. Copland had retired May 15 after 20 years at St. Boniface, so the church needed someone to fill in while the parishioners sought Copland’s replacement — a process that probably will take a year to 18 months, Taylor says.
After more than 20 years himself in a Dalton, Ga., parish, Taylor had decided to move into a relatively new program within the national church that prepares priests for interim positions. It’s less stressful, Taylor says, than serving as the regular parish priest, and it’s the perfect opportunity for introducing parishes to new ideas.
For example, he says, he’s already planning a Mardi Gras service with jazz on Fat Tuesday, before the church begins its 2012 Lenten observance. The service will welcome people from the community as well as members, Taylor says. It was so popular when he was interim priest at St. James in Marietta, Ga., that it helped earn the church a feature story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Taylor is very much a “people person.” In fact, that’s what led him to the ministry as a third career, after a newspaper job and a coaching/teaching position.
After graduating from the University of the South in Tennessee, Taylor became a reporter for the Demopolis Times in the Alabama town of the same name and worked his way up to editor.
“When I interviewed people, especially for stories like fires or wrecks,” he says, “I found myself wanting to stay with the story, so to speak — find out how they did in the long run.”
The desire was strong, he said, “to see them through their healing and help them have hope in the longer term.”
Yet, Taylor also has a great affection for teaching and coaching, he says, so when a University of the South classmate offered him a position at Battleground Academy in Nashville, Tenn., he accepted. He was ready for the job change, he adds, as “I was still really searching for what I wanted to do.”
As he continued that search, the Columbus, Ga., native also found inspiration in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta’s work in Emmaus House, located in an area of Atlanta where one of the big riots occurred in the 1960s, Taylor says. The mission houses a community justice office, a food pantry and a job-counseling program.
“The priests there are role models,” Taylor adds. “It was sort of the gospel in action to me.”
Finally, Taylor took the leap to the priesthood by enrolling at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Va. He chose that school, he says, because of its reputation for focusing on preaching and teaching, the two elements of the ministry that interested him most.
Almost three decades later, Taylor is delighted to be at St. Boniface.
“This church is a really remarkable church,” he says. “An interim (priest) can tell how well a place has been led when you first get here.”
On becoming an Episcopalian: “It was the (John F.) Kennedy election that did it.” His family attended a Baptist church in Columbus, Ga. One Sunday during the 1960 presidential campaign, when the Rev. Dean Taylor was 5, their minister preached that no one should vote for Kennedy because Kennedy was Roman Catholic. “And my dad didn’t want anybody to tell him how to vote,” Taylor says. Shortly thereafter, Taylor’s mother began singing in the choir of the town’s Episcopal church. “I think it was the music that got us in (that parish).”
On music: A cellist since he was in the third grade, Taylor has been asked to become a member of the Sarasota Pops Orchestra. St. Boniface “has amazing music,” he adds.
On Siesta Key: After two days in Sarasota in July for the interview process and a general tour, Taylor was heading back to Georgia when he realized he hadn’t seen the Key’s most popular attraction. “I drove to the beach, took my shoes and socks off, rolled up my pants and walked over the beach. It really is beautiful.”
Read FIVE THINGS YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT: Rev. Dean Taylor.