LAKEWOOD RANCH — After six months of waiting, the Rev. Jim Hedman and members of St. Mary Magdalene Church on Oct. 9 marched into the convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida, singing, clapping and ringing bells in celebration as their church officially became its own parish.
“To me, going to parish status is an affirmation by the Diocese that we’re doing a good job,” Hedman said. “We are being faithful (to) the Gospel, and we’re here to stay.”
“It also allows us to look outside our doors even more and lose that ‘survival’ mentality and pick up that more sacrificial mentality,” he said.
St. Mary has been a mission — meaning it has received financial and other help from neighboring Episcopal congregations, including members who came over initially to help the church get started — since the church launched in 1996. As a parish, St. Mary now is completely self-supported.
Hedman said he may have been caught up in his role in presenting his congregation to the Diocese during the ceremony, but looking back, the experience was one never to forget — especially considering Hedman delivered a jar of M&Ms into the bishop’s hands before giving a humorous yet insightful address.
“It’s not my accomplishment,” Hedman said. “I did my part, but it’s really about a story that began 14 years ago. The happiness is really seeing the parishioners’ joy of that accomplishment.
“It’s a group of people who I honestly think try to love each other and love God and love the world,” he said.
St. Mary held its first service Dec. 7, 1996, in the Disabled American Vets building, which used to be located about where the tax collector’s Lakewood Ranch location exists today.
“It was really run down, but it served its purpose,” founding member David Horrocks said. “It was five mobile offices hooked together. Four of them didn’t have any sidewalls. They build a foyer on the one end, and that’s where it started.”
Horrock, who attends services with his wife Martha, would head over to the DAV early Sunday mornings with a friend to “air it out” from the bingo games held there the night before. After taking down tables and setting up chairs, they hung bed sheets on a PVC pipe frame to create a more attractive backdrop for the service.
The Manasota Deanery dedicated the Manasota Mission Church and its current property at the corner of State Road 70 and Lakewood Ranch Boulevard in January 1997. The mission’s name changed to St. Mary in the fall of 1998.
The church’s original victor, Fr. Jack Kline, retired in late 1998, and the Rev. Gayle King served as the interim vicar until the Rev. Jim Williamson came in May 1999, just months before construction crews began clearing the land and building the new church. Construction on St. Mary’s new building finished in May 2000, and the building was consecrated and dedicated on June 25.
“When we got our new building, that helped us a lot although we were quite active at the DAV,” Horrock said.
Throughout the past 15 years, St. Mary members have actively participated in outreaches to the community with people volunteering at the Food Bank and going on mission trips to the Dominican Republic, Hedman said. The church has even partnered with Harvest United Methodist Church to provide volunteers when Harvest hosts homeless families at its facility through Family Promise of Manatee County’s Interfaith Hospitality Network.
Hedman said it’s hard to be a resource in an area where so many needs are hidden, but he and St. Mary members are looking forward to the work ahead.
“Our hope is to begin to address those issues — that we can be a (resource for those) families,” he said.
“I see a great faith developing,” Hedman said, noting St. Mary members are becoming more committed to the church and to spiritual growth. “People are taking their faith seriously, not just sitting in a pew.”
St. Mary holds two services on Sunday mornings — a traditional Rite 1 service with no music at 8 a.m. and a blended-style family service at 10 a.m. For more information, visit the church’s website, www.stmarymagdalene.info.
Contact Pam Eubanks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1996-98: The Rev. Jack Kline
1998 to May 1999: The Rev. Gale King
May 1999 to January 2005: The Rev. Jim Williamson
2005: The Rev. Wes Wasdyke (interim pastor)
June 2005 to August 2006: Mother Michelle Robertshaw
October 2006 to present: The Rev. Jim Hedman