LAKEWOOD RANCH — The Rev. Phil Woods didn’t know a roughly 1,000-mile drive alone in a car, with just his chocolate lab, Elle Woods, could feel so good.
But, after sharing a 1,300-square-foot condo in Tara with his father-in-law and the rest of his six-person family, the late-November feat marked a new beginning.
He and his family moved into their own home in the Greenbrook community, in Lakewood Ranch, about two weeks ago, and soon were joined by Elle, who had remained in her hometown of St. Louis, after four months of separation.
“We feel great,” said Woods, noting the family is getting acclimated to suburban living.
Woods started as Cornerstone Church of Lakewood Ranch’s lead pastor Sept. 15. Until recently, he and his family had been living with Woods’ father-in-law, Bill Hogan, a member of Cornerstone.
Since the move from St. Louis, Woods and his wife, Rebecca, celebrated the birth of their fourth child, Dempsey, who now is about 2 months old.
Woods said he is taking his time getting to know Cornerstone’s culture and people, and is focusing his messages on the concept of grace, which he says is especially important for church members after nearly three years without a senior pastor.
“We’ve got to rest at this church a little bit,” Woods said.
Woods said his initial changes in assuming Cornerstone’s helm deal primarily with internal restructuring, but he does hope to soon hire a full-time children’s ministry director.
“We want to reach families,” Woods said. “It’s so important.”
He also is eliminating Saturday night services, at the end of this month.
He said any other changes would come in time.
Although Woods has served in a pastoral capacity for well more than a decade, he did not originally want to be a pastor.
Woods dropped out of college at Liberty University, which his parents forced him to attend, to surf on the beaches of North Carolina and live as he pleased.
“I rebelled as much as I could,” said Woods, noting his father is a pastor. “In reality, I had too high expectations for church people — judged them more harshly — and I struggled with the idea of a good god with so many bad things happening.”
But, in time, Woods realized he had everything he wanted, but felt nothing. His father randomly came for a visit.
“He said I sounded like death (when he had talked to me on the phone),” Woods said. “He gave me a Bible (and said the answers I needed were in there).”
Soon thereafter, Woods became a Christian and headed back to Liberty to finish college. He worked in youth ministry for 12 years before heading to Covenant Theological Seminary, in St. Louis, where he served youth, but began transitioning toward ministering to adults.
He helped start two churches in St. Louis, the second of which he launched with his best friend, Mike Werkheiser. To meet the educational needs of the community, they also started Lafayette Preparatory Academy there.
Woods was comfortable in his urban town, but considered moving to Sarasota when Hogan, mentioned Cornerstone’s senior pastor slot had been vacant for more than two years.
Woods had noticed positive changes in Hogan’s life after he began attending Cornerstone under the leadership of then-pastor Dave Sturkey, who preached his last sermon Dec. 24, 2010.
He had also met Sturkey years prior, while at seminary.
After a lengthy interview process, Woods accepted the position to become Cornerstone’s next pastor.
Woods said he is excited to share the Christmas holiday with his new church family, and to be in his new home.
“I’m sad about not seeing snow — but not that sad,” Woods said, smiling.
Contact Pam Eubanks at email@example.com.
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12 LWRBA March Membership Luncheon
11:30 am - 1:00 pm
12 March Membership Luncheon
15 Irish Celtic 5K, Lakewood Ranch
8:00 am - 10:00 am
15 Palma Sola Botanical Park plants, antiques and crafts sale
8:00 am - 3:00 pm
22 5th Annual Ponies for Pups
22 Lakewood Ranch Community Fund 'Havana Nights' Gala
23 The Bridal EXPO
12:00 pm - 4:00 pm
26 LWRBA March Executive Briefing
7:30 am - 9:00 am
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