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Sarasota Monday, Oct. 4, 2021 1 month ago

New Church of the Redeemer rector embraces leadership role

Fr. Charleston Wilson was recently recognized as the new rector for the church.
by: Harry Sayer Staff Writer

Father Charleston Wilson wasn’t sold on moving to Florida — not at first. 

The entrepreneur-turned-church figure was deciding whether to accept an offer from then-rector Fred Robinson to work at the Church of the Redeemer in downtown Sarasota nearly a decade ago. Wilson admits he and his wife were fairly misinformed about the Sunshine state.

“When you’re a born-and-bred Southerner, you think all of Florida is a bit like the Panhandle,” Wilson said. “Nothing could be further than the truth. 

The eight years he’s spent working up the ranks at the church have changed his mind about his home. Wilson, 39, has become devoted to his parish to the point that he was appointed rector of the church. Priests and leaders in the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida attended a service and reception that installed Wilson on Sept. 16.

His responsibilities include overseeing the spiritual life of the parish, managing the staff, and promoting outreach and gaining new followers. 

“Rector’s an interesting term because it comes from an old Middle English term that means ‘ruler’” Wilson said. “Which is funny because I’m not even the ruler in my own home.”

Wilson was a successful sommelier living in Alabama in the 1990s. He says he had it all — a career, a beautiful fiance, and a nice house with a white picket fence. 

He’d also say his faith — especially compared to his wife — was lacking. 

“I’d call myself a CEO Christian, I went for Christmas, Easter and one other,” Wilson said. “My fiance told me ‘I could never marry a man who wasn’t serious about their faith’, so I said ‘Let’s go to church.’”

What followed was a conversion experience that inspired Wilson to learn more. He joined a seminary and eventually found himself ordained by a bishop. 

He started working at the Church of the Redeemer as a curate assisting priests eight years ago. That advanced into being a priest associate and then senior priest associate.

“I’ve done everything here from wash the dishes to lead the annual meeting,” Wilson said.

Fr. Fred Robinson, the church’s rector for 26 years, retired a couple years ago sparking a national search for a replacement. Wilson jokes they ultimately went with the inside man for the job. He’s had his responsibilities for a year now but didn’t have the ceremonial service and reception until recently.

His focus since the beginning of his time as rector has been to increase membership. He says while other churches seemed to slow their engagement during the pandemic, he and staff worked hard on outreach and accessibility to attract new followers.

“Most organizations, whether they're big companies or even parish churches, struggle on a day to day basis keeping their mission the actual mission,” Wilson said. “We find everything is just an emergency when it's really not. There's a constant effort that we put in on stepping back and staying focused on the core mission which is growth and renewal. That seems so obvious but it's elusive.”

He prides his church on gaining 100 followers in 2020 and hopes to see that number increase to 200 going forward.

“We actually asked people to join our parish,” Wilson said. “It's the same way when you ask someone to go to homecoming with you in high school, your chances of actually taking someone as a date are infinitely higher if you ask.”

Wilson was initially curious about having a ceremony in his honor a year after he took the job — though he admits it’s a great idea to  have a feeling of renewal after the work has been underway — and said he was overwhelmed and humbled by support from the service. 

“I felt completely out over my skis in terms of the responsibility that they've given me,” Wilson said. I recognize more than ever, that the strength will have to come from God, if this will be successful.”


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