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St. Mary Magdalene of Lakewood Ranch celebrates its 25th anniversary

Small church in Lakewood Ranch has powerful faith that has guided it 25 years.

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It was the opening Sunday service, 25 years ago, for the St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Lakewood Ranch.

Lorette Hartzog was there, walking through the doors of two attached trailers — one a double wide — that was offered to the church to hold its gatherings.

"It was a dilapidated trailer," said Hartzog, who was sharing her memories while attending the Dec. 5 celebration of the church's 25th anniversary.  "We would put PVC pipes up and would use a sheet to hide the pool table. You could smell beer and cigarettes. It was a DAV (Disabled American Veterans) hall.

"We had no organ ... we had no alter. But you could feel the love and acceptance, and you could feel the power of our savior."

In 2000, St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church moved to its current building on an adjacent lot on Palmbrush Trail.

"We have had our ups-and-downs like any church," Hartzog said. "When COVID-19 hit, we brought the entire church outside. People came with folding chairs."

Grace Tindall has been a parishioner for 19 years. While looking for a house, her realtor took her past the church.

"It was small enough that they know you, and small enough that you would know they care."

A vestry (board member), Don Teahan has been a parishioner since 2006. 

"Everyone is kind and loving here, and very spiritual," he said. "You can feel the spirit."

Teahan said the pandemic was a tough time for the church, but as the pandemic eases, St. Mary's is back up to approximately 240 parishioners and growing.

"We're holding our own," Teahan said. "We always have faith."

During the anniversary celebration, Rev. James Hedman blessed a tree to mark the occasion.

What kind of tree was it?

"I have no idea," Hedman said with a laugh. "But it's important to celebrate these moments. This is a deeply committed group of people who want to serve God and have fun doing it."

Hedman, who has been with the church 15 years, said the church makes an impact on the community. The parishioners have collected more than 1,700 pounds of food for the Food Bank of Manatee. They make donations at Turning Points and they host kids soccer, provide free space for music lessons and allow a quilting group to use the church, among other things.

With the membership climbing again, Hedman said the fundraising drive to build a new welcome center has started again.

The parishioners on hand for the ceremony have faith the parishioner base will grow.

"The people here are walm and welcoming," said Diane Geis, who has been a parishioner for 15 years. "They make you feel at home."

While Hedman didn't know what kind of tree commemorated the ceremony, Geis did. After all, she picked it out.

It is a ligustrum," she said. "It doesn't shed, doesn't need constant trimming and it's sturdy.

Just like the church.