LAKEWOOD RANCH — Fifty enthusiastic St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church members renewed a tradition this month when they marched into the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida‘s Fall convention in Punta Gorda carrying banners and ringing bells.
This group from a Lakewood Ranch church was not protesting anything.
Far from it.
It’s a joyous time whenever the annual convention confers the title of “parish church,” on one of its own, helping that church shed its former status as a mission church, said The Rev. Jim Hedman of St. Mary Magdalene. which is at 11315 Palmbrush Trail, near the intersection of State Road 70 and Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.
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Episcopal mission church status is what a church gets when it has minimal membership, is still growing financial roots and continues to rely on its sponsors, Hedman said.
Mission churches operate under the auspices of the bishop of the diocese and, rather than a rector, they have a vicar.
After a church gains at least 50 families and establishes a sound financial base, it can gain its own autonomy within the diocese.
Hedman made the convention sweet for church members by giving Bishop Dabney Smith a jar of M&M’s candies when he walked in.
“I sometimes abbreviate our church name in my emails as St. M&M,” said Hedman, who began to realize there was a preaching moment there when he got the chance to make a short speech at the convention.
His jar included peanut butter, plain, peanut, coconut, almonds, pretzel and mini M&M’s.
“As a church, we are like M&M’s,” Hedman told the audience. “We are all different shapes and sizes. Some of us are nuttier than others. But all have chocolate, which is Christ. M&M’s are imprinted with a logo and so are we, with Christ’s love.”
Hedman also said M&M’s could stand for mission and ministry.
Hedman finished by saying, “M&M’s aren’t good on the shelf. They are only good if they are sacrificed for others.”
“It’s sort of a fun thing,” Hedman said this week of the convention experience. “We got to march in and we had banners and bells. We were singing, ‘You know we are Christians by Our Love.’ ”
For many of the St. Mary Magdalene members who made the trip to Punta Gorda for the convention, it stirred memories.
“We feel great,” said David Horrocks, a founding member with his wife, Martha.
“It means we are no longer under the sponsoring churches and we are on our own. There are organizational reasons why we are a little better off. As a mission, the bishop is our minister and assigns someone to be in charge. We had a succession of appointments by the bishop to serve our little community. Now, we have our own rector. We control our destiny. Our rector is our leader now.”
The idea of a mission church in East Manatee had been discussed in Episcopal groups, especially Christ Church of Bradenton, for several years, Hedman said.
In 1996, the Church of the Redeemer in Sarasota, along with early benefactors English and Betty Jane DesChamps, purchased eight acres at the southwest corner of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and S.R. 70.
The Rev. Jack Kline was asked to take charge of what was called “the Manasota Mission,” Hedman said.
The church first met at the Disabled American Veterans lodge near the intersection of State Road 70 and Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, across the street from the Manatee County Tax Collector’s office.
The first service was held on Dec. 7, 1996.
The old D.A.V. hall has been torn down, but the memories are indelible, said founding member Janie Ciolek.
Ciolek recalls that the D.A.V. hall was used for bingo on Saturday night. The Sunday routine was to fold up the heavy tables, set up chairs, erect PVC pipe and hang white sheets that covered the bingo apparatus.
“It was kind of smoky in there,” Ciolek said.
“Synthia,” a computerized musical accompaniment for hymn singing, was used in the services, Hedman said.
The Manasota Deanery dedicated the Manasota Mission Church on Jan. 18, 1997.
At the 1998 Fall Convention of the Diocese, the mission was recognized as an organized church named St. Mary Magdalene.
“Our first baby was baptized in the D.A.V and Ryan Palmer was his name,” Ciolek said.
There were poles holding up the roof of the D.A.V., Horrocks said.
“Our first priest, The Rev. Jack Kline, conducted services around the poles,” Horrocks added.
“Rev. Kline was a much laid-back man with a delightful, warm personality, perfect for a new place that was not yet even a church,” Ciolek said.
Members voted on a name for the church.
“I think the name honors a woman who was quite a woman,” Ciolek said. “The name seems to fit us.”
Ciolek said St. Mary’s is a close, warm, group with a mix of young and middle age members. There are about 180 Sunday worshipers during the winter season and 150 in the summer, Hedman said.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.