BRADENTON -- Friday marked a new day for the Rev. Bryan O’Carroll and for St. George’s Episcopal Church.
It was O’Carroll’s first day on the job as pastor -- not just at St. George’s, but at any congregation.
Maybe that’s not so remarkable in itself. Every minister has to start somewhere. But consider that O’Carroll, who formerly managed his family’s business, Blue Line Inc. in Sarasota, came to the clergy late.
He and his wife of 20 years, Susan, have three children.
O’Carroll dropped out of high school in the 11th grade. And he made other mistakes along the way, he freely admits.
But he also says that when he sees a newcomer enter a church for the first time, wondering whether they belong, having unspoken doubts about whether they measure up, he identifies with that person.
St. George’s is not a collection of perfect people.
“It’s a group of folks who are striving,” the still-youthful O’Carroll said.
O’Carroll’s arrival at Saint George’s Episcopal Church, 912 63rd Ave. W., offers a fresh start for the congregation.
In recent years, St. George’s, which was founded in 1963, has been served by part-time and semi-retired clergy.
The church performs important outreaches to the community, including a food pantry serving 125 families, and Serenity Room, a recovery ministry using the 12-step program for men and women, said Rose Greiner, church administrator.
Attendance at Sunday services averages 75 to 80, O’Carroll said.
For his first sermon Sunday, O’Carroll is likely preach from the 11th chapter of Matthew, and encourage members not to “default to what they think needs to be done,” but to do the will of Christ.
“This is a place in transition, and when you’re in transition there is likely to be a lot of work to be done. Hopefully this won’t be overwhelming, for me especially,” he said.
He and wife are well-acquainted with transition. O’Carroll credits Susan with perseverance, patience and push to get to St. George’s.
“My wife and I had built this wonderful family and something was missing,” he said of his days at Blue Line and in the retail trade.
He suggested his wife take the children to church. He would stay home.
That worked for a few weeks, but soon Susan told him the children weren’t going to church without their father.
He didn’t realize it at the time, but that would be his first step toward the ministry.
Over time he went from being a reluctant churchgoer at St. Wilfred Episcopal Church in Sarasota, to volunteer youth minister. He gradually began to hear the call to the ministry.
“I thought that would satisfy this tug I had, but the ordained ministry kept calling me,” he said. “I just gave in.”
An immediate obstacle was his education, or lack of it. He had gone back to school and earned his GED.
But he had no college, and no real desire to enroll after so many years. Except that he felt he needed college to become a full-fledged minister.
Eventually, he enrolled at Eckerd College and graduated with a degree in human development in 2008. From there he went to Nashotah House Episcopal Seminary in Nashotah, Wis., and recently graduated.
“There’s a reason you don’t have a job in seminary,” he said. “You don’t have time.”
But his faith sustained him in a time of little money.
He calls it “letting go, and let God provide. He has provided so abundantly.”
Goals at St. George’s? To be of the Kingdom of the Lord and to be doing good works, O’Carroll said.
Beyond that, the pastor and congregation will map out together where it needs to go, he said.
“We want to be a safe place where people can go and understand the will of God in their lives,” he said. ”We feel a love for one another and we’re committed to making it work. It’s like a marriage. God clarified for me this is where I was meant to be.”
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.
If you go
What: St. George’s Episcopal Church
Where: 912 63rd Ave. W., Bradenton
When: Services are at 8 and 10 a.m. Sundays, and 7 p.m. Wednesdays
Pastor: Rev. Bryan O’Carroll
Information: (941) 755-3606 or http://www.saint-georges-church.org