The Episcopal Church in Central Florida came under new leadership in the person of Gregory Brewer in March 2012 and already, one can feel a new surge of energy and togetherness as we watch, listen, and learn from this humble man of God. The Right Reverend Gregory O. Brewer said yes to God's call to be our bishop and I am extremely pleased and vowed to work as closely as I can to help him with his vision for the Diocese of Central Florida. To that end, I ask the entire congregation here to work together and make his vision our goal.
Our worship to God at St. Mark's continues to be the main reason we exist as a covenant community. We can candidly boast that we have a vibrant worship experience here at St. Mark's every Sunday and every Wednesday. Three times each week we celebrate the Holy Eucharist which is our central act of worship. In addition, we celebrate special services as warranted on certain occasions as we open the doors of the sanctuary to all persons. The "all are welcome" attitude we foster at St. Mark's, puts worshippers in several categories of membership. There are active members, regular attendees, friends, shut-in members, prospects, snowbirds, and visitors.
In 2012, we have increased our membership by 14 families which resulted in a net 33 new members. Our out of church communion increased to 94 visits, that figure does not include visits without communion, such as, prayer, crisis intervention, counseling, house blessings, and semi-social visits. The Pastoral Care Visitations have increased, and because of those visits, some estranged members have returned to regular worship.
According to Diocesan statistics, and for the second year in succession, St. Mark's recorded the most improved number in attendance by percentage. This record indicated that we increased our numbers from average Sunday attendance (ASA ) of 79 in 2010, and 133 in 2011. This past year, we saw another modest increase: Our ASA was 145. But these are just numbers, what I am prayerfully expecting is that lives are being transformed, families are being enriched by God's word, and all of us are trying to see the best in each other.
Highlights of parish activity from various ministries:
Some of the activities in 2012 beginning in the spring, 30 persons, including the Rector Emeritus and his spouse, went on a cross-cultural mission cruise. We revisited our Anglican Heritage with five teachings on Anglicanism, the Sacraments, Church history, and the minor differences between the Anglican and Episcopal Church. On that mission, we bonded with Father Sebastian Campbell, Rector, and the congregation at St. Gregory’s Anglican Church in Nassau Bahamas. That visit has now resulted in a companion parish relationship.
During Lent we conducted a six-week teaching on the Holy Spirit.
The three-hour Good Friday service returned to the sanctuary with 8 clerics proclaiming on the last seven words from the cross, and a wrap-up on the day.
In the fall, the church celebrated its 120th anniversary with a week of activities which culminated with Holy Communion and a ground breaking ceremony conducted by our bishop for a new building. This newly proposed 200 seat sanctuary will get on the way in 2013, with the hope of housing our worship one year later.
We have re-established Sunday school for all ages. Youth and family activities are bereft of consistent support and we continue to pray for God's intervention in that area. I attribute some of that to the distances families travel to come in community. Please note that I am working on a plan that I think will be helpful to all far away members. In the meantime, we continue to love the children we have and encourage them to be the best they can be.
God’s Vision presents us with a sign:
The packed sanctuary at most Sunday services continue to beg for your indulgence to help fund a new facility for God's people who are here and those whom he is sending. Let us not put God to the test with our wills versus his will: history has proven that we lose in the end. If God has placed a vision before us, and that vision is properly defined, then God expects his people to work to transition the vision to reality.
The Vestry has established a Capital Campaign to seek ways to make God’s vision come through, but rather than thinking outside the box, we may need to think inside the box, because God never gives us a plan unless he gives us the means to accomplish it.
The Rector’s expanded duties:
In addition to the church duties, the Rector continues to serve on several Diocesan Commissions: Clergy Events Committee, Finance Commission, Constitution and Canons Team, Anti-Racism Commission, Minority Ministries Team, and the Union of Black Episcopalians.
The vision I have for the Children of Haines City developed in the purchase of a Steel Band. I am working with area churches to make this a community activity that will make us all proud. We have received financial support from our Bishop, the Sheriff of Polk County, and our home church, St. Mark’s. With the cooperation from the thrift Shop we now have the Steel-Band instruments on site and practice will begin in February.
We are blessed at St. Mark's with retired clergy who are willing at times to step in and help Deacon Margaret and me with the ministry God has given us. The Rev Father Hugh, The Rev Father Canon Downs, and The Rev. Father Dr. Guthrie.
The People’s Stewardship Duty:
We are well aware that people are struggling with their giving. Some do not fully understand the word tithe. Tithe is ten percent of your income whether earned or non-earned. It is ten percent of what you get.
Here is what the word of God says about tithing, "I am The Lord and I do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me and I will return to you, says the Lord Almighty. But you ask. How are we to return? Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me . But you ask. How do you rob me? In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse--the whole nation of you--because you are robbing me. Bring your whole tithe into the storehouse that they may be food in my house. Test me in this says The Lord Almighty and see if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessings that you will not have enough room for it" (Malachi 3:6-10) This is what God has said concerning you and tithing.
As your Rector, my job is to help you get in line with God's word so that you may receive from him what he promised. In 2013, I look forward to a great time of spiritual uplifting and fulfillment as we follow his command to tithe and love one another as Christ first loved us.
Yours, for the building up of God's kingdom.
The Rev Christopher Brathwaite
Ps: Remember the watch-words for 2013: "Always try to see the best in