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February 8, 2016, 10:13 AM

From the Rector

Annual Meeting 2016

Our goals and desires:

The three main goals the Vestry wants to accomplish in 2016 are: Grow the congregation, stabilize the finances, and increase our youth program.

Our call:

We the church—the people of God are called to deal with the spiritual needs of our communities, not just the needs of our congregation. That is the alarm the Bishop has been sounding since his arrival in Central Florida. The church must reflect the community: we must be able to get into the communities, see what the needs are, and make sensible responses to address those needs.

Our Responses to our purpose:

For us here at St. Mark’s, we have a base from which to begin. God has blessed us with being the only church in the inner city of Haines City. What we do here is more important than what we say. Our actions in the city will speak now, and long after we are gone. When we use the word diversity in our lexicon we are normally inferring a different culture or people, but here at St. Marks we are on the cutting edge of a new thriving entrepreneurial enfranchisement. We are allowing our unused buildings and space to be utilized by denominations other than the Episcopal Church. With three different religious congregations and two social organizations meeting on our property each week, we are convinced more than ever that the church is God’s idea and not ours—it is how the Name of Jesus is lifted up that is important.

Meeting the needs of a diverse community:

Several years ago, Haines City was focused on the citrus industry and the church was the worship environment for a few fruit growers. With the urbanization of the area, the spiritual, economic, and cultural needs of this city have changed. As a spiritual community following the call of Christ, we have responded with a thriving Thrift Store which helps to address the needs of this community with slightly used, and in some cases, new items of clothing and household goods at little or no cost: no one is turned away. The store not only provides needed items for the shoppers, but it is a safe place for people to browse and make new friends.

The congregation helps to feed the hungry.

Twice monthly, the food pantry makes sure that several families can feed their children with the help of the church. From 11:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. we open our pantry, and families from the city and surrounding area are welcome to come and receive a bag of food. This is a follow-on to how we began six years ago when we actually took food to the homes of the poor. Both of these ministries are supported by you, but we need more support in two major ways: 1) Telling people about the thrift store; and 2) continuing to donate food items and inviting people to come for groceries thus ensuring that they too can eat from God’s bounty, albeit within our limitations. We welcome contributions from all sources. The more food we collect the more we can distribute. I applaud Vestry members who have made the decision to allow the monetary offering collected at the mid-week service to go directly to purchase food for the food pantry. There is a noticeable increase in the offering on Wednesday. That tells me that someone is hearing, someone is responding: someone believes that this is just not a place to come to worship God in song and praise and make ourselves happy, but it is a place to look into our hearts and see how we can bless God with our gifts to others. You are simply the best.

Community Involvement:

St. Mark’s is a member of the Heart of Florida Christian Community—a group of ministers who meet to pray and look for ways to help our community. One of the resources from this coalition is House Bless--an outreach community service to those in need. In house, we have come full circle with our steel-band and have a brand new tutor who has pulled together a group who will move us from practicing in the basement to playing at the waterfront. The tutor ensured us that after two practice sessions, you will be able to play a tune. This is another way of telling our community that St. Mark’s Church is more than a beautiful white building but a home for a diverse group of people who have come to the city to worship and to serve. Last fall, we used the postal service ‘Every Door Direct’ program and mailed out 5,000 flyers inviting people to come to our sanctuary each week for worship. We told those households that we have a growing youth program, a thrift store for good items, and a food pantry that is feeding hundreds. We make sure they know we are not hidden in the city, but we are moving out to the citizenry who may be hiding from the Good News of Jesus Christ.  I'm encouraged that all of the above is happening. I also feel that we need to do more to get people in these doors. In addition to every door direct, we have developed 2,500 door knockers and with your help we believe this will be another door opener to the church and the worship of God.

Making the Old New in Church and in Community Development:

Thirdly, we have developed another brochure called “Fresh Expressions in Worship”. I am sure you've seen the big poster in the Narthex; we have been handing out that flyer to individual homes. We don’t often see the householders but we know that many of them are new to the area because we are dropping these pieces of information off at new homes.  We believe that all of this will get the word out and help us to accomplish the three main things we set out to accomplish in 2016: Grow the congregation, stabilize the finances, and increase our youth program. We extended our grace to a young bright cleric who has brought a fresh voice to the sanctuary. Pastor Becky reached out to us and we reached back to her and she is now a part of our worship and sacerdotal team. Our finances does not permit the proper compensation as prescribed by the Diocese, but my prayer is that God will make that possible very soon before we lose her. As an assisting priest, Pastor Becky has taken on the role of a youth pastor and works closely with youth leader Ms. Sophia Green.

Congregational Development:

In addition to the mailings and our outreach with the food pantry and the thrift store, we need an organized men's group, possibly under the brotherhood of St. Andrew. We need to reenergize the Episcopal Church Women, and look for new ideas to engage the communities that surround us, as we focus on the three main things that the Vestry thinks we should focus on; increase church attendance, stabilize the finances, and grow the youth.  I believe there is no better time than now to commit those thoughts and ideas to our Lord in Prayer, and we will see what God will do with our desire for 2016.

You must commit; you have to be here.

You have to know who you are, and where you are. If you don't know those two, everyone who comes to you with negative talk will be like the wind that blows you from side to side, until it finally blows you away. When you speak about your congregation you must be able to identify yourself as one of the members. You cannot be looking at us and them; it is us.  So the next time you feel like asking what happened to someone whom you don’t see anymore, your time would be more useful if you investigate the truth and try your best to rally them to be with you or encourage them to stay where God has placed them. The one option we don’t have is to stop praying for that person. That is the call of the Christian. May God bless our year:

Thank you



September 15, 2015, 4:05 PM

From the Rector

The question is: where should we worship our Lord? Back in the mid 1970s the Lutheran Church in Estate Tutu on St. Thomas was new to the area and the congregation made significant inroads in that new and emerging community. The Episcopal Church did not have a presence in the area, so the Bishop of the Diocese of the Virgin Islands and the Pastor of the Lutheran Church worked out an arrangement to allow the Episcopal Church to conduct worship in the sanctuary at 7:00 a.m. while the Lutherans kept their worship at 9:00 a.m. This arrangement lasted for several years until the Episcopal Church built a new building on the east end of St. Thomas in Smith Bay. 

Here in Haines City, the Episcopal Church is making significant statements relative to our biblical understanding of why God called us to the city. We have forged a new understanding among our fellow colleagues about a good use of church property which is normally closed up and not in use. We have allowed the people of God from four different denominations to utilize the property for worship, and it seems as though they are as happy to be here as we are to have them. We have not allowed use of the main sanctuary like the Lutheran church did, but one never knows what next God is up to.

In addition to the novel idea about church building use, we can boldly say that the St. Mark's Thrift Store has become a main-stay in this city. One has only to volunteer in the store for a day or so and listen to the comments of people who come to the store to browse and see what's new. If you would think about it seriously enough, you will note that for some people, browsing in the thrift store may be a source of daily activity to fight off boredom.  The store is more an outreach to those bargain hunters who search for treasure than an economic engine for the church. Those of us who have served in the store understand the value the store is to people in the city and the surrounding area.  

All of you who call St. Mark’s Church your staunch place of worship should be proud of what God has allowed us to accomplish in Haines City.  We are here to make this city a place where the Name of Jesus is lifted up, regardless of denomination or church affiliation. All I can say is: we are trail blazers and we do it with pride.

I am yours, for the building up of God’s kingdom.

Fr. Chris


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September 15, 2015, 4:03 PM

From the Rector

Peter Drucker, the man who came up with the idea of management said the four most demanding jobs in the United States are: The President of the United States of America, the President of a University, the CEO of a Hospital, and the Pastor of a Church. I would add one other to the list: those who refinish and refurbish homes.

I am not sure about the job of the University President or the Hospital CEO, but watching television I know that the President of the United States of America and Pastors work tirelessly to serve the people. Those of you who watch HGTV know how Drew and Jonathan make some seemingly impossible things happen under some tight constraints and with some demanding people. 

But in our own way, all of us are challenged by the complexities and the complications of life. We all yearn for rest and relaxation, and if we add the heat and humidity of Florida in the mix, we should find some time to stay inside and flush our kidneys with lots of fresh pure water. And since we will be preaching from the Gospel of Mark this summer, let us all read the book of Mark.

A few weeks ago, Bishop Greg offered some sage advice to the clergy, he advised us to take some time to look after ourselves. He said that no matter how we shape our vocation we are constantly under attack. He was right on target, but I believe if we take our marching orders from Jesus we would not be too distraught when we are attacked. 

In today's gospel, Jesus invites the disciples to a place of rest and relaxation after their first missionary journey, but clearly, we see how not all good intentions go as planned. Jesus invites the disciples to "come away to a deserted place and rest a while" but that is interrupted by the needs of others. That is the call of ministers: that is our vocation, that is what makes our job demanding.

What I asks for Pastors, I ask for each of you, let’s make a deal, go easy this summer before we ratchet it up in the fall.

I am yours, for the building up of God’s kingdom.

Fr. Chris


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September 15, 2015, 4:02 PM

From the Rector

In last week’s readings we noted many verses were skipped in the gospel. We read Mark 6:30-34,  53-56. The missing story between those verses is the feeding of the five-thousand. Today the gospel before us comes from John and it is the story of the feeding of the five-thousand.  So as we skip the Mark’s account of the five thousand and read the one from John, let us see if there is anything distinctive that would stir us to a deeper theological thought.

In Mark's Gospel the disciples came to Jesus and ask him to send the people away to find something to eat, but in John's Gospel Jesus takes the initiative and ask Phillip where could food be found for the crowd. This was a test for Phillip. Jesus testing Phillip about food was more theological than simply physical food. Jesus knew what he was going to do, but he wanted Phillip and the rest of us to know that God is big enough to supply our needs. Everything is to be entrusted to God. This may seem insignificant but this is the essence of the difference between how the disciples thought of the seemingly impossible, and what Jesus makes possible. This is the difference between the one who responds with limited vision, and the true provider in the midst of the people.

John's writing is simply a theological gospel about God and his human creation.  When reading the gospel of John we ought to remember his book was written so that those who read it would believe that Jesus is the Messiah and by believing in him one may have life in his Name.  In the Gospel of Matthew and Luke, known as the synoptic Gospels, we find the teaching on the Last Supper and how the body and blood of Jesus will be our strength going forward, but in this gospel before us today, the feeding of the five-thousand demonstrates a theological understanding of the last supper.

The feeding of the five-thousand is not just a need for physical food but a need for the whole of Jesus and who he is and what he has done. John makes clear that Jesus protects, provides, feeds, and teaches. The disciples must know that there is more than food for the stomach, but there is also food for enduring nourishment: There is comfort in times of treachery and fear, and yes, when in doubt, he will reveal himself to us all. My hope and prayers is for us all is to treat the test of Phillip as a daily example of his providence.

I am yours, for the building up of God’s kingdom.

Fr. Chris


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September 15, 2015, 4:00 PM

From the Rector

Just like God created the rainbow, just so he created humankind, lots of colors. Whether you are an Episcopalian, a Baptist or a Pentecostal, the tragic news coming from South Charleston last Thursday should have left you numb or at least with a lump in your throat. How could someone sit in a Bible Study class and then murder the participants because they were black? How can we as a people think that we are making strides to stamp out racism when hate crimes are escalating? How can we as a church refuse to join in constant prayer for just twenty-one days when our nation wreaks in strife? How can we believe that prayer is old fashion, when all that we are and all that we have can only find comfort in Jesus? Can we truly handle hatred in our own strength? Can we do life on our own? 

The killing of 9 people who were just seeking a deeper understanding of the Bible is nothing but pure hatred. Hatred by itself is evil, but hatred is never a stand alone ideology, hatred is designed to drive a people to hate with passion. Whether one is the perpetrator or the recipient of hatred, the outcome is destined to generate a hateful environment. Hatred is like cancer, it may go in remission for a while but it never goes away. That is why we have to be constantly in prayer to God for his sustaining protection and his Providential goodness that the powers of evil may be held at bay while his people live in quiet peace. 

We are a rainbow in the eyes of God. We are different in color. We may huddle in our particular groups, we are free to choose our friends, but if we were to believe we are other than part of the human race we have an uphill battle: and if people continue to think that there are humans and sub-humans, then hatred will always find a place in the heart. There is only one solution for hatred, that is love. I am not speaking about human love that is hot today and cold tomorrow: or the love that tarries as long as you don't tell me what to do? The love I speak of must find its foundation in truth. There must be first love for God who created you; love for His Son who bore your sins and has given you the free gift of salvation, and you must love the Holy Spirit, that still small voice within you who guides you to all truth. It is that love that will help stamp out the hatred that drive people to commit evil acts. It is that love that Jesus demonstrated every day he walked this earth. It is that love that he asks of each of us to share with God, our neighbor and with ourselves. My constant hope for St. Mark's is that we steep ourselves in prayer, because when our prayers go up to God, His blessings come down to us. May we continue to pray. 

I remain

Yours, for the building up of God's kingdom 

Fr. Chris


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