Putnam County is home to a lot of smaller and historic Episcopal Churches. We have been working with these Churches over the past few months, this is an article from Fr. Bob Marsh about the changes Christ Church is helping folk in this area begin to bring about.

Fr. Bob Marsh

CEC and the Episcopal Churches in Putnam County, by Fr. Bob Marsh

Among the great eateries in Putnam County, Florida is Corky Belle’s in East Palatka. It has a nice private dining room with a view of the St. John’s River. The menu is mostly seafood and the preferred preparation is deep fried. When Rick Westbury asked me to organize a meeting of representatives of the Episcopal Churches in Putnam County, it was easy to decide where.


Why to gather? There are 7 Episcopal Congregations in Putnam County and 1 satellite.

Holy Comforter, Crescent City (founded in the 1880’s

Emmanuel, Welaka (founded in the 1880’s)

St. Paul’s, Federal Point (founded in the 1880’s)

St Mark’s, Palatka (founded in the 1850’s)

St Mary’s, Palatka (founded in the 1880’s)

St. Andrew’s, Interlachen (founded in the 1890’s)

Trinity, Melrose (founded in the 1880’s) Melrose is an unincorporated community in Alachua, Bradford, Clay, and Putnam counties.

Emmanuel, Welaka

Holy Communion, Hawthorne, (founded in the 1950’s) in Alachua County, but has a connection with St. Andrew’s.

Putnam County is one of the poorest counties in Florida. Seventy-eight per cent of students in the Putnam County Schools District qualify for free or reduced lunches. The Robert Woods Johnson Foundation ranks Putnam County as 64 out of 67 Florida Counties in terms of Health Outcomes (see www.floridahealthrankings.org for more details).

We all share the same challenges: Small churches and numbers; few children and young people; only 2 have resident clergy, St. Paul’s, and Trinity. Supply clergy covers one; one by non-stipendiary clergy and 2 by part-time clergy. One is essentially lay lead. Fr. Rick Westbury called us together to consider how we could work together, rather than separately, to develop a strategy that would work toward sustainability for the long one, spiritually and financially.

St. Mary’s, Palatka

What’s the problem? How to help these congregations become sustainable for the long-run, spiritually and financially.

A solution? Take full advantage of the licensed lay ministries authorized by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. This involves working and coordinating with various Diocesan agencies and Commissions to develop an education/training protocol that is lay-appropriate and locally accessible for Worship Leaders, Evangelism Facilitators, Preachers, Catechists, and Administrative leaders. Fr. Rick Westbury has smoothed many paths for us.

The model we are starting with is one developed by CEC, in sending approved Eucharistic Visitors to take the Communion to the chapels at Glenmoor and Vicar’s Landing. We are starting with that model and are working on expanding it to include the above mentioned lay licenses. CEC has also been very helpful in developing training protocols in the person of Deacon Marsha Holmes who has provided training, classes, and all-important encouragement.

St Marks, Palatka

At St. Mark’s, CEC has also been behind the scenes in encouraging us through the process to renovate our Parish Hall, which was completed and paid for in 1871. This has involved a long process of continued presentation of the grant request through two application cycles where we missed obtaining the grant by just a few places, and are about to make our third trip to the Trust. The project will take about $500,000 with the State Grant hopefully providing about $350,000. Money to complete the project will have to be raised. There are other challenges with the buildings on the campus and, as I write this, we are awaiting the arrival of the claims adjuster from Church Insurance Company to help us get a handle on the damage done by Hurricane Irma.

One of the most helpful things in recent months has been CEC’s willingness to help us with VBS. In coordinating with Catherine Montgomery, who was ready to share her summer intern Karina Aragon and resources when our local VBS co-op fell apart at the last minute. Although we couldn’t make it happen, the encouragement from CEC was a boost to our morale.

CEC has also provided us with leadership and support in the person of John Curington. John has been instrumental in the renovation of the 1870’s building that we refer to as the Old Rectory at 312 N. 2nd Street. It began life as a “Florida Vernacular” style but was converted to a Georgian style. This structure, along with the other historic structures on campus, are invaluable in the history of Palatka because most of the other original structures were burned in a city-wide fire in 1884 that did not spread far enough north to destroy St. Mark’s. Fr Tom Reeder has also helped by considering it for a work project once we have the carpentry work done to repair extensive termite and carpenter-ant damage to the structure and exterior siding. It’s an elegant old structure and presently houses the Minsters of Buildings (MOB squad, for short) shop.

Trinity. Melrose

John Zerebny has provided us with invaluable consulting in helping our ECW work in designing the renovation of the kitchen in the parish hall. He has helped them learn a strategy to shop for commercial equipment that will help them live within their budget. Thanks to an idea from and the encouragement of Mother Caroline Kramer, we had our first Messy Church in our parish hall this past Sunday evening, October 1st.

How can you help? If you have a river or lake house in Putnam County, please come worship at the nearest Episcopal Church. Property is a lot less expensive down here than up there. Holy Comforter and Emmanuel in South Putnam County are accustomed to a snow-bird population. St. Andrew’s in Interlachen has had its share of summer visitors; many Jacksonville people have had lake cottages there over the years. St. Paul’s, Federal Point, is right on the St. Johns River and is so named for the time when there was an artillery installation during the Civil War. St. Mark’s and St. Mary’s in Palatka, the big city of Putnam County, will appreciate your visit, too. Breakfast at St. Mark’s is 9am Sunday morning, right after the 8am Rite I, and right before Christian Formation and the 10:30 Rite II with music, service. If you don’t leave full, it’s your own fault.