Bishop Greg Brewer and the Rev. Deke Miller.
At the venerable old age of 106, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, New Smyrna Beach, hasn’t slowed down one bit in its ministry to members and its community.
“It has been fantastic with Fr. Deke here,” said Senior Warden Pat Osterhout, referring the Rev. Woodford Decatur “Deke” Miller, whom the parish called in 2010 to serve as St. Paul’s rector. “We have so many outreach ministries and ways to get involved.”
Laura Lee and Bishop Greg Brewer visited St. Paul's on Sunday, Jan. 20. In addition to preaching, Bishop Greg confirmed member Debra Ann Preston. Afterward, he and Laura Lee joined Fr. Deke Miller, his wife, Sindy, and about 90 St. Paul's members for a full luncheon and brief "town hall."
"Thank you very much for your terrific hospitality and wonderful lunch. It is a joy to be here," Bishop Greg said. "It is wonderful to be part of a family of people who clearly care for each other and look out for each other. Thank you for the opportunity to see that in action, and thanks to Deke for being that kind of caring pastor."
Bishop Greg told the lunch crowd that he – and they – face two challenges as the Episcopal Church works to grow:
“The demographics of Central Florida are rapidly changing, with an extraordinary influx of people literally from all over the world,” Bishop Greg said. “I look around at all of the different people who make up Central Florida, and I think, ‘Who is not in the room?’”
What is God Calling us to do to reach out to the diverse people around us, including young adults, retirees, Caribbean and Latin American newcomers, he asked.
One of the key ways St. Paul’s is involving members and their community is through the Community Hot Meal program, said Pat Osterhout.
The program helps hungry people in Southeast Volusia County. It is a group effort, serving meals prepared by 14 local churches and supported by an additional seven churches.
Meal planners, including the volunteers from St. Paul’s, provide a complete and balanced meal for 100-150 participants once a month.
A major outreach to the community is through St. Paul’s professionally staffed pre-school and its many programs. The parish also holds annual events such as the Blessing of the Animals Service, Rummage Sale and Vacation Bible School, which attract a number of people from the larger community.
As a joint ministry with St. Peter the Fisherman, New Smyrna Beach, St. Paul’s serves Thanksgiving Dinner (“Feed My Sheep”) and distribute warm outerwear, socks and toys to a large crowd.
Daughters of the King.
Visits and contributions to local hospitals and nursing homes.
Support for Halifax Urban Ministries (a local food bank) with regular donations of money and canned goods.
Participate in the annual Crop Walk for world hunger (Church World Service).
A Knitting Ministry and Project Linus groups distribute pray shawls, blankets, hats, mittens and other items to those in need.
A distinguished history
New Smyrna has had the services of the Episcopal Church longer than any church within our diocese. In 1769 the Rev. John Fraser was the first Anglican clergyman to live within the boundaries of South Florida. The first established parish in that region was at New Smyrna, where a church was built in 1771. When Spain returned to retrieve her lost Florida colonies in l783, the services of the Church of England disappeared for the next 40 years. Spain tolerated only the Roman Catholic Church in her possessions.
In 1821, when Florida became a United States territory, the arrival of Episcopal missionaries began a period of new life for our Church in that area. In 1869 the Rev. Edward McClure held a service at New Smyrna, including a baptism. He was followed two years later by Bishop John Freeman Young on a first ever Episcopal visit to the Florida east coast south of Palatka. The bishop explored the Upper St. Johns, Indian and Halifax regions, held two services at New Smyrna, and appointed two missionary clergymen, the Revs. William H. Carter and H. B. Stuart-Martin. They held regular services at Holly Hill, Daytona, Titusville, and New Smyrna.
After the Missionary Jurisdiction of Southern Florida was formed, Bishop William Crane Gray visited New Smyrna several times, holding services and preaching at the “Union” church. The congregation at New Smyrna struggled through the depression years at the end of the 19th and early 20th century, desperately trying to accumulate enough money for a church building. Sometime in 1900 it became known as Grace Mission and in 1907 had succeeded in building a church and becoming an Organized Mission. Seven years later, they welcomed their first resident priest, the Rev. W. L.Blaker.
The Missionary Jurisdiction achieved the status of a Diocese in 1922 during the episcopate of the Rt. Rev. Cameron Mann. Grace Mission changed its name to St. Paul at this time, but it was another 30 years before it became a Parish.
In the 1980s, as part of their outreach, St. Paul’s sponsored a mission on the beach with a oceanside chapel. In 1987 that mission became a Diocesan Mission under the name of St. Peter the Fisherman.
St. Paul’s celebrated the centennial of its organization in 2007. In July 2010 the parish called Woodford Decatur “Deke” Miller to be rector.
A congregation faithful to the Anglo-Catholic tradition of the Church, it has had a long and varied history, through good times and bad. Its loyal congregation, at this time numbering about 350 active baptized members, can look forward with joyful anticipation to its next 100 years.
(Historic material is from the Diocesan Archives.)