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A Look Inside: The Gulf Atlantic Diocese

As part of the Anglican Church in North America’s “A Look Inside” Diocesan news series, we spoke with Fr. Eric D. Dudley, rector of St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Tallahassee, a member congregation of the Gulf Atlantic Diocese. Fr. Dudley tells how his church was built up physically and spiritually by families and how they are honoring their faith’s orthodox heritage today.

St. Peter’s Anglican Church is still a relatively young church. How did it get started?
St. Peter’s is seven years old this year. I left St. John’s Episcopal Church (the old downtown church in Tallahassee) seven years ago with the majority of the staff, all but one Vestry member and 700 members of the parish. A group of ten families bought an old Church of Christ building, and two small ancillary buildings and gave them to us for worship. The first week here looked like an ant hill, with people running all over, cleaning and building and creating church! We had absolutely nothing when we came, so we had to build an altar, buy a pulpit, build kneelers, buy chalices, etc. Many of the families who chose to come had a heritage at St. John’s that extended back many generations in a beautiful church that was 180 years old; yet, they left all of that for the Truth of God’s Word which is ageless.

How have you witnessed the Lord growing your church?
God has grown this church in two particularly visible ways: in size we have gained almost five hundred members who were never a part of St. John’s Church, and our growth in commitment to the Lord has been visible in all the mission outreach that has happened here from day one (we sent at least one group per month on a mission trip in our first year alone).

What characteristics or qualities of the St. Peter’s congregation and its ministries strike you as particularly unique?
A few things stand out about the life of St. Peter’s: 1. An extraordinarily warm and friendly church where newcomers feel immediately welcomed 2. We are old-fashioned Anglicans who have remained true to traditional worship and traditional music, yet our seams are bursting with young families and singles. 3. We seek to do everything we do with excellence (in Worship, Sunday school, parish dinners, etc.).

In what ways has the Tallahassee community impacted your congregation, and in what ways has your congregation impacted the local community?
The move from St. John’s Episcopal to St. Peter’s Anglican was spread across the front pages of the local newspaper the day after we left. Instantly we were embraced by orthodox brothers and sisters of other denominations (PCA Presbyterians, Baptists, orthodox Methodists, Catholics); senior clergy from several denominations came to our first service to show solidarity. We are well known in the community- hated by some, embraced by others, but clearly understood. I think because many of our members are very visible in the community (Two Chief Justices of the Florida Supreme Court, the President of Chamber of Commerce, numerous doctors, lawyers, judges, professors, the most recent Lieutenant Governor) it has made a huge impact for the larger community to witness this public profession of orthodox faith.

What are words of wisdom you can offer to other growing churches or churches in formation?
Do not fear! God is in this movement, and that on which He places His hand will not fail! We have not had one moment of regret! It is, however, terribly important that you not look back (keep your hand on the plow); I encouraged our members from the first Sunday to stay away from the blog sites, and from conversation about the Episcopal Church. We made our decision, we followed the lead of God, now we look forward with great joy to the future He intends. I would also strongly encourage new churches NOT to throw the baby out with the bath water! Yes, there are things about the Episcopal Church that we want to let go of, but many things that we helped shape and which are part of a much larger Anglican tradition that we would never want to lose. Leaving the Episcopal Church does not mean leaving Godly Anglican traditions. Sometimes I fear that we are trying so hard to be something else that we cease to be Anglican. All these rich traditions that we have inherited (the centrality of the Eucharist, kneeling in corporate confession, corporate Creedal affirmations, collared clergy, youth deeply involved as acolytes, etc.) provide a sense of anchored stability, ancient mystery, that do so much to shape hearts and minds for Christ, and which we have found to be enormously appealing to young people looking for mystery, sacrificial living, ancient Truth.

How is the Lord working through St. Peter’s today and how can the Anglican Church in North America continue to pray for your church community?
God continues to use us as a witness to the Life and Hope that only comes from His Truth. We are in the process of building a large, new church whose architecture will reflect our ancient and orthodox heritage, and which will be located on the busiest thoroughfare in Tallahassee (visible on our website www.saint-peters.net); we hope to have the money needed to build by the end of this year; please pray for that!

Photo caption: St. Peter’s Anniversary Celebration, October 10, 2010.

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