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  • Writer's pictureGrace Episcopal Church

Remembering Fr. Al Durance Part 1

by Eleanor Simons

Fr. Al came to Grace Church in 1968. It was a time of growth for Grace Church and many changes. Fr. Al made it clear his main job would be the spiritual leadership of the church. He brought the Healing Ministry to Grace with a weekly healing service, laying on of hands, and healing of memories. His focus was on the church services, especially the Eucharist. Joel Weldon was hired as music and choir director. A new organ was purchased and installed. New liturgy was introduced at Easter. The altar was moved out from the wall and the priest was now facing the worshipers.

My favorite story from those years was told to me by Nate Gilman, who was there. The pews were filled and parking was a problem. There was talk of increasing the size of the church or knocking down the church and building a larger church on the church property. Discussions had started before Fr. Al was rector and went on for over 10 years. In September of 1966 the vestry passed a resolution stating they would buy land some distance from the downtown area and build a larger church with adequate parking and room to grow. Land was located, plans were drawn, permission from the diocese was obtained, and Ocala Savings & Loan, located behind the church, made an offer to buy the church and property. In 1972 the papers were about to be signed. Suddenly some members objected and started making phone calls. Had they not been paying attention for the past 10 years? Soon a meeting was called and the church was packed as the pros and cons of moving were discussed. The discussions were heated and emotional as the hour grew late. A vote was taken and it was almost unanimous with one dissenting vote. There would be no more talk of moving. This church was a special place of worship to those members. Grace was a downtown church and would remain a downtown church. The vestry was asked to find solutions to the problems and forget any plans of moving.

I asked a friend, an older member, who had been at the meeting that night, why through all those years no one had stood up and said, We don’t want to build a bigger church at another location. She said, “No one ever really thought they would sell the church and move across town.” I asked Fr. Al about that night, “It was simple,” he said, “God let us know what His plan was for Grace Church.”

Part 2 next week!

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