Grace Episcopal Church
Remembering Fr. Al Part 2
by Eleanor Simons
In the 1970’s Grace Church was prospering and growing under the leadership of Fr. Al. With the decision to remain a downtown church it was time to look forward.
In 1974 the Memorial Garden was designed and constructed. Mrs. Ed Updike was the first woman to be elected to the vestry. Four new stained glass windows were installed around the altar.
In 1979 the Parish Office Building, the Blue House property, the Perkins property, and the Lively House property were all purchased. Grace School was growing and parents would come before sunrise to get in line to register their children. Fr. Al urged the vestry to buy land in Silver Springs Shores and two years later St. Stephen’s church was formed.
In 1970 there was a national move in the Episcopal church for the ordination of women to the priesthood. In 1977 the General Convention approved the ordination of women. Many were unhappy with this decision. A practicing lesbian was ordained to the diaconate and then the priesthood by a Bishop in New York. It was an upsetting time for Fr. Al and Grace members. Fr. Al wrote a letter of excommunication to the New York Bishop to express his anger.
The new Prayer Book was introduced in 1979. There was a lot of discussion and unhappiness over being forced to use it and some left the church. Eventually a compromise was reached and the 1928 prayer book was used during a Monday afternoon service.
In 1981 Fr. Al accepted a call to take his Healing Ministry to North Carolina. He retired and eventually moved back to Ocala and Grace church. He was here during the split in 2008 and was a stabilizing influence in a chaotic time.
I asked Fr. Jonathan about that difficult time. “Fr. Al walked, prayed and counseled me and when answers were in short supply, as often happened, he would ask Jesus - again. Fr. Al was constantly interceding on behalf of the church. Maybe he wasn’t the Fr. Al of old, but he was God’s gift for “such a time as this,” said Fr. Jonathan.
Fr. Al died in 2014. During his many years of service as a priest and the sharing of his healing ministry he touched many lives.