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LAKELAND, FL: St. David’s Episcopal to merge with St. Stephen’s

LAKELAND, FL: St. David’s Episcopal to merge with St. Stephen’s
St. David’s Episcopal Church will hold its final service ending 65 years of worship on Sept. 16

By Eric Pera
Sept. 9, 2018

St. David’s Episcopal Church will hold its final service on Sept. 16, putting to bed a history stretching 65 years.

The church, at 145 E. Edgewood Drive in Lakeland, is merging with St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on County Road 540A in the Lakeland Highlands community. St. David’s rector, the Rev. Robert Moses, will assume assistant rector status at the new location.

He expects as many as 70 parishioners to follow him to St. Stephen’s, which has seen average Sunday attendance dwindle to about 120.

The St. David’s property of nearly 2 acres won’t stay empty for long. Redemption Church of Lakeland, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, is purchasing the property for $1.85 million, according to its lead pastor, the Rev. Brannen Padgett.

He said his church, formed over two years ago, has outgrown its rental space at the RP Funding Center.

“It’s time for us to plant roots,” said Padgett, whose church has an average Sunday attendance of approximately 240. “We expect to grow at a pretty rapid pace” with a larger facility that has great visibility, being in close proximity to busy South Florida Avenue, he said.

St. David’s opened in 1953 at its present site. Its collection of buildings amount to 23,000 square feet of space, which has proven too costly to maintain, Moses said.

“We were unable to fulfill the mission we were called for,” he said, adding that a merger with St. Stephen’s was seen by the church’s vestry as preferable to searching for a smaller space to rent or buy. “Our hope is we’ll form a more perfect representation of the body of Christ.”

A posting on the St. David’s Facebook page informs parishioners of the pending closure following the Sept. 16 service at 9:30 a.m.: “Though this service will be sad in many ways, we hope that you will use the opportunity to give thanks to God for all that our church has meant to you and to our community.”

St. David’s is one of four Episcopal churches in greater Lakeland. Besides St. Stephen’s, they include All Saints downtown, the largest in terms of membership, according to Moses, and Christ the King on North Socrum Loop Road in South Lakeland.

In a letter to his own parishioners, St. Stephen’s head rector, the Rev. David B. Peoples, said the closing of St. David’s is like a death in the family. His church hosts an average of 170 worshippers each Sunday, but there’s adequate room to take on many more.

“We’re doing our best to invite, welcome and prepare for as many of their attendees who wish to come,” Peoples said Friday in an email to The Ledger. “We not only want to reach out to them with care in a time of grief, but also offer a new home and new family of love and joy in the name of Christ our Lord.”

Appraised at $2 million, the St. David’s property, including a 400-seat sanctuary, drew interest from an array of area churches, Moses said. “I’m excited (about the merger),” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for this parish to be its best. It’s going to be a lot of hard work and there’s a lot of grieving. It’s new, and people don’t like change.”

VOL FOOTNOTE: Look carefully at the photo and you will see that the average age of this congregation is well into their 60s. This parish had no future. This photo is more typical across the Episcopal Church.

Eric Pera can be reached at eric.pera@theledger.com or 863-802-7528

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