If you go | Summer worship times
Jewish Congregation of Marco Island
Where: 991 Winterberry Drive, Marco Island
When: 8 p.m. Friday
More information: (239) 642-0800, marcojcmi.tripod.com
St. Leo Catholic Church
Where: 28290 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs
Daily Mass: 8 a.m. Monday-Saturday; 3:30 and 5 p.m. Saturday
Sunday services: 7, 8:30, 10 and 11:30 a.m., and 5 and 7 p.m. (Spanish)
More information: (239) 992-0901, StLeoCatholicChurch.org
St. Ann Catholic Church
Where: 475 Ninth Ave. S., Naples
Daily Mass: 8 a.m. Monday-Thursday; 8:30 a.m. Friday; 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday
Sunday services: 7:30, 9 and 11 a.m., and 6 p.m.
More information: (239) 262-4256, www.naplesstann.com
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Where: 9801 Bonita Beach Road, Bonita Springs
Daily Mass: 5 p.m. Monday, evening prayer; 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Holy Eucharist; noon Wednesday, Holy Eucharist, 5 p.m. Wednesday, evening prayer; 7:30 a.m. Thursday, Holy Eucharist; 5 p.m. Friday evening prayer; Saturday 5 p.m., Eucharist
Sunday services: Spoken Eucharist 8 a.m., Choral Eucharist 10 a.m.
More information: (239) 992-4343, StMarysBonitaSprings.org
Vanderbilt Presbyterian Church
Where: 1225 Piper Blvd., Naples
Sunday services: 8:30 to 9 a.m. first fellowship in the chapel and 10 a.m. worship ceremony in the sanctuary (both through Oct. 16)
More information: (239) 579-5410, www.vcpnaples.org
As the rest of the country prepares to kick off the summer season with Memorial Day weekend, in Southwest Florida there’s a noticeable difference — traffic is less congested, the beaches are less crowded and church pews are more vacant.
But the spiritual needs of church congregations continue. For some local pastors, summertime is a chance to catch up, take vacation and plan for the four busiest months of the year. For others, the off-season provides them with the opportunity to better meet the needs of year-round worshipers.
The Jewish Congregation of Marco Island welcomes approximately 200 families as members, but nearly 70 percent of them return to their northern homes from May to November, according to Rabbi Edward Maline.
“I think Marco Island, more so than Naples, is seasonal,” explains Maline. “It’s an older population of retirees.”
While Maline and his staff pack a lot of activities in the four-month season, including a film festival, cultural lectures, Shabbat dinners and other fellowship activities, the rabbi and his staff use the off-season to plan the quality events his congregants have come to expect.
With fewer worshipers, says Maline, there is a need for one Friday night service, instead of the two which are held in season.
When the Rev. Michael Vannicola arrived at Saint Ann Catholic Church in Naples two years ago, several masses were eliminated from the summer schedule, but he says that only led to confusion. Instead, Saint Ann now cancels just one of its two Saturday afternoon masses, and closes off one or two sections of pews on Sundays to create a more intimate worship experience.
During the height of season, from November to January, Saint Ann is home to 2,400 families, and the average parishioner is 64. In July, that number drops to approximately 1,100.
“It changes what the parish looks like,” the priest acknowledges. “When you have a church that’s full and people from all over, that’s a great feeling.”
Still Father Michael, as the priest is called, knows there’s a commitment to meet the needs of his flock year-round, especially with a congregation that supports a thriving Catholic elementary school and attracts young families. For that reason, the pastor schedules events and socials throughout the calendar year, and the off-season gives him and other staff members a chance to spend more time with parishioners when those events have fewer attendees.
That “getting-to-know you” feeling abounds at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, in Bonita Springs. One-third of the congregation remains year-round, another one-third visits for six months, and an additional one-third spends three months or less in the area.
“There’s a real energy and vigor with the seasonal residents,” explains the Rev. Dr. Michael Rowe, the church’s rector. “But there’s a real opportunity to get to know year-round residents and minister to them.”
On a typical Sunday in the off-season, Rowe leads as many as 100 people in service, a number he considers substantial for an Episcopal Church. For that reason, the parish keeps the same worship schedule even in the summer. Prayer groups and bible study continue, and the church hosts vacation bible school for children. Perhaps the only noticeable change is that the choir is smaller and rehearses for just 30 minutes before service instead of the weekly practice sessions it holds in season.
Rowe, like his Catholic counterpart, Rev. Vannicola, preaches according to a liturgy schedule dictated by the denomination’s governing body, so someone attending service in Naples would hear the same Bible reading as someone going to Mass in Michigan or Ohio.
“The theme remains liturgically,” notes the Rev. Teofilo Useche of St. Leo Catholic Church, where 20 to 25 percent of the congregation leaves during the summer months. “So we don’t change according to how many people we have.”
The Rev. Dr. Thomas Harp of Vanderbilt Presbyterian Church doesn’t feel the need to change his message to attract summer worshipers, either.
“I preach biblically based sermons all year long,” he states.
Budgeting for season
The one place where ministers feel the decline in worshipers is when they pass the collection plate. That’s why year-round financial planning is essential.
“We’re careful of our budgeting,” continues Harp, who oversees a $1.3 million budget. “We have high giving in the seasonal time, and set money aside to accommodate for it.”
Adds Vannicola, from Saint Ann’s, “It’s very tough in the summer. We still have to pay the same bills.”
Saint Ann parish also uses some of the funds it saves in season to operate, and would not be able to sustain itself with its summer population alone.
While locals relish in the lazy days of summer months, Rev. Useche takes it all in stride and is lighthearted about the advantages of fewer worshipers.
“The greatest blessing is that there is no fighting (for spaces ) in the parking lot.”