On Easter Marco’s churches were bursting. Parishioners at San Marco Catholic Church were receiving communion on the entrance steps. Many churches hastily put up additional chairs in their lobbies to accommodate the standing room only crowds. The folks that organized the Easter Sunrise Service estimated over 8,000 attended this year.
However, season’s over and things are winding down. Our snowbird friends are wending their way north. Parking spots at local churches are no longer at a premium and it is easy to find a place in the pew.
Three new members of the clergy experienced their first season on Marco and the Isles of Capri; a Catholic priest, a Presbyterian associate pastor and a youth pastor. They were asked how they survived season and to share some of the sweetness, stresses and surprises they experienced.
Fr. Russell Ruggiero, San Marco’s parochial vicar, hit the ground running on Aug. 1, comforting the dying and their families and those in need; celebrating Mass; and acquainting himself with the community.
His answer focused on the Catholic faith tradition. “A faith community’s style of spirituality and worship is diverse, which is a celebration of our Roman Catholic faith tradition,” wrote Ruggiero in an email. “It is in our diversity that our catholicity, universality, is best defined and illustrated.”
For him each Lenten, Triduum and Easter season is special and different. As congregations experience the depths of God’s wonder and awe in Christ Jesus’ “re-creation” of the cosmos and humanity, each faith community contributes another dimension of God’s omnipresence in renewing the world. He reminds us that catholicity and universality does not mean uniformity.
“It is exciting for any faith community to see large numbers of people journeying in their faith ,” he wrote. He was encouraged by the interchange of traditions by the myriad of generations and ethnicities.
What differences or surprises did he experience? He saw people from different states and countries contribute to the spirit of worship, witnessing to Christ Jesus’ living presence.
For Catholics the Easter season is just beginning and continues until Pentecost. San Marco will celebrate the Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist, the saint the church is named after, on April 25 at the 8 a.m. Mass, a celebratory brunch in the Parish Hall will follow. The new officers for Catholic Council of Women will be installed at the 10:30 Mass, April 26. Children will have their First Holy Communion at the 10:30 a.m., May 5 Mass and the May crowning, to honor Mary the mother of Jesus, at the 10:30 a.m. May 5 Mass. Religious education continues and the Mass schedule winds down as visitors leave. In May there will be a 5:30 p.m. Saturday Mass and 8 and 10:30 a.m. Masses, on Sunday. They also plan a vacation Bible school in July.
Marco Presbyterian Church unanimously elected the Rev. Jan Werson to be the church’s new associate pastor at a congregational meeting on April 29. Werson, a former navel flight officer, flight instructor and chaplain came onboard on July 1. He had served in churches from California to northern Florida but had never seen an influx of seasonal folks as he experienced on Marco Island.
For him the sweetness of the season was meeting the northern friends. He especially appreciated their friendliness and sweet spirits.
“It was a privilege to be able to minister to them and they added a richness to our small groups,” he said. “We are one body united in Christ.”
His biggest surprise was the Easter Sunrise Service. “The amount of people at the sunrise service was overwhelming.”
Bible studies for all ages and youth group continue at the church. A new GriefShare session began on Tuesday. The church also plans to ramp up a variety of small groups meeting at the church and in homes. The church goes back to one morning worship service at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday with Bible study for all ages at 9 a.m.
Tim Gardiner, Capri Christian Church’s new youth pastor was introduced to the congregation at the Oct. 14 worship services. He had previously served as Student Minister at Lehigh Acres Christian Church. Gardiner and his wife Stephanie had their first child, Colt Owen, in November.
“It was a great season for Capri, and as with all churches, it brings in a lot of momentum moving forward,” wrote Gardiner in an email. The ebb and flow of season was nothing new for him as he experienced season at Lehigh Acres. The hardest part for him, however, was to figure out who lives here full time and who is a seasonal resident.
For Gardiner, like Werson, the sweetest part was meeting the seasonal folks. He also appreciates the passion and dedication of Senior Pastor Curt Ayers and Associate Pastor Steve Dawes.
The church has discontinued their Saturday evening service until next January.
Ongoing are plans to build a firm foundation for future student ministry growth. The church currently offers Sunday morning services for children, from nursery through fifth grade called C3Kidz, as well as small groups for grades six through twelve. XP3, their main youth ministry program meets on Sunday’s at 6:30 p.m. They also offer a monthly special activity for either the children or youth, such as a children’s Easter egg hunt for or youth roller-skating.
This summer they will begin small groups for students 6-12 that will run throughout the month of July and the first two weeks of August. They will also take their annual trip to BigStuf, a Christian youth conference, in Daytona Beach in June and host an outreach event for students pre-k to fifth grade in August.
Gardiner looks forward to reaching students for Jesus and seeing not just numerical growth but spiritual growth.