Lofty ambitions: United Church of Marco Island replaces steeple blown over by Irma

Lance Shearer

The church is called to be “a city on a hill,” said Pastor Mark Williams – even when it’s on an island where hills are in short supply.

The Rev. Dr. Williams spoke to his congregation Sunday morning during the two United Church of Marco Island worship services, before the congregation headed out to the parking lot in front of the church for a quick dedication for the church’s new steeple.

United Church needed a steeple because Hurricane Irma knocked the old steeple clean off the building, with the southeast wind blowing it northwest into the church’s admin building. At a cost of $30,000, paid for “from the generosity of the congregation,” said Williams, the steeple was replaced with a new one, after they determined the previous one “couldn’t be resurrected.”

Generosity is a hallmark of the United Church congregation. The church operates the Bargain Basket thrift shop, which generates hundreds of thousands of dollars they use to help the less fortunate in the area. In 2017, the church generated $243,000, over a quarter of a million dollars, “emptied out from this church to serve the community.”

Last year, in addition to funding the steeple, members of the congregation – and United Church is a Congregational church, part of the denomination with roots in colonial New England – also provided low-interest loans totaling $700,000 to pay off the mortgage on the Bargain Basket. Habitat for Humanity has been a major recipient of help from the church, both in funds and service hours.

The newly dedicated steeple cost $30,000, paid for through donations from the congregation. United Church of Marco Island held a ceremony Sunday dedicating their newly erected steeple, which was damaged during Hurricane Irma.

“February is Habitat for Humanity month at United Church,” said Williams. “We are hoping to raise $100,000, enough to raise four houses.” So far, he said, they have $27,000 of the total in the bank.

Through Bargain Basket, the church is also a major sponsor of the Family Church food pantry (formerly known as Our Daily Bread).

While the dedication ceremony outside was wonderfully brief, lasting approximately a New York minute, Williams spoke at greater length about steeples and what they mean during his sermon inside the church at both the 8:15 and 10 a.m. services, titled “Unusual People Beneath Our Steeple.”

“A steeple was said to extend upward into the heavens, representing that the church building would be a diving place, a place with a higher calling,” he said. “Simply put, steeples denote difference. Steeples say, this place is unusual. It’s a city on a hill, light amidst darkness. It has been set aside as sacred for the whole world to see.”

Many in the congregation had told him, he said, “what they like about our steeple – you can see it from atop the Marco bridge. The steeple is our claim that we are different – a city on a hill for the world to see.”

After the dedication, the congregation trooped back inside to the fellowship hall for a brunch hosted by the United Church Social Committee. The hall is familiar to many beyond the church family, hosting events from the shell show to candidate forums and the Civil Air Patrol’s change of command ceremony.

For more information, call United Church of Marco Island at 394-6572.