Brief History of St. Thomas Episcopal Church Flagler County, Florida
St. Thomas Episcopal Church of Flagler County had its beginning in 1946 when the Right Reverend Frank Juhan, Bishop of the Diocese of Florida, established a preaching station in Flagler Beach, at the Flagler Hotel called St. Thomas by the Sea. Its primary function was to serve summer vacationers coming to Florida to enjoy the cooler ocean breezes. Gilbert Anderson, of St. Marks in Palatka, (a Pharmacist in Bunnell) was instrumental in convincing the Diocese and supporting the Rev. Fr. Pipes Jones of St. Marks in establishing services with some degree of regularity at St. Thomas by the Sea.
In the early 50's, the Rev. Fr. V. G. Lorrenza provided services for the preaching station, which was moved later to Bunnell. The old Seventh Day Adventist House Church was purchased and St. Thomas by the Sea became St. Thomas of Bunnell. The first entry in the Register of St. Thomas was the transfer of Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert S. Anderson and their children, Donald and Kathy. They transferred from St. Marks in Palatka. They became the first communicants listed in the registry. In April of 1956, the Right Reverend Hamilton West, Bishop of Florida conducted the first Confirmation service at St. Thomas in Bunnell.
In 1957 the Rev. Fr. James Henry Taylor, Jr. was ordained and began his ministry at St. Thomas. In April of 1958 the first Baptism was recorded. The Rev. Fr. Taylor served until mid 1965. The Rev. Robert A. Stuart, newly ordained deacon, made his first appearance at St. Thomas in 1965 and served until 1967.
In 1965 the Lehigh Portland Cement plant closed which resulted in a severe economic downturn for Flagler County. The remnants of that plant are in the process of being removed today. The old stacks can still be seen on the East side of Colbert Drive near Flagler Beach. It also became evident in the mid 1960's that there was a need for St. Thomas to again, be more accessible to the Flagler Beach area. With the closing of the cement plant, the union hall for the Portland Cement Workers union, located mid way between Bunnell and Flagler Beach, was purchased by St.Thomas. This building still stands today, right across from Tom Gibbs Chevrolet.
The congregation of St. Thomas grew slowly over the following years and was served by various supply priests: the Rev. Fr. Mabley, the Rev. Fr. Thomas McLeny, the Rev. Fr. Reginald Harris, the Rev. Fr. David Simpson and the Rev. Fr. Bernard Dooley.
ITT began purchasing property in Flagler County. In 1972 the ITT Community Development Corporation (ICDC), officially opened Palm Coast for development. St. Thomas had a slow but steady growth during these early years of Palm Coast, until finally in 1980, the Diocese of Florida, under the leadership of the Right Reverend Frank Cerveny, agreed to place the first full time Rector at St. Thomas. The Rev. Fr. Robert Gibson was called to be the first Rector of St.Thomas in July of 1980.
St. Thomas began to grow and in 1983 St.Thomas became a parish. St. Thomas Episcopal Church of Bunnell became St.Thomas Episcopal Church of Flagler County. The old union hall now began to go through a series of changes. The flat roof was converted to roof with a steep pitch, giving the building a more church like appearance. The pews, which had been donated by another mission, were replaced with cathedral chairs, which are still being used today by the 11:00 o'clock choir. A doublewide manufactured building was purchased and set up on the property. It more than doubled the space of St.Thomas and it was designed to provide a church office and classrooms.
In 1984, the Rev. Fr. Robert Gibson resigned to accept another call. St.Thomas was served by the Rev. Fr. Charlie Seymour and Rev. Fr. Dorsey Smith as supply priests during the search for a new Rector. On October 1, 1984, the Reverend Robert A. Stuart was called (for the second time) to St. Thomas, this time to serve as Rector. A choir soon became a regular part of the 11:00 AM service. A contemporary service and Sunday school was soon added to the Sunday schedule. St. Thomas was bursting at the seams and a decision was made in 1987 to purchase property in Palm Coast for the establishment of congregation. In 1988 the decision to sell the property on Highway 100, and move the Church to Palm Coast which was rapidly becoming the population center of the County. A multipurpose building, which would serve in its initial phase as the Church, fellowship, education, classrooms and office space would be the first phase. A more traditional Church and additional classroom spaces were to be built in later phases, as it was certain the church would continue to grow. In 1990 the first services were held at 5400 Belle Terre Parkway in Palm Coast. The Right Reverend Frank Cerveny, Bishop of Florida consecrated the new structure.
St. Thomas continued to grow with the addition of new families. The 8:30 AM contemporary Folk Choir has became an established tradition. A special songbook was created for this service that included the service and music. Several of the Folk choir members themselves have written a number of songs.
The 11:00 AM service continued to be the main service and in 1994 a new organ was purchased which greatly enhanced the music of the 11:00 AM service. The choir grew was soon filling the 11:00 AM service with cathedral-like sounds of music. Choir recitals and other musical offerings began to appear at St. Thomas on a regular basis.
St. Thomas continued to grow as Palm Coast grew and fortunately, it became a retirement destination for a number of priests who were retiring but wanted to remain somewhat active in parish ministry. The Rev. Fr. Don Wilson came to St. Thomas in the late 80's and became a retired associate priest. Father Don was soon followed by a number of other retired clergy over the years, some of who are still serving St. Thomas today as retired associate Priests.
Retired clergy have been invaluable in our ministry, helping St.Thomas by providing assistance with preaching, teaching, and pastoral care. Among those who have ministered here are: The Rev. Vincent Flemings (Deceased), the Rev. Ronald Manning (Moved), the Rev. William Wooten (Moved), the Rev. John Cadwallader (Deceased) Deacon Veronica Payne (Moved),and the Rev. Harold Hartley.
The Rev. Jack Habberfield, the Rev. Canon Dr. Alvin Robinson and Deacon Delores Steel currently are active in ministry at St. Thomas. In 1998, St. Thomas sent one of its own, Mark Eldredge to seminary, and witnessed his ordination in 2000. In 2001, St. Thomas in cooperation with St.Paul's, Federal Point employed Ms.Ayana Grady as Youth Minister.
St.Thomas, with the guidance of Father Bob, has reached out to the surrounding community, offering them a caring place to worship; providing a facility that not only serves the membership of St.Thomas, but also community nonprofit organizations needing a place to meet. St.Thomas was and is an active church community with many organizations and activities the communicants can be involved. Such organizations and activities can be seen through the services of the Episcopal Church Women (ECW), the Men's group (ECM), Altar Guild, Brotherhood of St.Andrew, Daughters of the King, the Craft Angels, Wednesday night Prayer & Praise Service, EYC, Rummage Sales, Christmas Bazaars, Valentine Dances, Christmas Pageants, Cursillo, Dinners on the Lawn, Parish Suppers, St. homas Day Breakfasts, Evie's Kitchen, St.Thomas Van ministry, etc.
The continued growth of St. Thomas created a need to begin planning for other phases in the development plan. With the realization of this need, the paying off of previous mortgages and a vision for serving, St. Thomas boldly stepped forward and took on a new building program. The congregation chose to build a new church to create a Parish Hall in the vacated space. On February 16, 2002 with the encouragement of the Bishop Jecko, along with the leadership team of St. Thomas and with the encouragement of the Reverend Robert A. Stuart, the contract for the construction of the Church was signed and the building of a new Church began. On Ash Wednesday 2003, the congregation moved into its new Church.
There are so many people within our church who played significant roles in the growth of St. Thomas over the years that it is virtually impossible to recognize them all. Those serving on Vestries, Finance Committees, the Building Committees as well as all those who played key roles in the on-going activities of St.Thomas are responsible for the growth of St.Thomas Episcopal Church of Flagler County. Growth has been the result of the people who reach out and minister in and through these and other organizations and ministries, many known but many unknown. The people of St.Thomas are its strength and are its greatest asset in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. THANKS BE TO GOD!
The information provided herein is the result of my review of the parish Register, previous bulletins reporting church history, conversations with the Rev. Robert Stuart and my personal recollections. To the best of my knowledge it is true and accurate.
Richard D. Conkling
Member St. Thomas Episcopal Church of Flagler County (1977-present)
Sources: Original Church Registry, the Rev. Robert A. Stuart, Parish History provided in special Parish Bulletins, and personal recollections.