From The Floor Up!
“The people who founded this parish constructed St. Raphael’s Episcopal Church,” explains the Reverend John Adler, its Vicar since fall 2015. “They used concrete block with stucco over that, causing huge leaks from the walls as they did not properly attach the ceiling to the block. This building has quirks, as they used whatever material was handy on the island in 1952, with the floor an excellent example. Each of its five large slabs are different, and you see in the pours every seashell on the beach back then.”
Historic St. Raphael’s opened in 1953. “St. Raphael is the saint of travelers, shepherds, the medical profession, and the blind,” Dr. Adler relates. “That makes him the ideal patron for an island full of travelers and vacationers; Raphael in Hebrew means ‘God Heals.’”
For years, carpeting under pews and tile in the aisle covered the floor, but “moisture seeped in, loosening the tile so it had to go,” the Vicar explains. “Once we pulled those, the floor amazed us. This is of course an old building and the whole place is a hoot! The former Pastor’s Office is the weekday chapel, with the secretary’s office a restroom.”
The floor required work to restore its shimmer. Dr. Adler says “the color is mostly reddish-brown, but to get it to pop again we used an acid bath on top, followed by a huge grinder, leaving the biggest mess ever, with concrete dust stuck on everything.”
On White & Stayed White
To accomplish this, they moved all the pews to the parish hall, breaking the bolts that held them in place. “The initial process involved coating the floor with a thick white material until it dries clear, if you do it properly,” the Vicar says chuckling. “But when we did the left side, it went on white and stayed white! We removed those pews a second time to redo it, so we just used the right-side ones for services. We are now pretty much done restoring the worship space, and will move on to the sacristy and parish hall.”
St. Raphael’s boasts the only stage on the island, having recently hosted the theatrical fundraiser for the equally historic Mound House, “If These Walls Could Talk,” written by the talented Laurie Nienhaus, who oddly enough recently joined the St. Raphael staff. “We try everything to rebuild this place,” Dr. Adler offers. “To bring in more people, and end the one thing that most drives me crazy: ‘Where is St. Raphael’s?’ We host Pilates classes and shrimp dinners, and Laurie’s marvelous play returns on Friday evening, February 17 – you never know what will click.”
Dr. Adler struggles with a difficult demographic to restore his congregation as successfully as the floor: “When the parish formed all those years ago, you could purchase a house in this neighborhood with a nice-size yard and dock for about $50,000, as every yard around here per deed restrictions has one – even St. Raphael’s! Today to purchase a home near here costs $750,000 or more; as such, most of our parishioners are elderly, with few young families and even fewer children. We have roughly 125 active members in-season but that falls to as low as 25 in the summer.”
John, age 72 going on 22, has been the pastor for 16 months, replacing Don Nicholson who passed away from cancer. “After starting several previous churches, it is quite different to come into a long-established congregation,” he offers. “This was a good opportunity that seems to be working out well for everyone. Sometimes things just happen, over which you have no control.”
Paying for My Lawyer Sins!
As a young man, John was an Army pilot who served two tours in Vietnam, before earning his law degree and being a trial lawyer for a dozen years in Chicago: “People have a good laugh about that,” he relates. “They always tell me I am paying today for all my lawyer sins then!” Tired of law, John enrolled at the Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and earned his Master of Divinity and Doctorate of Ministry degrees.
John and his wife, Wanda, who are parents of two adult sons, soon visited friends in the Sarasota area and discovered St. Boniface Episcopal Church in Siesta Key, whose vicar would soon leave, so they asked John to take over. “I had enough lawyer money,” he recalls with a hearty laugh! “I brought the family back down and became its pastor.”
After two years, he cold-started St. Monica’s Episcopal Church in Naples, staying there for 7 years, before relocating again in 1999 to Fort Myers to found Iona-Hope Episcopal Church, remaining until reaching the retirement age of 70 in 2014.
“I was active in retirement,” the Reverend continues, “with charitable organizations and the like, but I did not find anything as fulfilling. When St. Raphael’s approached me, I jumped at the opportunity,” adding that “when you begin a new parish or take over an aging one, all that lawyer stuff comes in handy – My God!”
Historic St. Raphael’s is at 5601 Williams Drive, near mid-island, three streets south of the Publix Shopping Center. Sunday Worship and Wednesday Healing Services to ease the pains of the body and mind begin at 10 a.m. For information call St. Raphael’s at 239-463-6057, email it at email@example.com or go to www.saintraphaelschurch.com.
Dr. Adler describes the best part of St. Raphael’s as “bringing these lovely people together, to offer everyone a closer relationship with God in a casual and relaxed manner through physical, mental and emotional healing. It is like our floor, when you help transform something that is old and ignored and covered over, into a positive that is bright and shiny and miraculous.”