St. John's Parish: 1984-1988
Upon Mr. Skardon’s retirement from the ministry in January 1984, St. John’s was blessed by the interim ministry of the Reverend Howard McCudden Mueller (1905-2003). A 1935 graduate of the University of the South, Sewanee, Mueller had served churches in Georgia, Virginia, and North Carolina, and served as chaplain at the University of Tennessee before retiring to Pawley’s Island. In 1985, after the death of his first wife, Mueller married Mary Margaret “Marg” Mueller and claimed Florence and St. John’s as his home. St. John’s lore has it that many of the parish’s ladies were quite taken with Mr. Mueller, but, as we know, Marg won his heart.
Alabama-born businessman Carl Connell Bright (b. 1938) answered a call to serve as rector in July 1984. Bright had earned his Master of Divinity degree and been ordained in 1976, served as curate at Church of the Ascension, Montgomery, Alabama, and as rector of Grace Church, Sheffield, Alabama before coming to St. John’s.
Zeigler recalls that “Bright, as a clergyman, had exotic tastes and preferences. He drove a Mercedes and wore a diamond ring.” (Refugees and Remnants, p. 257) Bright had a great affinity for music and introduced to St. John’s congregation portions of service music that he had written while a student at Sewanee. His setting of The Lord’s Prayer continues to be sung at all Holy Eucharistic Rite II services.
The parish mission statement - “To Know Christ and to Make Him Known” - was adopted during Mr. Bright’s tenure. The contract for the landscaping plan, developed under Mr. Skardon’s leadership, was signed with Robert Marvin and Associates, though it was not implemented during his term. Bright encouraged an increased commitment to financial stewardship by the parish and welcomed Rev. Charles Murphy, III of All Saints, Waccamaw, to initiate a stewardship campaign. Zeigler reports that the effort was successful, increasing the parish income to $189,914 by 1987 (up from $150,000 in 1984).
St. John’s also experienced growth in the areas of Christian Education and pastoral care, and benefited from Mr. Bright’s leadership in various diocesan programs. These contributions are expanded upon in the page 9 article submitted by Dolores Miller.
All Saints’, Florence enjoyed significant growth during this period, too. Records indicate that in 1980 St. John’s had 513 confirmed communicants
and All Saints’ had 443. By 1986, the balance was reversed: St. John’s reported 482 confirmed communicants while All Saints’ reported 509. The
picture changed again in 1987: St. John’s, 489; All Saints’, 411. Surely, no one was truly keeping score! Trivia enthusiasts may enjoy the fact that between the two churches, Episcopalians represented approximately three percent of the Florence population and quite a number of those were - and are - highly visible in various aspects of community life. (Zeigler, p. 258)
All Saints’ growth during this period is attributed in large part to its school. Zeigler notes that at one point, nearly two-thirds of the communicants were couples with children under the age of 17. In an effort to draw more youth to St. John’s, the vestry approved the addition of an assistant rector to the staff and, in 1987, Rev. Gerald Alexander Brodie was named to that position. In 1988, Mr. Bright left St. John’s, accepting a call to Grace Episcopal Church in Anniston, Alabama, and Mr. Brodie served as interim rector until the Reverend Charles D. Cooper began his tenure in 1988.
An Update from Rev. Bright
After 14 years of building a congregation from a small mission to a thriving parish in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, I retired at the end of 2003 and Caroline and I moved back to north Alabama where I was serving a parish when called by St. John’s. We live on the shores of beautiful Wilson Lake (actually, it’s that part of the Tennessee River backed up by Wilson Dam). We enjoy this little piece of heaven when we have the time.
I am nearing the end of my second stint as an Interim Rector, this time at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Jasper, Alabama, which keeps me pretty busy. It is looking like I’ll be there through the end of this year. Caroline is heavily involved at Grace Episcopal Church in Sheffield where I once served as Rector. She sings in the choir, is finishing her third year on the Vestry, and is a fourth-year student in Education for Ministry out of Sewanee. She has also started a prayer shawl ministry called the “Knit Wits.” We make occasional trips to Atlanta to visit our son Chris and his wife Terri and our daughter Asa, and our one granddaughter Hannah, who was adopted by Chris and Terri on the day she was born: New Year’s Eve in 2003. She has been a joy to us all. Asa was unexpectedly widowed last December after ten years of marriage. Farley, our youngest, is still working on his bachelor’s degree (late bloomer!) and is employed in radio as an announcer/disc jockey.
Caroline and I enjoy spending time on our boat here at home and traveling when we get the chance. Since retirement we’ve been “bare-boat” sailing in the British Virgin Islands and we’ve spent two weeks touring Italy from Venice in the north to Sorrento in the south. Our goal is one good trip a year. We are enjoying retirement. God is indeed good, and so is this life that he has given us!
September 28, 2007
Four Years that Changed Us
A Reflection on the Ministry of Rev. Bright by Mary Stuart King
My late mother, Stuart Player, informed the family that we were to get a new priest from Alabama. After the loving ministry of Steve Skardon, I was not looking forward to this change. I was very comfortable in my complacency, thank you. I was, however, in for a great big surprise. God had some changes in store for the Player/King family, and those changes came by way of His servant, Carl Connell Bright.
Maybe it was the right time in my life, or maybe God chose this time to hit me over the head with a brick, but I was able to really listen to Carl and Caroline, and to absorb the Truth. I stopped worshipping the church and started worshipping the Lord! Carl’s sermons opened up the Bible to me, and I started reading Christian books by solid Anglican authors, C.S. Lewis, John R.W. Stott, and others. I attended a Kerygma class that he offered for many, many weeks. I will forever be grateful to the Brights for gently leading me into a new life.
During these four years, there were some fun times to balance the serious teachings. I actually learned to play guitar during the group lessons that Fr. Carl offered at St. John’s. He was kind enough to lend me his pride and joy, his Martin classical guitar, to learn on until I could buy one of my own. I now play guitar at church and at diocesan functions.
Carl is still quite a musician. His setting for the Lord’s Prayer is still being used at St. John’s and is being used in several other Episcopal churches around the country. He has told me that he has another running around in his head, but has not written it down. I told him recently that God wants it to be shared, not to stay in his head!
I remember when Norman and I made our Cursillo in November of ’87, with the Brights as sponsors. They were on the team, as well, and we had a rollicking good time down at St. Christopher while learning about the Lord! We have been active in Cursillo in this diocese ever since.
I will never forget the “going away party” for Carl when he left to answer the call to a parish in Alabama. Dolores Miller gave a memorable speech thanking Carl and Caroline and remembering their four years at St. John’s. The speech was, of course, full of the witticisms that only Dolores can muster. Mark Moseley came over from Sumter to play his rendition of “Friends” on the guitar. The Brights were very moved, as were most of the people assembled.
Surely Carl made his mark on the parish. The Church House was redecorated, portraits of the former rectors were hung, and the Marvin Plan was initiated. St. John’s would be a spiritually poorer parish if Carl Bright had never come to us.
Remembering a Family’s Ministry
Submitted by Dolores J. Miller
Below is an excerpt of remarks made by then senior warden Dolores J. Miller at St. John’s farewell reception honoring the Rev. Carl C. Bright and family in the Parish House on Sunday, August 21, 1988, following the rector’s final worship service of the day
“A comment heard repeated several times since our rector announced that he was accepting a call to Grace Episcopal Church in Anniston, Alabama, is: ‘But, he’s only been here four years!’
“It is only natural when you are reluctant to see a family move from the parish that four years should seem a short time. Hearing that comment so frequently, however, prompted research on the tenure of previous rectors. This is what was discovered.
“Of the 22 priests who have presided over St. John’s during its 122-year history, two others served a period of four years; a dozen served less than four years; and only seven, longer than four years. Length of service, then, may not be nearly as important as how the service is rendered.
“These past four years have been learning years for all of us. And, they have been productive years.
“Since the Brights’ arrival in 1984, our worship services have been greatly enriched, both by Carl’s sermons and his music. The Christian Education program has been revitalized, especially in the area of continuing education for adults. Through Kerygma, Disciples of Christ, and other teaching programs, adult learners have been provided many and varied opportunities to broaden their knowledge and to deepen their commitment to their ministry as Christians.
“St. John’s has reached out to its own by distribution of taped Sunday services to shut-ins; to its sister churches through exchange of clergy and cooperative programs; and to the community at large, through its busy food pantry.
“Within the past four years, St. John’s has hosted a successful “Faith Alive” weekend. It has established: a Daughters of the King chapter; two breakfast prayer groups, meeting weekly; as well as a monthly fellowship for the “young at heart,” which spawned its own special blessings through ministry to shut-ins and service to the Christian Education program.
“Periodic suppers, Sunday morning breakfasts, and numerous other informal gatherings and celebrations have enabled established parishioners to become better acquainted with one another and to assimilate newcomers faster and with greater ease – thereby making it possible for us to become more aware of one another’s needs and to respond to those needs accordingly.
“For the first time in more than a quarter of a century, St. John’s has launched a capital funds drive for badly needed repairs and improvements. More than $325,000 has been pledged over the next three years.
“The Brights have made significant contributions to our parish life: Son Chris, during his occasional visits; Asa, thorugh her service as acolyte and work with EYC; and young Farley, as both student and helper in the education program. And, Caroline. A faithful and talented member of the choir, she has made her warmth and strength known in every quarter of our parish life.
“We are also proud of the contributions that Carl and Caroline have made to the Diocese of South Carolina – Carl, through his work with Christian Education, Kairos, Cursillo, and other diocesan programs. And, Caroline, through her work with the ECW and her selection as the first clergy wife to become a lay rector for a Cursillo weekend.
“These have been productive years. And, perhaps that is why we are inclined to complain, ‘But they’ve only been here four years.’”