SOUTHWEST FLORIDA: Capital Campaign helps Boca Grande parish to thrive

July 22, 2010

Launching a $3 million capital campaign in the midst of a recession is not for the faint of heart. But then again, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Boca Grande, Florida, is a unique congregation in a unique community.

St. Andrew's is a century-old church in the exclusive resort town on the south end of Gasparilla Island, sitting in turquoise Gulf waters west of Fort Myers. The church has undergone a transformation in the last couple of years, going from a seasonal, unorganized mission to gaining full parish status in the Diocese of Southwest Florida in 2009.

The interim rector, the Rev. Read Heydt, and other parish leaders credit their success to a two-year discernment process that clarified the direction they wish to go in the next 100 years -- to make new connections with the community and expand outreach.

The process will reach a milestone this fall when the $3 million renovation and expansion of the church and construction of a new chapter house (parish hall) and adjoining rectory are completed.

The fundraising effort was completed quickly, but not without some anxious and dramatic moments. The capital campaign process, which can put stress and strain on a church, actually helped bring St. Andrew's together.

Parishioner Hank Browne said the questions they asked themselves were basic. "If we were going to be a full-time parish, what do we have to do?" he said. Browne, a semi-retired architect who served as the parish liaison to the builder's project manager, said they looked at every issue before launching the fundraising effort.

"We started raising money for it and, lo and behold, we witnessed a real interest in doing something."

Raising $3 million was not without its anxious moments. As the fundraising effort was about to begin, the congregation was stunned when the chair of their planning committee, Al LeClair, died suddenly. The loss, coupled with a bad economy getting worse, threatened to stall momentum for the capital campaign. The congregation was hit with more bad news when Senior Warden Steve Gardner entered hospice care, according to the Rev. Cappy Warner, the associate rector at St. Andrew's.

Gardner and his wife, Edie, had already given the church a substantial financial gift as seed money for the capital campaign. Warner recalled a vestry meeting Steve Gardner was conducting by phone from his hospice bed when he dropped a bombshell, announcing he had already transferred a six-figure donation into the church's bank account. "You should have seen this meeting," Warner recalled. "All of a sudden, this bishop's committee was energized."

At that point, Heydt said, the congregation's resolve was unshakable. "You couldn't let down the senior warden," he said. Gardner died two weeks after that meeting. "It was full-steam ahead," from then on, Warner said. "I've never seen anything like it."

The people at St. Andrew's also did something unusual, bringing in professional consultants to analyze their goals and assess their chances for success. The James Company's founder, James Harrison, along with St. Andrew's parishioner Bill Munsell, conducted interviews with likely donors and ultimately came to the conclusion that their goals were reachable.

Browne says having the consultants was a godsend. "It relieved the vestry of a lot of that work," he said, adding that they wound up with an impartial assessment. "They'll tell you, realistically, what you can raise," Heydt added.

Browne led the architect search and directed Jonathon Parks Architects through the initial concept design. Their three-phase recommendations called for a rehab and expansion of the church, a modern version of the old-style chapter house and an adjacent vicarage, all on three adjoining lots owned by St. Andrew's.

"Their three-building design concept impressed us all, right from the start," said Heydt. "It accomplished what the parish meetings had suggested, including keeping the priest close to the church. Actually, right next door."

The plan expands and refurbishes the existing church building, creating a front narthex by moving the pews forward, reconfiguring the chancel to allow for the altar, lectern, pulpit and choir by extending the building, as well as providing space for the Altar Guild, offices, storage and a handicapped-accessible bathroom.

A small chapter house on the second lot, connected by a walkway to the church, will provide space for many uses, including coffee hours, Sunday School, community events and bridal dressing areas.

The vicarage, on the third lot, is connect by a door and firewall to the chapter house. The 2,400-square-foot home has separate living areas and public/reception space.

All three buildings retain the "railroad house" design to blend in with the community. (See photos and floor plans of the project at http://www.http://www.standrewsbocagrande.org//).

The leadership at St. Andrew's realizes raising $3 million with only 125 pledging units is not the norm. "They're people who are motivated, people who want to do something," Browne said of his fellow parishioners. "That's what makes them special. They're normal people who rise to a challenge."

But both Browne and Heydt say any parish can set goals and reach them if they do their research. A parish needs to know its history. "They have to know what has carried them through the last 50, 75, 100 years," Browne said.

Any project also needs community support. "You have to find something the community needs," he said. "It doesn't have to be something that requires enormous amounts of dollars."

Ultimately, they say, any project must be a shared vision. "Just meet and talk," Browne said. "What is it that you want to do?"

St. Andrew's will be planning celebrations, likely in September, when the work is completed, including one to honor the construction workers and their families.