The Rev. Mary Alice Mathison has been called to serve the church communities of Grace Episcopal Church and St. Thomas by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Panama City, Florida.
After months of discerning where God was leading the two churches after the retirement of their respective priests, the Rev. Joseph Hagberg of Grace and the Rev. Chuck Floyd of St. Thomas, Bishop Russell Kendrick offered guidance and some options to members of both congregations. Each church could operate using a supply priest - a retired priest who would visit to celebrate the Holy Eucharist - or both churches could share a full-time priest. Both churches came together in support of the latter option in the hopes of preserving their established congregations under consistent priestly leadership. Both congregations met with candidates, and the decision to call the Rev. Mary Alice Mathison was made.
Bishop Russell says, “I am excited for the appointment of Mary Alice Mathison as priest-in charge to Grace Episcopal Church, Panama City Beach and St. Thomas by the Sea Laguna Beach. Moreover, I am grateful and hopeful about the financial and spiritual partnership between the two congregations and the diocese that brought about this appointment. Because of that, Mary Alice+ will also carry the title Canon Missioner to Panama City Beach, thus serving as a minister who is extending the ministry of the entire diocese. In addition to the usual duties of a parish priest, Mary Alice and the people of these two churches are entering a three-year enterprise to answer the question, "what is the most effective model for a vital and viable Episcopal presence between the bridges in the Panama City Beach area. It is my hope that this initiative is just one of many that will arise in our diocese. The harvest is still plentiful!”
Mary Alice shared these words in a letter to members of both congregations:
Dear Friends at Grace and St. Thomas,
It is with great excitement that I have accepted the call from Bishop Russell Kendrick and the vestries of Grace and St. Thomas to serve as priest-in-charge for both of these parish communities. Over the past eight years in discernment, seminary, and at St. Paul’s Daphne, I have continued to grow in my understanding of what God’s call looks like, and when Russell first mentioned to me the opening for priest-in-charge at Grace and St. Thomas, it tugged at my heart, much the same way God has tugged at my heart through other calls in my life.
While we will have ample time to get to know one another, a few things that might give you a little sense of who I am: I have been at St. Paul’s in Daphne as the curate for 3 ½ years, and have worked with youth, college, and young adult ministries in the parish and diocesan levels. I grew up in Pensacola at Christ Church Parish, and attended the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee and Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria. I have two dogs, Lucy and Frannie, I am close with family friends near and far and love to be active, especially if that takes me on adventures to new places and introduces me to new food. I consider myself a little bit of a church nerd, and I love to explore the various ways we can encounter God through worship, prayer, study, outreach and mission, fellowship, and relationship.
To be called to this new position at Grace and St. Thomas is the work of discernment by vestries, a shared ministries team, ecclesiastical leadership, individuals, and parish communities, prayerfully and thoughtfully listening to God. I am so thankful that through this process, God has led me to this call, and brought us together.
Over the course of the next three years as priest-in-charge, I will serve in the capacities of preaching, teaching, leading worship, and pastoral care, but along with the parish communities of Grace and St. Thomas we will also have the opportunity to discern together the Episcopal presence in the Panama City Beach area, to consider the infinite possibilities God has before us for how we share the Gospel and for how we share God’s love. Grace and St. Thomas have already, and continue, to make important impacts on the Panama City Beach area, but the opportunity before us encourages us to broaden our scope of where God calls us to do work as individual parishes, and as a part of the larger Episcopal body and presence in Panama City Beach. It is exciting when God is calling us to something new, but also maybe a little scary sometimes too, because we do not always know what it will look like. But here is what I am certain of, God is with us on our journey, God will guide us, and in the future when we reflect back, we will see how we have been transformed, how the world has been transformed, and where we have caught a glimpse of the Kingdom of God right in our very midst.
I am so excited to journey with Grace and St. Thomas, and so thankful to be joining your communities, and the Panama City Beach community at large. I can’t wait to see what God calls us to!
I hope you can save the date for Thursday, November 16, we will have a meet and greet for both parishes, with location and time to be announced, and my first Sunday will be Advent 1, on December 3. Looking forward to meeting everyone!
The Rev. Mary Alice Mathison