The Rev. Jeff and Angela Garner are preparing for new adventures during their retired life. Photo credit: Jeff Garner.
As Angela and I were stationed in Montgomery at Maxwell AFB where I was teaching advanced degrees at Command & Staff and War College, we found ourselves enjoying the worship and many other social/spiritual growth opportunities at St. John's in the capital city. A "cradle Episcopalian," I became deeply involved as a chalice bearer and lector; and experienced many new thoughts that challenged my previous understanding of scripture and theology while participating in EFM. I also became very involved with the parish's youth group -- eventually becoming a co-mentor. In my military career, I had many opportunities to witness first hand of the suffering and turmoil occurring in our world; and, though trained as a warrior, found myself pondering where and how I could make a difference for God in my years after retirement. So, with the spiritual guidance of the Rev. Robert Wisnewski of St. John's, my eventual destiny fell to the decision of both Bishop Henry Parsley and the Commission on Ministry in the Diocese of Alabama. After a year of discernment, and after retiring from service, I entered the Master of Divinity program at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas.
Upon graduation and ordination into the transitional diaconate in December 2005 at the Cathedral in Birmingham, I was asked to become the new rector of St. Philip's in Fort Payne, Alabama. There, I was ordained as priest and became the rector -- leaving Ft. Payne in May 2007 to accept the call of St. Simon Peter in Pell City, Alabama. After seven years as the rector, I was issued the call to come and be the fourth rector of Holy Spirit in Gulf Shores, Alabama beginning in October 2014. While at Holy Spirit, I was very involved in the Paradise Isle Ministerial Association, served on the Board of Trustees for Wilmer Hall in Mobile and as the chief spiritual director on the diocesan Commission on Cursillo.
The most uplifting and spiritually redeeming thing I experienced as a priest was actually twofold. I love to look into the eyes of those at the rail as I administer Holy Communion; where I can see into their hearts and feel the deep love and devotion each has for Christ, their parish family, and the traditions of our church. The other thing was to watch the transformation of God's people as we laughed, cried, suffered and celebrated together through all those facets of life we shared. And then, there were the giggles, cuteness and innocent joy of the children -- both during the Eucharist and in our weekly Day School. I will miss those very tender and special moments most.
In retirement, Angela and I intend on traveling (RVing) throughout this country to see all the wonders of God's creation we have not had the opportunity to visit. Additionally, I am entertaining the idea of publishing articles and possibly even a book -- either on thoughts about church and/or humanity's rejection of the principles which Christianity advocates. I may even research and publish works on one of my favorite past-time periods of American history: The American Civil War. But mostly, I will spend much of my time being a father and grandfather; and, trying very hard to heal both in a spiritual and physical sense from some of my own "thorns" -- while taking in many sunrises and sunsets on the most beautiful beaches this side of the Mississippi!