Fr. Larry Smellie was rector of St. Paul's for 28 years before retiring in 2001. He and his wife, Susan Joy celebrated their ministry here earlier this year. He recently wrote about some of the highlights of his career, and shares that history below. He remains active in the diocese as chaplain to other priests, and holds the title of Canon Pastor.
The news clips and old photos in the slide show at right show some of the history of his tenure at St. Paul's, and the more current pictures were taken at a reception that followed the Mass.
by the Rev. Canon Larry G. Smellie
St. Paul's began as a mission of Trinity-by-the-Cove, Naples, with the intention of becoming a diocesan mission, not a parochial mission of Trinity-by-the-Cove.
I would expect that a small group of Episcopalians first began to meet informally in someone's home. Where that might have been I do not know.
Once the a small congregation was meeting regularly in 1967, Sunday worship was held in The Chlumsky Building located in a no-longer-standing strip mall at the intersection of Davis Blvd. and Rt. 41. The Rev. Karl Bell, an assistant priest at Trinity whose ministry was always intended to begin a mission church, was priest in charge, under the guidance of The Rev. Richard Lambert, Rector of Trinity Church.
At some point St. Paul's was accepted as an organized mission of the Diocese of Southwest Florida; I would imagine this happened at the first Diocesan Convention of this Diocese after it was established along with two other dioceses, The Diocese of Central Florida, and The Diocese of Southeast Florida, all coming from the original Diocese of South Florida in 1969. If that was when it happened, or even if it happened a bit later, the bishop would have been the Rt. Rev. William Hargrave, formerly a Suffragan Bishop of South Florida, then the first Bishop of Southwest Florida.
In time there was enough growth to merit a more permanent building for worship. Thanks to the generosity of Trinity-by-the-Cove, St. Paul's was given the ten acres of land between Davis Blvd. and Estey Ave, a church building (now Trinity Hall) facing Davis Blvd. (which was a paved road leading directly into Alligator Alley with little development beyond the church. I don't know any thing about a "dirt road"), and a Rectory facing Estey Ave. St. Paul’s took over a mortgage held by Trinity Church on the Rectory.
Such a beginning with land and building paid for and only a mortgage on the Rectory (paid off some time later, but I don't remember when), allowed for St. Paul's to be accepted as a full self-supporting parish at the annual convention of the diocese in 1970. Such a start from mission to parish in three years is basically unheard of and was most unusual.
Less than a year later, in the summer of 1971, Fr. Bell announced his resignation to become Dean of the Cathedral in Caracas, Venezuela.
The Rev. Larry Smellie, Vicar of St. Alban's Church, a parochial mission in Ft. Wayne, Ind., having answered an ad in The Living Church ( an independent church periodical) regarding the position of Rector of St. Paul's Church, came to Naples for a weekend interview and was offered and accepted a call to become Rector of St. Paul's. He and his family arrived in October, 1971. He officiated for the first time on October 6, 1971, and retired in January 2000, officiating for the last time on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6.
The first several years clearly showed the parish what it really meant to be self-supporting; they were financially very difficult, causing some to wonder if the "leap to parish status" had been hasty.
However, each year brought increased financial strength, as the parish benefited from the rapid and large growth of the area. The annual parochial report for 1971 required by the diocese showed a total of 66 communicants in good standing. The parochial reports of the last several years when Fr. Smellie was Rector showed a total of almost 400 communicants in good standing. (We never could quite attain 400).
St. Paul's was blessed with a growth of "snow birds" and permanent residents, who reflected the unique character of the area. Most of them were retiring and were fortunate to have incomes and/or pensions, perhaps, from occupations that allowed them to retire more "comfortably" than many.
In addition, many of the newcomers had a history of involvement in their former parishes, giving them knowledge and experience in the Church, nationally, in their former diocese, and in their local parishes to share in the growth of St. Paul's. This allowed for many good years in the life and growth of the parish.
A unique person in the life of St.Paul's was The Rev. Charles McDonald Serson, a retired priest of the Anglican Church of Canada, who with his wife, Edie, spent winters in Naples. Fr. Serson was born in 1889 and was much younger in spirit than his actual years, faithfully assisting in the worship and preaching during his stay. He had been present for the start of St. Paul’s and was with us for many winters, even after his wife died.
Fr. Serson was loved by all—especially for his "short sermons."
The date of his last time at St. Paul's is probably on the parchment hanging in the back hallway of the church building containing the signatures of the many parishioners who attended the Eucharist and following reception when we said goodbye after he was no longer physically able to be with us.
Meanwhile the growth of the parish dictated the need for a new building for a parish hall (the present Trinity Hall originally served as both worship space and parish hall). The original building also had a kitchen and three very limited classrooms for the church school.
A capital fund drive for a new building to fill the needs of a growing congregation was proposed at the annual meeting of the parish in January of 1977 by Senior Warden Jill Palmer. There was widespread agreement about the need and the campaign was very successful. The next annual meeting of the parish was held in Serson Hall in January 1978, just one year later.
Under the leadership of Mr. and Mrs. Richard (Helen) Oltmanns, "transplants" from the Diocese of Michigan, a Christmas Pageant was organized and became part of the Christmas Eucharist on Christmas Eve afternoon. The number children participating grew to the point that various "parts" had to be made up in order to include all those who wanted to be participate in the pageant. Also, the number of grade school, middle school, and high school boys and girls who were acolytes and servers for Sunday worship was so large that "liturgical tasks" had to be invented to include all who wanted to participate at the Christmas Midnight Mass.
Over time, continual growth necessitated a new church building because in season, we had to put chairs not only in the aisles, but also outside the front doors on the porch area. Funds were raised and a mortgage secured, allowing for the building of the present church building where Sunday, mid-week worship and other activities began in August of 1990.
The church mortgage proved burdensome and limited what St. Paul’s could accomplish, so, under the leadership of Mr. Sherwood Szen, a "transplant" from the Diocese of Massachusetts, a capital funds drive, Moving Forward, was undertaken with the aid of a paid professional fund raiser. This campaign was highly successful. Happily the mortgage on the church building was paid off and burned at Fr. Smellie's retirement party in January of 2000.
Assistant priests at St. Paul's were The Rev. Bradley Barber, 1985-1987, The Rev. John Lindell, 1987-??, and The Rev. Michael Langston, 19??-19??
Under the leadership and effort of Fr.Lindell, the ministry of St. Matthew's House, a local homeless shelter was begun. This grew into a place of many services and much aid to the homeless in the Collier Country area and continues to this day. This ministry began with a simple pantry in the closet across from the restrooms where the air conditioner is now located. The people of St. Paul’s responded with wonderful charity to the many colorful characters who found their way to the pantry before St. Matthew’s House was formally established.
An interesting aside to the history of the parish is the origin of the unique doors leading into the nave of the church building follows:
Sometime during Fr. Bell's time at St. Paul's two "itinerant" wood carvers introduced themselves to Fr. Bell and offered to carve (into the front doors of the original church building) various Biblical figures in exchange for his finding them a place to live during the summer during the absence of a "snow bird" who lived there in the winter.
Fr. Bell found them a place and the work began. Unhappily, while living there, the wood carvers did much damage to the "snow bird's" home, and finally skipped town owing much money to many people. And there stood the partly carved doors not nearly finished and carved in a unique style that would be difficult for anyone else to copy.
When Fr. Bell moved, the doors still stood there partially completed. Early in Fr. Smellie's time as Rector, the two wood carvers appeared again, wanting to "finish the doors." Fr. Smellie recognized that was a "Vestry decision" not a Rector's, and took the matter to the Vestry, who, acting in the kind and thoughtful way that has always been the norm for St. Paul's Vestries, said to give them a chance, but not provide housing or anything else to the men. They worked hard for a while, the doors made much progress and then they disappeared again.
In the congregation at that time was a Peruvian wood carver, Emilio Galagarza, who had carved the unique altar, altar rail, candle sticks, pulpit and lectern for the original church building. These were moved to the new sanctuary when it was completed and the altar rail was expanded. Later, Emilio also designed and carved the distinctive St. Paul’s cross in memory of Altar Guild Directress Helen Foster. Emilio took over the difficult task of finishing the doors in the unique style of the men who began the work. They now are the doors between the narthex and the nave of the church building.
The Church of the Resurrection, a mission of The Diocese of Southwest Florida, was established through the efforts of a Naples Deanery planning committee, of which Fr. Smellie was Dean. This was meant to meet the need for another congregation in the Rt. 41-Collier Blvd. area, based on projected demographics.
Resurrection began meeting at Lely Elementary School under the leadership of The Rev. Mary Ann Dorner, later moving to two units in the St. Andrew's shopping center on Rt. 41 at the entrance of Lely Estates. Mary Ann retired after several years.
In the meantime The Rev. Tara McGraw, upon graduating from The Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary in Virginia, was called by The Rev. Tom Damrosch, then Rector of St. Paul's, as an assistant for the parish and she also was called as Vicar of the Church of the Resurrection. Hurricane Wilma forced the move of the Resurrection congregation to share the worship facilities of St. Paul's.
Following the move of Fr.Damrosch to a parish in The Diocese of Western Massachusetts, Fr.Tara was called as Priest-in-Charge, then as Rector of St. Paul's. Eventually the Resurrection Congregation joined with the congregation of St. Paul's.