St. Peter Lutheran Church has new pastor
When Pastor Sharon Taylor came to St. Peter Lutheran Church in October, she brought a history of not only working as a religious leader for more than 20 years but also as somebody who worked in the juvenile criminal justice system as a social worker.
“It’s going pretty well,” Taylor said.
It’s a tough time for many congregations as they struggle with how to deal with COVID-19.
At St. Peter Lutheran Church, in-person worship resumed in September with outdoor services on Sundays to accommodate those uncomfortable with being in an indoor, closed space.
The church now has two services on Sundays, with one outdoors followed by one indoors. The in-person services require congregants to wear masks and socially distance. Even Taylor wears a mask, which she admits is a “challenge to speak.” The church limits services inside to about 65 people, approximately half of what it normally handles.
The services are also broadcast on the YouTube channel of the church for those who want to stay home.
Christmas Eve services were held completely outdoors, Taylor said.
Taylor said there are still a number of congregation members who haven’t returned to Fort Myers Beach for the winter over concerns regarding the pandemic. The church has a congregation of 90, Taylor said.
Taylor said she arrived at church almost by chance. She and her husband Timothy Taylor, who is also a pastor, moved to Fort Myers in May of last year from North Carolina. After regular trips to the beach for morning walks, Taylor reached out to the church and eventually took over from outgoing Rev. Rick Lund.
Taylor, a native of Pennsylvania, is now close to her parents who live in North Fort Myers. “I wanted to be near the water. I love that. I’m close to the beach. I’m close to the river,” she said.
Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania and raised in rural New Jersey. “I grew up in a very rural, small community,” she said. She spent a lot of time with her grandparents, who were sextons in the local church. After college, she worked as the youth director at her church.
Taylor moved to Philadelphia and spent five years as a social worker in the juvenile justice system. “I’ve always loved working with adolescents,” she said.
Working in the juvenile justice system was “difficult,” Taylor said. Her job dealt with moving youth out of detentions into group homes and residential schools.
She worked with troubled youth between 1988 and 1993, the height of the nation’s crime problem during the crack epidemic. “It was an overpopulated and broken system,” Taylor said.
“It was frustrating because many of the young people placed into group homes were in non-secure settings,” she said. Many weren’t ready to be reintroduced to the community and escaped their new homes, Taylor said.
“Philadelphia had a very difficult problem with drugs,” she said. “The drug issue was big.”
Taylor decided to switch professions.
“I didn’t feel effective in that system and I wanted to be a role model and a person who intervened in young people’s lives sooner,” she said. She believes helping the self-esteem of youth early is important.
Taylor deals with a “more senior congregation” now and said it’s “important for me to be open and have a space that’s trusting.” She said it is important for her congregation to contribute to the community and “change the world for the good.”
One of the core values of the congregation is “hospitality,” Taylor said. “Welcoming people wherever they live on the island, if they are here for a day or here for six months. Embracing people for who they are,” Taylor said.
Singing is a big part of services, she said. “We sing hymns and we sing parts of the worship service,” Taylor said. Every service has a lesson from the gospel.
Taylor said her favorite is the Gospel of John. Taylor said the gospels are about human relationships with the lord, who is giving, loving and doesn’t give up on people.
“All of human life is sacred,” she said. “We all belong to this higher force.”
Taylor has been to Tanzania on church trips and built homes with Habitat for Humanity in Cambodia. As half of an inter-racial couple, she has led anti-racism workshops for over 35 years.
In these times, the church offers hope, Taylor said. Her congregation is sometimes “scared and frustrated like the rest of the world” about what is happening, she said.
“I think they are doing well.”