The Shape of our Diocese
The Diocese of Southwest Florida extends along the Gulf Coast, with our northernmost congregation in Brooksville and our southernmost on Marco Island. Our diocese includes a total of 79 congregations (66 parishes, 11 missions, and two associated worshipping communities) including approximately 28,000 members who share in God’s call to seek to live out Jesus' Great Commission that we should be in the world to make disciples of all people ministering God's redemptive gifts of love and grace. On any given Sunday, about 10,600 people worship in our diocese and 260 baptisms are celebrated each year (2019 Parochial Data).
Of the seven deaneries, the Tampa Deanery contains the largest number of congregations (18) and four of the 15 Episcopal schools in the diocese. Tampa is blessed with a cultural diversity reflected in the character of our congregations, bringing together people from all over the United States, the Caribbean, Africa, South America, Canada, and Asia. The first missionary effort grew to be St. Andrew’s, Tampa’s first Episcopal Church. St. Andrews’ then founded St. James as a black congregation and the House of Prayer in the Tampa Heights area. Those two congregations merged in years later to become St. James House of Prayer. St. Paul’s, affirmed mission at the 2020 Convention, is the newest addition whose efforts began in 2019. Adding to the deanery’s diversity, St. Francis, founded in 1953, is proud to be the only monolingual (Spanish) church in the diocese and one of five churches offering Sunday service in Spanish. At the University of South Florida, the St. Anselm's Episcopal Chapel Center has a 60-year tradition of ministering to young adults at USF.
The 13 congregations and three schools of the Clearwater Deanery run from the most northern part of the diocese to the south through three counties and range in Sunday attendance between 35 and 311. Although spread apart, these congregations enjoy a spirit of collegiality among clergy and laity. This is evident in the long history of collaboration in projects such as Sacred Ground, Mission to Dominican Republic, Meals of Hope, Habitat for Humanity, justice ministries, and deanery-wide Strategic Planning.
The St. Petersburg Deanery is home to St. Peter’s Cathedral along with nine other congregations and two schools. The Cathedral is one of our proud leaders in youth and young family ministry. Churches here are in proximity and the six family-sized churches claim the prize for small churches with big hearts. St. Petersburg’s cooperatives such as a 40-year-old food pantry, Benison Farm and Becoming Beloved Community help this deanery thrive.
The Manasota Deanery, home to 14 congregations and two schools, boasts the largest and youngest congregations, Church of the Redeemer and Church of the Apostles, respectively. Manasota churches exemplify the broad-church character of our diocese. Manasota clergy and congregants are Anglo-Catholic, evangelistic, charismatic, conservative, progressive, a mix, and everything in between. But among us is the unifying call to follow Jesus as Lord. Manasota leads the way in the spectrum of worship, building up the church, and sharing resources abundantly. Manasota also serves the State College of Florida through Campus Ministry.
The Venice Deanery encompasses seven congregations and two schools. Two of the 10 Jubilee centers in the diocese are located here. Venice congregants, numbering between 88 and 408 on any given Sunday, are good examples of our strong diocesan-wide resiliency. Venice churches have responded to hurricanes, hardship, challenges, and the pandemic with faith and creativity.
The locations of the 11 Ft. Myers Deanery congregations are characteristic of the broad spectrum of settings among the churches in the diocese: we are suburban and urban, mixed urban/suburban, rural, small town, retirement community, and beach or resort town. They also range from “small but dedicated” mission to program-sized parish. Ft. Myers is home to the first Lutheran Episcopal Congregation in the State of Florida.
The six churches and preschool of the Naples Deanery are spread out between Bonita Springs to the North to Marco Island, the largest of the “10,000 Islands,” the southernmost part of the diocese. On Sunday mornings our churches gather between 161 and 354 people. Like many in our diocese, Naples churches are composed of mostly retired seniors, and up two thirds are seasonal in some places. And like many of our churches in the diocese, retired is synonymous with both active and giving, in big ways.
There are 123 active clergy in the Diocese of Southwest Florida, including 89 presbyters and 33 deacons. 68% of the active clergy in the diocese are male while 32% are female. Among active clergy, 52% are 60+ years of age, 43% are 40–59 years of age, and 5% are 25–39 years of age.
There are 215 retired clergy that reside in Southwest Florida. Of these, 137 are active in the Diocese of Southwest Florida, including 123 presbyters and 14 deacons. 74% of the active retired clergy in the diocese are male while 26% are female.
The diocesan School for Ministry was created to help individuals and groups engage more deeply with their call to ministry by learning, building skills, and networking in order to live out those gifts in service to God and in partnership with others in their neighborhood.
The School for Ministry is a member of the Iona Collaborative, a program of the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas. The program currently serves local Deacon and Priest formation, as well as licensed lay ministry preparation, and general adult Christian formation opportunities. This year, the scope of the School for Ministry is being expanded to include local formation for the priesthood.
As an aging Church, we are passionate about Youth in our diocese. We offer several programs that allow young people to have fun, build friendships in a Christian community, and experience God in meaningful ways, through programs such as New Beginnings, Happening and Summer Camp all held at DaySpring Episcopal Center.
DaySpring is the 97-acre retreat center at the heart of our diocesan life, the sacred space that serves our diocesan churches with leadership development, Christian education, fellowship, and worship, while also serving a wider national community. Our campus is enjoyed by the likes of local non-profit groups and church based programs. It is home to our diocesan School for Ministry, and Diocesan offices are located at the entrance to DaySpring at Diocesan House.
In 2015, the diocese embarked on a 10-year Master Plan that aims to improve how we work, pray, and transform lives in this place and time. Phase One – a spacious, state-of-the-art, 12,500 square-foot Program Center and Pool – was completed in 2017. Phases Two and Three will see premium adult lodging and a second large Meeting and Worship Center added to the campus.
Each year, the “Bishop’s Appeal” aims to raise funds for the DaySpring Endowment and the Episcopal Charities Fund. Since its inception in 2009, Episcopal Charities Fund has grown in both reach and scope as it supports congregation-based ministries. The fund began with $36,000 in seed money from various small gifts and grew to over $1,046,000 at the end of 2020. Grants are awarded annually by Diocesan Council following recommendations made by the Council on Deacons.
The ministries funded by Episcopal Charities Grants serve community needs through congregational initiatives as standalone ministries or through partnerships and collaborative relationships between and among our churches and in partnership with other community-based nonprofit organizations. For instance, many of our churches support after-school programs, including reading and tutoring. Cornerstone Kids, supported by St. James House of Prayer since 1984, aims to reach at-risk inner-city children and assists in their educational, spiritual, and emotional development in a safe, secure, and creative environment. More recently, the program provided summer enrichment, a hot meal, and weekend food packages.
While all of our congregations support local feeding programs, 14 of them house on-site food ministries, either meals or packaged groceries, or both. In addition to food pantries, many of our parishes operate other comprehensive feeding ministries that respond to local needs. Benison Farm, a church co-op that grows and distributes produce, is one of many projects aimed at serving those who’s neighborhood is in a “food desert” because of lack of groceries nearby.
Beyond our diocese, we are part of Province IV, also known as the Province of Sewanee. We are an active Province, with the largest number of clergy, baptized members, communicants, church school and day school students and is the largest contributor to the General Convention budget of any Province in our Church. www.provinceiv.org
We also have a long-standing relationship with the Dominican Episcopal Church - companions also with the Dioceses of Western Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia, Central Gulf Coast and the Diocese of Southeast Florida. Our diocese and its congregations sponsor several ongoing mission and ministry trips.
Closer to home, the Bishop Gray Retirement Foundation’s mission is to provide financial assistance for reasonable housing and healthcare to elderly Episcopalians from the Southeast, Southwest, and Central Dioceses of Florida who have faithfully served their parish or diocese.”
The Diocesan Staff includes three Canon Staff (Canon to the Ordinary, Canon for Stewardship & Pastoral Care, and Canon for Finance & Administration), the Archdeacon, three Administrative Assistants, Receptionist/Registrar and Bookkeeper, Directors of Youth Ministry & Programming, Communications, and Congregation Support, the Executive Director, DaySpring Episcopal Conference Ctr., DaySpring Program Coordinator, and the Diocesan Missioner, Parrish Episcopal Church.
In addition to the fifteen staff members who extend the work of the Bishop, our diocese has two bishops assisting Bishop Dabney Smith: the Rt. Revs. J. Michael Garrison and Barry R. Howe. Both Bishops Garrison and Howe visit local parishes throughout the year to complement the visits of Bishop Smith.