Presbytery of St. Augustine

Message from Steve Benz

SteveBenz2Greetings in the new year, in the new life that we find in the birth of our Savior, Jesus the Christ!

On my drive to work the other morning, I heard a report on the cold weather shelters that some of our area churches set up in Jacksonville Beach on an emergency basis, and I was reminded once again that the baby born to us this Christmas taught us to care for the least of these in need. I am grateful to God for all of the ministries that so many of you do to do exactly that, with no concern for your own wellbeing, and I hope that we might share some of our stories with each other at the next presbytery meeting. I was thinking, as I texted with friends in our former presbytery in Western PA (-8, wind chill -31), how fortunate we are to live where “frigid” temperatures are in the 20’s, and where it will be in the mid 70’s by the weekend. I was gloating a little, I have to admit, until I heard that report, and it reminded me of the reality of the world Christ has asked us to serve. Thanks be to God who enables us to serve, and who asks us to be the hands of Christ to those we serve.

I worshipped on Sunday with two congregations in the same church building, and was lifted by them both. The Kirkwood church in west Jacksonville has welcomed a new pastor who will be installed this coming Sunday (2:00 PM, Kirkwood, reception to follow, and these people know how to cook), and it was a thrill to see the new energy in that place as we worshipped God. Then, at 11:30, the Nueva Esperanza congregation worshipped for the first time in that same space, and I was again inspired as we celebrated at table together in both Spanish and English. A good group of Kirkwood folks stayed to worship as well, and the fellowship of these two congregations is such a blessing to see. They are in the beginning stages of sharing space in the Kirkwood facilities, and your Committee on Ministry will be walking alongside them both on this new journey. It was wonderful to be there on the first Sunday of what we all pray will be a wonderful relationship.

I have alluded in the past to new Presbyterian Hymnals called Glory to God, and many of our congregations have ordered them and are using them already. I do NOT shill for anyone, just so you know, but it is fun to worship with this new thing in the pews of so many of our churches. But then, I am a fan of the “old” blue Presbyterian Hymnal too, and love to just sit sometimes and thumb through it. There are, of course, familiar hymns in them both that I loved to sing in Montreat around the grand piano in the lobby of Assembly Inn on Sunday nights. There are also, in them both, new and exciting hymns for me, and I love especially to sing some of the hymns in Spanish when I can (my Spanish is terrible, it takes me a time or two, but it is so fun sometimes). All to say, and finally to my point, some of the churches who have purchased the new Glory to God hymnal are hoping to share their blue hymnals with other congregations who might want or need them. Let me know if you are wanting to share and if you would like to be shared with, and I will put you together.

And finally, prayer. The Presbyterian Mission Agency office in Louisville has begun a relationship-building practice that I have benefitted from and really enjoyed. Ray Jones, Coordinator of Evangelism Ministries, has volunteered to pray for and stay in touch with me and our presbytery as a part of our connectedness as Presbyterians. He calls me at least quarterly to see how I am personally, how the presbytery is doing, and he prays with and for us all. I feel blessed by that and want you all to know you are loved and cared for outside the bounds of this presbytery. And I want to commend that practice to you all in this new year, to find a pastor or an elder of another church and pray for him or her directly and purposely. And then let them know it.

It is a new day in the Presbytery of St. Augustine, and together we are the body of Christ. Thanks be to God for your witness and work.

Peace and grace




Message from the Resource Center

Last week, we said goodbye to Dorothy Dornblaser, who sent the following email message on her last day:

Greetings friends!

Today is my last day as Director of the Presbytery’s Resource Center. However, the center will remain open for your use during office hours (Mon. – Thursday 8 – 5, Fridays 8 – noon. Items can be mailed to you by contacting Nancy or Michelle at the Presbytery office or you can come to the center and spend time going through the materials. Resource center contents are on-line at the Presbytery’s website ( The link to the on-line catalog is in the center of the home page. Materials can be found through key words – title, author, subject, areas of interests, etc. There are over 5000 items in the library – books, DVDs, Videos, curriculum, references materials, etc. If the catalog is down, please call the Presbytery office and let Nancy or Michelle know.

Personal and group study and Christian Education is a hallmark of the Presbyterian Church and I have enjoyed working with you in this vital ministry.

May God bless you in your ministry.

Dorothy Dornblaser



Message from Alisun Donovan

Alisun photoHere I am on January 1, 2014, hiking the San Felasco trails.  Jack and I had a wonderful walk in the woods in the rain.  It gave me time to begin thinking about all that has been and to hope for the possibilities of all that is to
come.  As I go “out on a limb” to find a new future, I want to say thank you to the colleagues and friends who supported me and shared in my ministry. You have
been kind and generous of spirit and I have learned much from you. Thanks too to Nancy Brown and members of the staff who served with me over the past thirteen years. It has been a interesting journey!

May God continue to bless the ministry of St. Augustine
Presbytery and may God continue to bind us together in

Alisun Donovan
(Mission Coordinator, Associate Executive Presbyter, Interim Executive, et al)

Meet Rev. Diane Wilson

 Diane Wilson

By: Sandra Hedrick

Diane Wilson was examined and received into membership of the Presbytery of St. Augustine on December 12, 2013. One of the most touching parts of Diane’s faith journey was her gratitude for the love and strong faith foundation provided by her fourth grade Sunday School teacher. Diane served as an assistant pastor in a California church before spending 20 years as a Navy chaplain. She comes to us from Stockton Presbytery in the Synod of the Pacific.

Currently, Diane and her husband Blane live in the West Jacksonville area and have become a part of the faith family at St. Giles Presbyterian Church. Diane and Blane met and married while they both served with the Marines at Camp Le Jeune, North Carolina. He is a retired Navy Captain, having served as a corpsman and nurse for 31 years in the Navy.

Diane has a passion for ministry through music and drama, which she used extensively in her 20 years of ministry to military service personnel and their families. Today she looks forward to giving her gifts and talents in this area to the church. Rebecca Gillespie will be her presbytery mentor.

Welcome Diane!


Laurie Furr-Vancini Installed at Palms

Laurie Ordination

By: Kathy McLean 

Joy, movement, bread and wine, a beautifully delivered sermon on being clothed with Christ, the sound of maracas, bells and the sound of water flowing in the healing garden under the light of a full moon, filled the service of worship and installation of Rev. Laurie Furr-Vancini as the Associate Pastor for Nurture at Palms Presbyterian Church on Sunday evening December 15th!

We celebrated with the congregation their decision to enter into this covenant relationship with Laurie and charged both Laurie and the congregation with words of their giftedness and their responsibility to each other and the world. This poetic, creative, prophetic, faithful and joy-filled servant Rev. Laurie, sent us home with a beautiful benediction around the flowing fountain, and we all left with gratitude for the mission set before us all as the body of Christ!



Church Statistics (for Session Clerks and Other Interested Folks)

By: Sandra Hedrick, Stated Clerk

First date to enter data: 12/06/13 

Last date to enter data:  02/20/13 

Each year, our churches complete a statistical report that includes a variety of information including the size of the congregation.  The report is approved by the session, included in the church’s minute book, and some of the information is posted online as a part of the website of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  

 Nationwide, the statistics become part of the “OGA statistics” that appear in the General Assembly Minutes. In addition to being the basis for per capita calculations, the data is helpful in understanding the composition of our presbytery and the denomination. The workbooks of instructions for posting the data may be linked here.  The clerk’s annual questionnaire (a separate document) will be available online very soon.

Please feel free to email or call Sandra Hedrick or Nancy Brown if you need assistance.  We will follow up with you again in the near future! 

Report on Presbytery Enrichment

By: Cindy Benz, Chair

Our Enrichment Event was held at Montgomery Presbyterian Center on November 15-16, and the feedback from those who attended has been very positive!  

The Friday night Fireside Chat with Jack Haberer, editor of The Presbyterian Outlook, was superb, as were his workshops on Saturday. He gave us a lot of good food for thought. What an honor it was to have such a rock star of the denomination with us! We were also privileged to have Meg Flannagan, who resourced the new hymnal project, with us leading workshops in the morning and afternoon that were just tremendous. These two very gifted servants of the Lord led us in an inspiring morning prayer service on Saturday where we also got to try out the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God (with thanks to our Fernandina Beach Church for the loaners!).  

There were a wide variety of workshops offered – including yoga and an art extravaganza! – guaranteeing something of interest for everyone. As always, the folks at Montgomery could not have been more welcoming and hospitable and we were really grateful for all the ways in which they helped make everything go so seamlessly. A big shout-out of thanks goes to all those who helped plan Enrichment and who gave of their time and talents to lead workshops. About the only negative comment we received was that it was a shame more people did not take advantage. With over 60 people attending, we considered it a success and look forward to the time when we can offer another opportunity of this nature in the future. You will definitely want to be there when we do!