The Episcopal Church in Chelsea began as part of the Decade of Evangelism, a program of the Diocese of Alabama to start a new church every three years. Areas of expected population growth were identified as potential locations for new parishes, and Chelsea was one of these areas.
In the summer of 2007, about twenty interested Episcopalians attended an informational meeting and agreed to have Bible study once each month. By September once each month had grown to once a week Bible Study plus Holy Eucharist; enthusiasm for beginning a new church was growing.
In October of that same year, The Rev John Mark Ford began full time service as rector for The Episcopal Church in Chelsea. The early services were held at Chelsea Middle School, but the need for our own building was apparent. The Rev Deacon Clyde Pearce, assigned to us by the diocese, identified the 75-year-old K-Springs Church of God building, vacant for more than a decade and for rent, as a possible temporary location for the new church. Negotiations with the people at K-Springs resulted in the signing of a lease. After completing a massive cleanup effort, church members painted the door red and moved into the building, holding the first Sunday service on February 3, 2008. Almost immediately, the minimal space available in the building was recognized as inadequate for the development of the church. After acquiring an abandoned trailer and relocating it next to the building, Deacon Clyde and church members Donald Bruce, Charlie Rath, and others spent a year renovating the trailer to include a nursery, kitchen, rector’s office, meeting space, and additional restrooms.
Because Saint Mary was the only woman previously chosen as a church name in Alabama, Bishop Henry Parsley advocated naming the new church for a woman. Saint Catherine of Sienna was selected, and the Episcopal Church in Chelsea officially became St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church. Designated a “worshiping community” by the Diocesan Convention in February 2008, St. Catherine’s was granted parish status by the Convention in February 2010.
In the intervening years we were fortunate to have two retired priests join us as Priest Associate: The Rev Margaret H. Taylor and the Rev Frank Young. In August of 2015, St. Catherine’s bid a fond farewell to its founding rector, Father John Mark Ford, and the following month, the Vestry called the Rev Bill Blackerby to serve as interim rector. He served in this role until December of 2016. In January 2017, the Vestry called The Rev Eric N. Mancil to become the second rector of St. Catherine’s. St. Catherine’s was growing, and the time had come to use the 20 acres on King’s Home Road in Chelsea which was owned by the Diocese. A long-range plan for a permanent church building to be built on the property was developed and fund raising was begun. Until funds permit the building of this permanent building, St. Catherine’s was pleased to be able to repurpose two temporary buildings gifted to us by Asbury Methodist Church. These two buildings were moved to the property and renovated to fit our needs, providing us with a nave, choir room, sacristy, parish hall and restrooms in one building and office space, classrooms, nursery, a room for our food pantry and storage in the other. Bp. Kee Sloan consecrated the new church space on Thursday, May 23, 2019 and we began regular services in our new space the following Sunday.
In May of 2019, The Rev Mancil left St. Catherine’s, having accepted a call to become rector of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Alabaster, Al. During the summer and fall of 2019 we welcomed several guest priests to preach and celebrate Holy Communion with us. Our guests included Bill Blackerby, Maggie Taylor, Rob Morpeth and several others to whom we are incredibly grateful. In December 2019 Father Ben Turnage began serving as our interim rector.
The year 2020 presented us with a unique set of challenges as the COVID pandemic forced the closing of the church for much of the year. Led by Fr Ben a group of dedicated and creative volunteers each week posted a recorded service of Morning Prayer to Facebook and onto our website. Now that we can once again gather for in-person worship we look to the future with renewed enthusiasm and gratitude for our church community.
In June 2021, we welcomed Rev Sally Herring as our Priest In Charge. She had first come to St. Catherine’s in 2020 as an intern. We celebrated with her when she was ordained to the diaconate and later when she was ordained as a priest.