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 per month. By September once per month had grown to once per week Bible Study plus Eucharist, and enthusiasm for beginning a new church was growing.
In October of that same year, The Rev’d John Mark Ford began full time service as rector for The Episcopal Church in Chelsea. These early services were held at Chelsea Middle School, but the need for our own building was apparent. The Rev’d 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 Pearce 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 have been fortunate to have two retired priests join us as Priest Associate: the Rev’d Margaret H. Taylor and the Rev’d 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 parish called the Rev’d Bill Blackerby to serve as interim rector, who served in this role until December of 2016. The Rev’d Eric N. Mancil, served as rector from January of 2017 until May of 2019. We were blessed and excited to welcome several guest priests as celebrant during the summer and fall of 2019, including Bill Blackerby, Maggie Taylor and Rob Morpeth. Father Ben Turnage has began serving as our interim rector in December 2019.
As we look to the future and continue to grow, we are developing plans to build a permanent church building on the twenty acres of land owned by the Diocese, the site of our current temporary buildings. We eagerly anticipate moving forward with the program to build a new building for St. Catherine’s.