Pastor Frank Rodgers will preside over his last service at St. Paul Community Church on Sunday, Jan. 26, ending a more than eight year term leading the church’s ministry. After 34 years as a United Church of Christ pastor and after delivering more than 1,500 sermons, Rodgers and his wife, Vicki Berlanga, are retiring to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Once there, Rodgers plans to pick up the paint brushes he set aside when he felt the calling to go into the ministry. He majored in art and in history while in college, but eventually decided to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“I think I always had a call for the ministry. My father was a minister. He was a very dynamic person. I really admired him,” he said. “So I put the art on hold. I’m looking forward to reinvigorating that part of myself.”
Although he hasn’t been active as an artist, Rodgers’ most visible legacy at St. Paul is all about the arts — fine, performing and visual.
The church is home to studios for a number of local artists. It is also home to the 23 Miles South theater group and the Bel Canto Choir.
For several years, the church was home to Theatre Arts Leadership Kouncil (TALK), a teen group led by adult advisor Steve Ploum. The group held meetings and events there, including music, spoken word and improv sessions.
“We ideally want to be a place where we have arts and music and worship,” Rodgers said.
He sees a natural connection between the arts and the church’s spiritual mission.
“We believe in a God who creates,” he said. “To be in a creative atmosphere connects you with the divine. It’s there in our scriptures, in the metaphors we hear. We’re excited about that connection.”
St. Paul, founded in 1865, is one of Homewood’s oldest churches, and as with most traditional churches, it has faced dwindling membership. The church building is designed to accommodate about 1,000 members, but the congregation is currently closer to 200, Rodgers said.
The focus on the arts also helps the church make good use of that space and remain connected and relevant to the community. The church provides area artists with a venue, and their events bring community members to the church.
The soft-spoken Rodgers has not been afraid to try other things in order to capture the community’s imagination. A few years into his ministry here, the United Church of Christ encouraged a focus on stewardship of the earth.
To celebrate that mission, Rodgers decided to demonstrate the connection between nature and spirit.
“I decided maybe I can preach from the tree out there. And I don’t like heights at all. I climbed that tree on Sunday and we had a good group here,” he said. “I talked about the stewardship. That was a highlight, pun intended. I was very glad to get down.”
The congregation, too, has often gotten into the spirit of public outreach. For several years, the church hosted a fall pumpkin patch. Several members got dressed up in costume to the delight of local youngsters.
There was a Mickey Mouse, a Charlie Brown and Pumpkin Man, aka Jim Anderson, who was council president at the time. Anderson would stand in front of the church on Dixie Highway, greeting motorists and pedestrians, or visit the Homewood Farmers Market to invite people to the pumpkin patch.
“It’s always been about furthering the mission of this church and keeping it going,” Rodgers said. “We feel it’s important. Churches add a lot to communities. Even though we are a small church and have room to grow. I think they have a unique place in the community.”
Rodgers said he will miss the congregation and feels honored to have been invited to participate in members’ lives, through good times and bad.
“I’ve really appreciated the people here. They are very wise people. They are hard workers. They believe strongly,” he said. “This is a small congregation but it’s very warm and inviting.”