Passing the torch

Nick Thomas

Reprinted from The Montgomery Advertiser, May 20, 2005

Many things, ranging from wealth to wisdom, are passed from father to son, but in Millbrook a father has passed a church on to his.

At the end of 2003, a retirement left the congregation of Millbrook's St. Michael and All Angels' Episcopal Church without a full-time minister. Like an answer to the congregation's prayers, the Rev. Mark Waldo came to their rescue, becoming the "full-time temporary" minister for the church at 5941 Main St. in Millbrook.

"What a blessing he has been to us," said Veta Wall, the senior warden at St. Michael's for the past two years, adding that Waldo was at the church almost every Sunday since January 2004.

Waldo is well-known in the tri-county area, having himself retired from full-time ministry in 1989 after 28 years at Montgomery's Church of the Ascension. He and his wife, Anne, then ran the Red Bluff Cottage Bed and Breakfast in Montgomery's historic Cottage Hill District, and entertained guests from all over the world during the B&B's 14 years in business.

He was happy to step out of retirement temporarily to help the church -- but "temporarily" became 16 months.

Mark Andrus, one of the two bishops who leads the Alabama Episcopal Diocese -- the administrative body of the church in the state -- visited St. Michael's in September and discussed the church's involvement in a new Restart Program through which the diocese would provide funds and support to find a full-time pastor who could reinvigorate the parish.

As leader of the church's lay people, Wall has worked closely with the diocese on the Restart Program.

"We will be receiving a very generous grant over the next five years as we concentrate on growth," she said. "And considering this investment the Alabama Diocese is putting into its Millbrook parish, we wanted to take our time to find a minister who will be the right match for our church."

Wall says the search committee interviewed six candidates over 10 months.

"But really, it was out of our hands," she said. "We just let the Holy Spirit lead us to the right person."

Last December, it became apparent that the "right person" might be a minister some 800 miles away in Virginia. So two members of the search committee traveled to St. Patrick's Church in Annandale, Va., to interview the candidate for the job and to hear him preach.

Gordon Butcher, one of the interviewers, was impressed.

"His sermon was magical," he said. "And he connected well with his people and all had a high regard for him."

Bill Cunningham, a deacon at St. Michael's who was traveling with Butcher, agreed. "We talked with lots of people at St. Patrick's. Each one told us this man was one of the best ministers they had ever known," said Cunningham. "He gave one of the best sermons I have ever experienced, speaking directly from his heart."

The St. Michael's vestry -- the body of church leadership akin to the Elders in other denominations -- quickly voted to invite the preacher to be St. Michael's sixth full-time minister and to lead the church into its second half-century of worship and fellowship.

The new minister's name was also Mark Waldo. Or, more precisely, Mark Waldo Jr., the son of Mark and Anne Waldo.

"It is an immense pleasure, privilege and joy to be here and to have followed my father's footsteps," said Mark Waldo Jr. during his first sermon at St. Michael's.

He is no stranger to the region. Raised in Alabama, he attended several Montgomery schools including Bellingrath Junior High. And he recalls many youthful afternoons at Robinson Springs in Millbrook, visiting and playing with childhood friends.

"Montgomery, Robinson Springs, Millbrook, coming home, it's more powerful than I ever thought it would be," he admitted.

And he says with God's grace, he hopes to lead the effort to help St. Michael's grow because "God has given us a task to reach out to new neighborhoods."

"We all know Millbrook is growing," he said. "St. Michael's has a responsibility to make sure there is room enough for other people to become part of this community of faith."

With that goal in mind, he hopes within three years to have blueprints to expand the existing church building.

About halfway through the Rev. Mark Waldo Jr.'s first sermon, he produced a camera and surprised the congregation by taking a photograph of them.

"This photo will represent a moment in our church's history -- where we are starting again," he said. "We have some exciting moments ahead of us."

One proud face captured in the photograph was the face of his father, who was on hand to see his namesake replace him in the St. Michael's pulpit.


The Rev. Mark Waldo, left, came out of retirement to become the "full-time temporary" minister of St. Michael's and All Angels' Episcopal Church in Millbrook. He was there for 16 months, until the congregation selected his son, the Rev. Mark Waldo Jr., to succeed him

But Waldo stresses that he made a conscious effort to avoid "campaigning" for his son when he first learned he was on the short-list for the position. "Anne and I didn't have any business influencing the decision process," he said. "So we really did stay out of it."

"That's just like dad," said Mark Waldo Jr. "He never pressured me to go into the ministry. He was a great influence, of course, but it was just something I felt called to do."

Church members were quick to express their delight that he answered that call.

Kim Scott, a Coosada resident and longtime member of the church, remembers many of the past ministers with fondness. But Mark Waldo Jr., she says, is the best thing to happen to the church in a long time.

"I love his enthusiasm," she said. "He is truly a 'godsend' and immediately won my heart, and that's not easy."

And Arbie Turner, who has been driving to St. Michael's from Prattville since joining the church a few years ago, feels he is perfect for the church at this time.

"He has the energy, talent and spiritual strength to lead us through our renewal and building stages," he said.

Turner also believes his wife, who passed away last year, would have approved.

"Christy would have loved Mark," he said. "She would have loved his intellect and his knowledge of the scriptures. She loved to study with someone that could challenge her."

After gaining a B.A. degree in education and music, Mark Waldo Jr., attended Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria.

And at about the same time, and long before he became a bishop, so too did Andrus.

"Mark was widely regarded as one of the most gifted seminarians for ministry of that time," said the bishop. "After I came to Alabama and spent considerable time with his parents, I saw that greatness was a Waldo family trait."

The younger Waldo went on to spend five years as minister at St. Alban's Church in Murrysville, Pa., before moving to St. Patrick's where he was director of children's ministries.

"I work well with people to create ideas and to support well those who make ideas become reality," he said. "I believe God calls forth the best in each of us and calls us to see the best in each other."

His father said he has had a wonderful experience filling in at the church.

"I've enjoyed my time at St. Michael's," he said. "The members have treated both Anne and me as part of their family." Now the family relationship is continuing.

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