By C.B. Hanif
The story of St. Joseph Episcopal Church’s pastor of nearly 11 years, the Rev. Martin Zlatic, and the Boynton Beach church’s innovative, youth-driven expansion is one that warms the cockles of the heart.
It all started coming together when “Pastor Marty,” as he affectionately is known, was literally out in the corporate world, traveling the planet for Motorola Inc. His experiences undoubtedly could fill a book. For our purposes, let it suffice that he says, “Where Renaissance Commons is now, there used to be 5,000 Motorola employees in Boynton. Now there’s zero.”
The former Catholic priest and his wife, Dee — now Children’s Minister at St. Joseph’s — found an Episcopal home in Jacksonville where they married. Answering his hankering to return to the priesthood, he was a worker-priest — one who, in addition to his priestly duties, works a secular job — between Motorola and St. Andrews Church in Lake Worth, before being tapped by St. Joseph’s in 2001.
He was blessed with a congregation whose charisms, or special virtues, include reaching out to youths and to young adults who want a worship experience but for whom the traditional form of worship might not be the thing.
“And we were able to hire Charles Miley, who was just coming out of Berkley School of Music, and who had a background doing contemporary music in a traditional Episcopal setting, which is a very unique combination,” Zlatic said. “And Charles came and we started what we call the ‘unplugged’ service.” After settling on the Sunday 11:45 a.m. time niche for the less formal, Episcopal twist on “Rock Church,” there’s been continuous growth. “Unplugged” is the second largest of the four Sunday services.
But having established the service, its time frame and its musician “who has since forged relationships with local musicians and put together this incredible group who come together to help to lead the music, we didn’t have a place to put him,” said Zlatic. For five years what literally was a storage closet has served as the rehearsal room. Underscoring the urgency of prioritizing a planned expansion was that the church’s traditional choir also is outgrowing its practice room.
Moreover, weekend attendance of around 350 makes St. Joseph’s a medium-to-large congregation, difficult for one person to manage alone. Recognizing “unplugged” as where the need is, that’s where the church is concentrating. The Diocese of Southeast Florida’s enlightened investment of a $150,000 total matching grant over three years has helped St. Joseph’s hire an additional priest for this focus.
Of 50 people who formally applied, the best fit was Wendy (Warnke) Tobias. “Her family has been in Boynton forever,” Zlatic said, “and she also happens to be someone who grew up in this church.” After working at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., the past three years, she’s due on board in October, “hopefully coinciding almost with the launch of the new building, so it’s all going to come together sort of at the same time. So that’s exciting,” he said.
Soon after, the South Palm Beach Deanery of the diocese, of which Zlatic is the dean, will host for the first time in St. Joseph’s history the annual convention of the 83-congregation, Key West-to-Jensen Beach, Glades-to-the-coast diocese.
“It will be here Nov. 11, 2011, a very easy date to remember,” Zlatic said. In honor of the nation’s veterans, “We are having the Episcopal bishop for the armed forces to be our guest preacher.”
St. Joseph’s is honoring the past and present, yet developing an innovative ministry for the future. It’s a success story of a family- and youth-oriented church, and of the adaptability required to truly serve that makes one want to pray for even more.
C.B. Hanif is a writer and inter-religious affairs consultant. Find him at www.interfaith21.com.