Warm welcome

Mancil named rector at St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church in Chelsea

By Emily Sparacino

Photographs by Dawn Harrison

The Rev. Eric Mancil arrived at St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church in Chelsea nearly two months ago with a clear vision of what he would like to see happen at the church under his leadership.

“Our hope is that as we continue to grow who we feel God is calling us to be as a congregation,” said Mancil, 33, who was called in November to be St. Catherine’s new rector, the head priest of the church. “We hope people know we’re here, and they’re welcome here.”

The church’s call to Mancil came after a nearly 15-month process, during which a rector search committee formed by the Vestry – the governing board of St. Catherine’s – tried to discern who would be a good fit for the position following the Rev. John Mark Ford’s departure in August 2015.

“It can take a while. It’s a long process of discernment the community goes through,” Mancil said.

Prior to arriving at St. Catherine’s on Jan. 2, Mancil and his family lived about 900 miles away in Abilene, Texas, where he served as curate at the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest, focusing on ministry to young adults and college students, liturgical arts and worship and pastoral care.

On an average Sunday, his Texas congregation consisted of about 300 people. At St. Catherine’s, about 50 people attend Sunday worship, Mancil said.

Growth in numbers is a positive thing, he said, but spiritual growth for individuals coming to St. Catherine’s is his ultimate goal.

“We’re hoping to grow, but for us, we also want to continue growing into who God has called us to be as followers of Jesus,” Mancil said. “We welcome all people.”

Mancil grew up in Enterprise and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education from Auburn University.

After graduation, he worked as a middle and high school choral music director for several years and got involved at a local church.

As much as he enjoyed teaching music, Mancil started to feel God might be calling him to utilize his talents as a priest.

“For me, it was kind of a gradual thing,” he said. “It’s something that we’re encouraged to take our time with and pray.”

His formal discernment process regarding ordained ministry began in spring 2007, and five years later, he was sent to Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia, by the Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast.

In May 2015, Mancil graduated with a Master of Divinity and became a curate at his former church in Abilene.

As rector at St. Catherine’s, Mancil is the only full-time priest. Two retired priests, the Rev. Frank Young and the Rev. Maggie Taylor, serve as priest associate and priest affiliate, respectively.

Founded in 2007, St. Catherine’s is part of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, which is based in Birmingham.

St. Catherine’s was among four churches planted in a 10-year span, Mancil said. At the time, Chelsea was growing fast and was identified as a place that would benefit from an episcopal church planted in the area.

Prior to 2007, the city did not have an episcopal church. Mancil’s mission is to let people know about the church and to welcome newcomers of all ages, wherever they might be in their faith walks.

“The episcopal church is very warm and inclusive,” Mancil said, adding it is “a place for all people.”

Regarding missions, St. Catherine’s is one of about 16 churches in the state that operates a beans and rice ministry. On the third Saturday of every month from 9-11 a.m., the church gives away grocery bags full of food to local families in need.

“We welcome donations throughout the month and for people to volunteer time,” Mancil said. “Volunteers in community are welcome. Outreach is a very big part of our ministry here.”

Sunday activities at St. Catherine’s start with adult Sunday school at 9 a.m. The nursery also opens at 9 a.m. and remains open until after the worship service.

The only worship service is held at 10:30 a.m. Mancil said the church might increase to two worship services someday.

Children’s chapel takes place during the worship service in another area of the church.

St. Catherine’s is starting an inquirers class at 9 a.m. for people who want to know more about the episcopal church.

A coffee hour is held immediately after worship to give people an opportunity to socialize and get to know each other.

“Everyone is invited to stay for that,” Mancil said.

Mancil is married to Chelsea, a registered nurse at Children’s of Alabama.

They have two children, Sophie and Jude.

Mancil said the move back to Alabama has been an exciting transition for his family.

“We’ve been out of Alabama for four years,” Mancil said. “Being in Chelsea really feels like coming home for us.”

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church is located at 4163 County Road 39 in Chelsea. For more information, call (205) 618-8367 or visit Stcatherinesal.com.