Chapel History

In 1974, when Amelia Island Plantation was very new, a small group of property owners felt a need to have a church of their own on the south end of Amelia Island. These church founders represented a variety of religious traditions as well as a variety of personal and career backgrounds. They were, however, joined in the bond of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, a commitment to worship the Living God, and a common mission to witness and serve Him in their community. Thus was begun the interdenominational church known as Amelia Plantation Chapel.

In the beginning. . .

In the beginning, Sunday worship meetings were held wherever space was available around the Plantation such as the old Community Center, the current Orvis shop location, and the original Owner’s Room. With time, the new congregation’s numbers increased and the Amelia Island Company graciously offered space for worship in the Conference Center and the Beach Club. In those early days, and for years thereafter, several ministers from churches in Fernandina Beach came south so that the Chapel “pulpit” was occupied every Sunday.

He hath began a good work.. . .

By 1977, the congregation numbered 84 and adopted a Constitution defining Amelia Plantation Chapel to be an interdenominational congregational church with governance vested in a Governing Board. Among other important provisions, the Constitution provided two equal categories of voting membership: Full Membership for those with no other formal church affiliation and Associate Membership for those who retained membership in another church – an important consideration for members who kept a residence away from Amelia Island. On March 15 of 1977, the State of Florida issued a Certificate of Incorporation that recognized Amelia Plantation Chapel, Inc. as a non-profit, tax-exempt entity.

The congregation slowly grew and it became apparent that a church home, a Sanctuary, was needed. The Governing Board established a Building Fund which also grew slowly, primarily from memorial contributions. In 1986, the Governing Board initiated a strong effort to increase the Building Fund. An appeal was made by mail to local property owners; annual member pledges were established to bolster the operating budget; and Amelia Plantation Chapel embarked on a program to reach out to new members. In addition, 1986 saw a very significant step in the life of the Chapel with the hiring of the first full-time pastor. Soon the whole congregation, and many friends besides, enthusiastically supported the need for a permanent building.

That you may approve things that are excellent. . .

During 1988 and 1989, the building program moved forward with the retention of an architect, David W. Beer & Associates, and purchase of two one-acre sites. The location of the new sanctuary had been the subject of much discussion, since certain property was available within the Amelia Island Plantation, but agreement was reached on the present “outside-the gate” site. On September 3, 1989, the Building Committee held a unique and truly inspirational groundbreaking ceremony. 132 members and guests joined in an inspirational interdenominational exercise, filling a foundation spot with soil obtained from each of their churches “back home.” By then the congregation counted 135 members.

The congregation approved the Building Committee’s recommendation of the architect’s plans and specifications for the new building, consisting of a 6,633 square-foot structure that included a Sanctuary with seating capacity of 350, Choir with space for 30, Sacristy, Chancel, Narthex, unfinished balcony, two offices and a Fellowship Room. A contractor was selected and construction started on December 8, 1989. The eager congregation held its first service in the almost-completed building on July 29, 1990, overflowing the Sanctuary!

Filled with wisdom of heart, to work all manner of work. . .

Among the striking features of the new church were the beautiful beveled-glass cross in the large window behind the altar and the windows of similar design in the front wall, designed and installed by monks from the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, as well as the handsome exposed beams overhead in the vaulted Sanctuary. Work continued on finishing details of the building, landscaping, the Meditation Garden that overlooks Red Maple Lake, and the parking lot. The long-awaited dedication of the Chapel was held October 28, 1990, along with the formal opening of the remarkable entrance doors, carved by artist George Pandolph. The total budget and final cost of the project was $1.3 million. The last payment on the construction loan was made in March 1992, a splendid tribute to all those inspired by the Lord to pledge so generously and so provide a permanent home at last for the Amelia Plantation Chapel.

After a few years, the congregation realized the desirability of providing a final resting place for members and their families who had gone home to the Lord. On March 27, 1994, a Columbarium was dedicated in the location adjacent to the Memorial Garden. The handsome masonry structure contains niches for funerary urns: 79 double and 22 single niches. Another significant addition shortly after that time was the donated footbridge, leading to the Chapel parking lot from the area behind the AIP Reception Center, providing easy access to additional parking spaces. In October 1999, the Chapel music program was enhanced by the installation of a carillon, audible on approach to the entrance.

Music and an enthusiastic choir have been hallmarks of Amelia Plantation Chapel worship from the very beginning. The congregation had provided both an organ and piano even before the new Sanctuary was built. The music program developed and flourished under several outstanding Music Directors but perhaps has reached its zenith under Richard Dickson’s inspiration for singing and for instrumental performance.

And he will direct your paths. . .

At the turn of the new century the membership of Amelia Plantation Chapel had grown to approximately 400, with over thirty percent living in areas other than Amelia Island Plantation. The Governing Board asked a Long Range Planning Committee to study present and future needs resulting from increasing membership and attendance and the desire to expand the Christian life of the congregation and its role in the community. After two years a proposal for expansion of the facilities was presented to the membership. The Chapel’s space needed to grow in concert with the size of the congregation, its character as a mature Christian community, and its aspirations. The planning was aided greatly by Pastor Ted Schroder whose extensive experience with larger churches and their building programs was invaluable.

A major criterion for the Chapel expansion was that it would maintain the spirituality, warmth and “feel” of the existing facility, and that it would maintain and complement the central feature of our worship facility – the existing Sanctuary building. Miranda Architects, successor to the original designer, achieved this goal. The expansion, totaling 7,200 additional square feet, provided for increasing Sanctuary and balcony seating to a maximum of 450, an additional 10 seats for the choir, a suite of offices and meeting rooms, a choir rehearsal suite and a two-story Fellowship Hall complete with full kitchen. The unfinished 2nd floor of the Fellowship Hall would allow future needs to be met with minimal cost. The congregation approved both the expansion plan and a fund raising program to be called Realizing the Vision at the 2003 annual meeting. Funds exceeding $2.1 million were pledged initially against a final budget of $2.7 million.

Laid the foundation, and another builds on it. . .

Project construction began in the spring of 2004. The expanded Sanctuary was ready for worship by mid-2005 and the new buildings by the fall. During that interval the Chapel staff was accommodated in a rented villa close to the parking lot while the congregation had a variety of experiences at Sunday services, mostly in conference rooms at the AIP Racquet Park facility but also, memorably, in the Company’s “tent”. Dedication of the complete facility was held on October 16, 2005. By that time the congregation had reached a membership of 448.

In the time since 2005 the expectations, the vision, of the congregation for our “new” Chapel have been more than realized. Study groups have multiplied and so have Bible classes in the new meeting rooms. The efficiency of the Chapel staff is greatly enhanced by adequate facilities and office space. The Fellowship Hall has made possible a multiplicity of Christian events previously impractical or requiring use of commercial venues. And the music program has given voice to even more excellent praise to the Lord. Great joy and thanks to God have been offered by all as the financial pledge program resulted in the forecast of complete payment of the project debt by early 2008.

In the years since the building expansion was completed, the Chapel has grown in membership and in outreach to the Amelia Island community. The congregation’s generosity has made it possible to maintain donations at 30% of the Chapel annual budget to Christian-related activities conducted locally, in the USA and abroad. Recognizing that people seeking Christ on Amelia Island and in Nassau County may wish to worship in a more informal way than the traditional service held at 9:15 each Sunday, another service was scheduled at 11:15. Implementation of that change was greatly aided by the addition of Don Edwards as Associate Pastor and Music Director to the staff.

By the year 2013, it had become apparent that more space was needed to accommodate the variety of meetings and events the congregation wished to hold and sponsor. A project was initiated to finish the second floor of the Fellowship Hall, left incomplete in the previous building expansion. The required funds were subscribed prior to construction and the handsome additional rooms made available in October 2013.

Past Chapel Pastors

1972 – 1979             Served as available

                                     Dr. Walton Gardy (Presbyterian)

                                     Rev. Powell (Methodist)

                                     Rev. Bruce Pickering (Methodist)

1979 – 1987              Dr. Thomas Luke (Methodist)

1987 – 1991              Dr. Don McGarrity (Presbyterian)

1991                            Dr. John Harper (Interim, Episcopal)

1992 – 1994              Dr. David Uhl (Presbyterian)

1994 – 1999              Dr. Thomas Hilton (Interim, Presbyterian)

2000 – Present         The Rev. Edward A. Schroder (Episcopal)

Past Governing Board Presidents

1974 – 1976                  No Formal President Elected

1977                                Herman Koeller

1978 – 1979                  Hugh Jones, St.

1980                               Herman Koeller

1981                               Tex Crawford

1982 – 1983                  Fred Wagner

1984 – 1985                  Tex Crawford

1986                                Ken Neill

1987                                Marge Phillip

1988 – 1989                  Norm Bryant

1990                                Hal Latimer

1991                                Riv Randolph

1992 – 1993                  Bill Phillip

1994                                Marilyn Jones

1995 – 1996                  Walter Hopkins

1997 – 1998                  Jim C. Hill

1999 – 2000                  Norm Wigdale

2001                                Bill Hunt

2002 – 2003                 Hal Latimer

2004                               Bill Gower

2005                               Sandy Shaw

2006                               Joe Marasco

2007                              Rody Broome

2008                              Imogene Coleman

2009                              Jim Shaw

2010                              Iris Jacobsen

2011                               Dot Houk

2012                              Fred Gieg

2013                              Dennis Schroeder

2014                              Millie Stevenson

2015                              Jon Bosworth