Sawgrass Chapel, a Special Blessing
Slept well last night, which is not always true at my advanced age. Thus, I was up at 6 am with lots of time to get ready for our 7:30 Sawgrass Chapel service.
Sawgrass Chapel was the main factor in our deciding to moving to this area. In 1986 we were in the US looking for a retirement location. We started in south Florida, looking at several possible places before arriving in north Florida. We had been told about Sawgrass Country Club by a young man from Jacksonville who was in Cali that year working for a US firm as part of his studies for his MBA in international business. When we came to Ponte Vedra, his father and step-mother invited us to Sawgrass Chapel. Upon leaving the service, Scott said to me, “These are the kind of people we want to live among.” The next day we bought a house in the Sawgrass Country Club area.
Sawgrass Chapel is unique in many ways. It was founded in the early 1980’s by a bible study group of about 10 people who wanted to have a sunrise service before going on to their regular church. The leader was a retired Navy Captain, Bill Lewis, who would conduct the service. Word spread, attendance grew, and this quickly evolved into primary worship for many people. One of the members played the guitar, and a few hymns were sung after which prayers were offered and Bill would give a sermon. If someone wanted to give a donation, a box was on a table where money could be left. (The money is collected for charity and it is impressive how much is collected in that box when there is no pressure to give. ) The format is till the same today, over 30 years later.
About the time we arrived, Capt. John Dolaghan, Navy Chaplin, retired to Sawgrass. These two Navy men had know each other in the service, and Bill invited John to share in the preaching. John Dolaghan is an outstanding, inspired preacher. When we arrived and began attending, the attendance was around 40 at the most. Today the attendance is always at least 200 and usually more. On church holidays, the place is overflowing. Knowledge of our Chapel is by word of mouth only. An email is sent out to members if the service must be held inside the club house due to inclement weather.
Service has always been held at our Sawgrass Beach Club in an open-air pavilion on the Atlantic Ocean. No one gets up at 6 am for a church service every Sunday unless you really want to be here. All the set-up is done by volunteers from the chapel members. Today we have three pastors, and all of them excellent preachers. Two of them have a job during the week. The third is a retired business man. The service was founded to be Christian ecumenical and still is today. There is a bit more organization than at the very beginning, but not much. Our pastors are now paid a small stipend as is the guitarist. A small group of members, meet at times to discuss the charities to whom our collection money is to go. One member serves as treasure in that he makes sure tax receipts are mailed the end of each year for donations. Other volunteer members are in charge of our sound system. There is no overhead. The building belongs to the Club, which generously also provides coffee and sets up the chairs for us.
I love attending Sawgrass Chapel. We are in the midst of God’s creation. The sun rises. The pelican and seagulls fly over. One can hear the lapping of the waves below or the crashing of same depending on the weather. There is a sense of being in God’s cathedral. Very special to me is that Jeannie and her husband Lisle usually come with me. Our hymn singing is lead by a man playing a guitar and the congregation sings in spontaneous harmony. Wonderful! Magnificent! No wonder so many people attend every Sunday Each one of our Pastors are excellent preachers. Today’s sermon was on the fact that our faith is displayed through our good works. I always leave Chapel with a sense of being very glad that I came, “for here we met with the Lord”
An extra bonus, a delightful breakfast is served at the club house, a few steps away. Many of the members gather there afterwards.