St. Gabriel's has historically been the only Episcopal Church in the once rural, now suburban southern part of Hall County, Georgia. Our church was born when a group of clergy and parishioners at Grace Episcopal Church ( a 150-year old church in Gainesville, the county seat of Hall County) realized that the major growth in Hall County's population was in its southern part. This growth, around the cities of Flowery Branch and Oakwood, was spurred by the relative proximity of the Atlanta metropolitan area and the recreational opportunities provided by nearby Lake Sidney Lanier.
A study group under the direction of the Rev. Jim Shumard, was charged with the task of investigating the need for a church in South Hall. It took less than a year to conclude that a church was needed. With the full support of Grace Church, we secured financing and acquired land and a building from an Assembly of God church that was moving on. The Reverend Solace M. "Mike" Freeman was appointed Vicar and our church was consecrated by Bishop Frank Allan on May 10, 1998.
Much of the labor involved in converting the church to a space suitable for Episcopal worship was done by the parishioners. To this day, volunteers cut our grass (Holy Mowers), sweep our floors (Sacred Sweepers), find and arrange floral arrangements at our altar (Altar Guild), and tend our gardens.
By January of 1999, St. Gabriel's was self-supporting and the Rev. Freeman became our first and only rector, serving until his retirement in January, 2006. Under his leadership, we began a period of steady growth. Since his retirement, the church was led by Interim Rector Linda Baker Pineo, followed by Rector Bill Combs (current).
In 2003, we built, largely with our own hands, a Church school classroom building, enabling us to expand our Christian Education program. This building, Kent Hall, is dedicated to the memory of the late Geri Kent, our first parish administrator.
In the aftermath of the 2003 General Convention, a minority, but a significant minority of our vestry and congregation left the Episcopal Church. Not everyone who remained at Saint Gabriel's agreed with the Convention, but all agreed that the blessings of fellowship and opportunities for service at St. Gabriel's far outweighed any differences we might have. The parish was challenged, but strengthened, and has not only survived, but has prospered.
St. Gabriel's is a warm, vibrant parish made up of over 140 members. We have members of all ages. Approximately 10% of our parish is comprised of our youth, those under the age of 18. Twenty-five percent (25%) of our youth are in high school with another 25% in middle school. About one third of our youth are in elementary school and the remaining are under five years of age.
Among those over age 18, a little over 10% are between the ages of 25-39 and 25% are between the ages of 40-50. Another 25% is between ages 51-64 and the last 25% are 65 or older. (A small percentage do not report their ages).
Our membership is 57% female and 43% male. Over 97% of our parish has reported having some college education, a baccalaureate or advanced degree. Over 88% have been Episcopalian for 3 years or more and the same percentage both attends and tithes to the church regularly.
Our most recent survey highlighted the top three responses when our parish members were asked what keeps them coming back to St. Gabriels. The top three reasons were:
~ Our worship services and liturgical style,
~ Connections and bonds felt with other parishioners, and
~ The opportunity to learn and grow through spiritual and social endeavors in an atmosphere of genuine fellowship.
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