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Priest's hope lies in Resurrection

The Rev. Kevin Donlon, who left St. Mary's in April amid allegations of impropriety, has a thriving ministry.

By AMY SCHERZER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 6, 2002

BALLAST POINT -- If its prayers are heard, the Church of the Resurrection will be building a sanctuary by this time next year. The 7-month-old congregation has made an offer to buy 11 acres south of Gandy Boulevard.

[Times photo: John Pendygraft]
The Rev. Kevin Donlon is surrounded by children from the Church of the Resurrection as he gives a sermon recently at one of the church's temporary meeting places, the Friday Morning Musicale in Hyde Park.
That's fast work, even for the Rev. Kevin Donlon, who led a $10-million building campaign while rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church.

Two months after dedicating that 15,000-square foot church, Donlon left it, rather than face allegations of inappropriate behavior.

A week later, April 28, more than 400 came to worship with him at the first service of his new Church of the Resurrection.

He hasn't looked back since.

"It's really uplifting," said Donlon. "We're financially sound, ahead of budget. The men's ministry is ready to bust. I hope and pray that every other church -- including St. Mary's -- has the same success."

After working out of his Palma Ceia home for three months, Donlon leased an office loft at Bayshore and Gandy Boulevards. His days and nights are filled with the needs of 350 parishioners.

Eventually, he hopes they'll assemble in a new church, one not yet designed or funded.

In the meantime, he borrows space where he can.

If it's Monday night, he's leading services at the office.On Wednesdays, congregants pray at Good Shepherd Lutheran.

The early Sunday crowd gathers at 7:30 a.m. at Bayshore Presbyterian on Bayshore Boulevard. At 10 a.m. he preaches to about 200 at the Friday Morning Musicale in Hyde Park.

"It is a spirit-filled place, refreshing and renewing," said senior warden Kacy Lake, a partner at the Fowler White law firm. "I felt that when things first started, but I felt it every Sunday since."

A five-year vision statement is nearly completed. Among the long range goals: to evangelize in South Tampa. Donlon's statistics say 78 percent of residents south of Gandy are unaffiliated with a church.

A service aimed at teens and young adults is a priority. He wants it to be "untraditional, contemporary, outside a church setting," he said.

Donlon was 30 when he left the Roman Catholic church for the Episcopal church and 45 when he left St. Mary's for Church of the Resurrection.

"I made the right decision then, and I made the right decision now," said Donlon.

For 90 days, Donlon was "inhibited" or banned from church duties while the church investigated congregants' allegations of impropriety.

Those findings could have resulted in Donlon being admonished, suspended or deposed. He expected the bishop would settle for nothing less than his resignation.

"It was pretty clear we were at very different places in terms of what was going to happen at St. Mary's," said Donlon.

He laughed when recalling one of the allegations: that he "abused" the lay staff.

"That's why they're here now," he said, pointing to three people chatting in the front office.

Donlon won't argue that he can be headstrong.

"People either like me or not, there's not a lot of middle ground with me. Jesus didn't get a full vote at the Last Supper and I don't expect a full vote."

While he regrets that his resignation made news headlines, he says the experience has strengthened him.

"I lost my anonymity," he said, "but as a result, I'm a better, more authentic priest."

Donlon said he never recruited members, but some of the original founders of St. Mary's followed him.

"I just told them, 'This is the best decision for me. You do the best decision for you,' " he said. "My heart and focus is with this flock."

-- Amy Scherzer can be reached at 226-3332 or .

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