ORLANDO, Fla. — Members of the Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist filled the sanctuary Sunday for the last service of the Rev. Canon Nelson W. Pinder, who served the church for 52 years.
For the past 17 months, Pinder has been interim rector while the church searched for a new priest. The Rev. Richard Meadows took over the 115-year-old church on June 1.
“I think I leave the church in good hands. I think the new priest will find this is a good church,” said Pinder, 78.
Pinder, a civil rights and community leader since his arrival in 1959, retired once before in 1995. He was asked to come back in 2010 to oversee the Washington Shores church during the search for a new minister. Pinder never hesitated.
“This is my family. When your family needs you, you have to respond,” Pinder said.
During the past 17 months, Pinder reactivated the church’s Sunday school program, reorganized the Men’s Group, relaunched the church website, and renovated the sanctuary. The church updated the sanctuary lighting and sound system, improved parking, and raised money for a new organ.
“He is a part of every family in this church. He has baptized them, married them and buried them,” said Joe Reed, 66, a 30-year member of the church. “He’s kind of the glue that holds the church, and the community, together.”
Florel Gill, 72, joined the church five years ago, but she knew of Pinder, his reputation and his impact long before then. During the 1960s, Pinder helped desegregate the lunch counters in downtown Orlando with sit-ins. Beyond that, he served on the city’s human relations committees that pushed for fair housing and employment in Orlando.
“He has had a tremendous influence in the community,” Gill said. “We are going to miss him. We are looking forward to our new priest, but we are going to miss Father Pinder.”
At the Sunday service, Pinder symbolically gave the church keys back to the congregation. Church warden Lee McElroy said Pinder didn’t just fill in between priests — he moved the church forward.
“He would be like the coach with less than a minute left in the game and you have nine yards to go for a touchdown,” McElroy said. “We’re not saying goodbye. We’re not saying farewell. We saying, see you tomorrow.”