ARIPEKA — Sunday church services for the mostly homeless parishioners at the ACTS Community Resource Center on U.S. 19 in Hudson were held outside, often spoiled by bad weather making them a hit-or-miss propositions.
No more, said Pastor Rick Dean, who leads the services, which are now held at the Aripeka Community Center, at 1393 Osowaw Blvd. Air conditioned and out of the weather, Hudson-area parishioners are bussed to the center for the 10 a.m. service, which includes a much-loved tradition of a free Sunday breakfast.
“It’s great we finally feel like we have a home; we’re not nomads,” said Dean. “It’s nice to have a place we can call our church.”
Dean said the search for a location for the services ended when some friends who live in the Aripeka area mentioned that he should look into the community center. For $25 a Sunday, the little town made a dream come true. Rene Bennett, head librarian at the Aripeka Library and a community volunteer, cooks breakfast for everyone. The services involve a short sermon, Bible readings and singing.
“I keep the service short,” said Dean, who has been leading the congregation for almost four years. “I don’t want to lose them.”
When the 35- to 45-minute service is over, parishioners are bused back to Hudson, but the support doesn’t stop there. Dean can be found at the ACTS center, a former barbecue restaurant across U.S. 19 from the former Kmart store near the entrance to the Beacon Woods community, most days, “sitting on a stool, keeping the peace and talking to anyone who needs to talk.”
He and other volunteers also help with transportation to medical services and other needs Hudson’s homeless have. He works with many needy on community projects that provide useful and sometimes paying opportunities.
Dean’s message is simple and straightforward. He encourages those able to work to get a job. Those plagued by drug or alcohol addictions are urged to enter rehab. He calls his church a “transitional church,” the idea being to help people make the transition from whatever stands in the way “of what we would call a normal life.”
Anywhere from 20 to 40 people attend the Sunday services, depending in part on how many have taken Dean’s message to heart and take time out to attend rehab, or perhaps get work or move on to a better life elsewhere. He’s always glad to hear from those for whom he’s made a difference, often taking calls from former parishioners.
“They come in broken with no promise, but some get jobs, stop drinking or doing drugs and move on with their lives,” said Dean, who is always happy to hear from anyone doing well.
Those still struggling call, too, and helpful, uplifting phone counseling is something Dean is all too happy to provide.
“I get calls from all over the state,” said Dean. “I don’t want to brag, but for many it’s working; I feel blessed whenever I get a call” be it good or bad news.
So, who or what was it that called Dean to his personal mission?
“I can’t answer that,” he said. “I’ve been asking that myself for years.”
It’s something that “just happened,” he said. An acquaintance asked Dean one day why he doesn’t have a more traditional church, Dean recalled. He responded that God had not provided him an answer yet, and besides, he didn’t have the music equipment needed to provide what he considers an essential part of a service. But then the encouraging friend brought him a karaoke machine.
“Will this work?” Dean said he asked.
Without a building, Dean, who had been an administrator and volunteer at the ACTS center, began holding services outdoors in the parking lot on Sundays. It wasn’t ideal, but it was much needed.
Dean said anyone interested in the new Sunday services in Aripeka is welcome to show up at 10 a.m. Rides from the ACTS center also are available. Dean, who said he works hard to keep expenses low, accepts donations to help support the church and the other work he does helping the homeless. He can be reached at 727-637-5055. Those attending service are not asked to donate, and “we don’t pass the plate,” said Dean. Some parishioners do donate from the little they earn or receive from monthly disability payments.
“They give $20 or $30 a month,” said Dean. “We just turn around and give it back through the things we do.”