Story Tools

Date of Issue: June 23, 2010

Retiring pastor flips church from fizzle to sizzle


During his first day as pastor of the Episcopal Church of Annunciation, the Rev. Harry Parsell scanned the faces of the congregation. They looked hurt, as though joy had been drained from their cheeks.

“Man,” Parsell thought to himself, “I’ve got to wake these guys up.”

Over the next seven years, Parsell would provide energy drink-like invigoration to waken the congregation.

Now soon the church and Anna Maria Island will be without one of its more scintillating personalities. Parsell is retiring after 30 years of ministry, all within 40 miles of Holmes Beach, including seven years at Annunciation.

Parsell’s final service will begin at 9 a.m., Sunday, June 27. Then he will soon move from the rectory to St. Petersburg.

“We’re going to miss him immensely,” said Faith Peterson, who drives with husband Barry to Annunciation from Lakewood Ranch. “We’re going to miss his compassion, his personal care and just his spiritual guidance.”

The church has yet to find a new pastor.

After graduating from Stetson University in Deland in 1975, Parsell interned at churches in Wisconsin and California. In 1980, he became an assistant to the pastor at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in St. Petersburg. From 1983-88, Parsell held the same position at the Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan in Clearwater.

He was the pastor of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in St. Petersburg from 1989-2002, prior to his position on the Island.

At Annunciation, Parsell helped accomplish endless improvements over the years, including supporting migrant families, starting daytime summer camps and completing a $50,000 renovation of the rectory.

But some who attended services say the real renovations came from Parsell’s sermons and selfless deeds.

“He was willing to do whatever needed to be done and that included washing dishes, cleaning floors, cutting grass and vacuuming,” said the church’s senior warden, Dick Hussey. “If he saw somebody struggling in the kitchen, he’d dive right in.”

Parsell also was known for his openness to newcomers.

“We don’t care if you’re black or white or gay or straight,” Parsell said. “Everybody has to find their way to heaven.”

Parsell wasn’t a stern pastor or predictable preacher. The Christmas in July event he held last year was out of the ordinary.

“He’s also a very social person and still loves to have a lot of fun,” Hussey said. “And with his personality, I think he’s brought a lot of new people into our parish. He has a very warm and humorous attitude toward life.”

That attitude energized the church.

“He turned the church around from one that was losing membership and appeal to people, to one that really had a lot of enthusiasm,” member Barry Peterson said. “People come here because it’s such a welcoming place. And Harry makes it that way.”

The congregation, it’s safe to say, is finally awake.