Christ the King: 'St. Doublewide' to 'The Church in the Wildwood'

Special to Gannett
Christ the King Episcopal Church
Christ the King Episcopal Church

Christ the King Episcopal Church actually began in 1985 as the South Walton Bible Fellowship, a south Walton group of Episcopalians who were members of St. Andrews Church in nearby Destin. They would meet on Sunday evenings at the Episcopal Fishers of Men Retreat facility for informal Bible study and fellowship.

The group quickly grew and the need was recognized for an Episcopal church in south Walton County. A meeting was held with the Arch-Deacon of the diocese and tentative plans were implemented. Services were held on alternate Sundays and were conducted by the rector and curate from St. Andrews.

Christ the King was recognized as a Mission Station by Bishop Charles Duvall on Easter Sunday, 1986, thus marking the first new Episcopal Church in Walton County in 100 years. Fr. Jack McLeester became priest-in-charge and Lance Hughes was appointed warden by the bishop.

In 1988, using land that had been purchased by St. Andrews on Highway 98, the new congregation built a doublewide modular structure to a custom design so that it could serve as a church and offices. Fondly called “St. Doublewide” by the parishioners, it served the parish for 10 years. (The structure is currently being used by a new Lutheran congregation.) With the retirement of Fr. McLeester, Fr. Carl Bright became the rector in 1990 and remained with the parish until his retirement in 2003.

A gift of 15 acres of heavily wooded land was given to the parish and on Sept. 14, 1998, the new church was consecrated by Bishop Charles Duvall. It sits at the end of a long, winding driveway surrounded by a forest of majestic pine and magnolia trees. Elegant in its simplicity, the church is a classic board and battens Carpenter Gothic building, and is often referred to as “The Church in the Wildwood”.

A covered walkway links the church to the Sandefur Hall and then continues around to a separate building that houses classrooms, nursery, and the Hughes Library. Lush gardens of azaleas and camellias fill the spaces surrounding the buildings. Standing in the courtyard known as “Gahagan’s Garth” is a lighted fountain.