Former members say goodbye to St. Johns church

Jacob Fuller
Father Thomas Guerry, former church members and their loved ones gathered to say farewell to St. Johns Greek Orthodox Church. The building is being demolished to make way for a new restaurant. The icons inside the church have been removed and donated to Saints Markella and Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Fort Walton Beach.

About 20 people attended a service led by Father Thomas Guerry to say a reverent goodbye to St. Johns Greek Orthodox Church.

Guerry said it is extremely rare for a Greek orthodox church to be torn down, so there is no official deconsecration service. He led a prayer service to ask for blessings on the church’s former members.

The church's legacy will live on in what it has passed on at Saints Markella and Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Fort Walton Beach. 

"They gave a number of wonderful, wonderful icons, hand-painted," Guerry told The Log. "Iconography is very, very important in Eastern Orthodox worship. So part of the life of this church will live on there."

Mike Buckingham purchased the church on Hwy. 98 in 2012 for $330,000. He plans to demolish the church to make way for a new building where he plans to open a restaurant.

The stained-glass windows and icons have already been removed, and workers returned within minutes after the farewell service to continue removing roof tiles from the building and prepping it for demolition — which could come sometime in the next two weeks.

The small church was built in the 1980s by three sisters: Stella Marler, Cleo Marler and Vera Walter, in honor of their father John George Maltezos. Stella and Cleo traveled to Aegina Island, Greece, where their father was born, and got blueprints from their family's church. Except for the basement in the original, St. Johns was an exact replica of the church in Greece.

Sandy Trammell and Joyce Walter are the only living former members of the church's unofficial board. Both attended the farewell service. Trammell reminisced about the days of the church's creation.

"We raised funds for it by literally sitting in front of the old post office and having bake sales," said Trammell, who is married to Stella's grandson Carl.

The church was never officially used for regular Sunday services. At the height of its use, the church was used for the feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6, private prayers services, children's Sunday school and Saint John the Baptist name day services. It was also the launching point for the annual Blessing of the Fleet and cross dive for many years.

The church had been vacant and unused for several years before Buckingham purchased it. The architectural style of the building and small size of the lot made it incompatible with any of his restaurant plans.