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On the Coast Magazine

A Week of Blessings

04/30/2013 05:02PM ● Published by Nancy Babin

Driving east along Highway 98 from Fort Walton Beach, across pristine Okaloosa Island, over the Destin Bridge, past Crab Island and the East Pass into the city perimeters, to your right you may notice a big, beautiful sign that welcomes you to Destin, the World’s Luckiest Fishing Village. “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village?” you ask. YES! It is true! Destin is known as the World's Luckiest Fishing Village! The city houses the largest and most elaborately equipped fishing fleet in the state of Florida. But many residents and visitors alike do not think it is luck at all, but rather a “blessing” due to the rich history surrounding both the very fleets fishing the amazing emerald green waters in this Northwest Florida region and the many churches of the area.

Destin traces its immediate history to a fisherman, Captain Leonard Destin, who moved here from New London, Connecticut, and settled in Northwest Florida in about 1845. Captain Destin pioneered the fishing industry and Destin has maintained this heritage to the present.

Another part of that heritage is the long rich history of great fairs and festivals of the area. The wine festival of South Walton each spring has helped raise millions of dollars for local charities. The film festival each fall has brought to the area many top-name celebrities. The art festival, always hosted on Mother's Day weekend, welcomes talented artists from all across the globe. Our own On the Coast festivals hosted annually are specifically geared for a great family crowd. The annual Destin Seafood Festival has a vast history of fun and entertainment. But no other annual area event has a longer, richer history than the yearly Blessing of the Fleet.

The past, present and future of Destin are tied to the sea. The fishermen formed the backbone of early Destin. They and their families also shared their faith as members of Destin’s churches. In May 1957, Destin’s captains and crews came together at St. Andrew’s By-the-Sea Episcopal Church for the inaugural Blessing of the Fleet. Rev. William Irwin, pastor at St. Andrew’s and founder of the event, recognized that the fishing industry and its success were an integral part of the survival and success of the city residents. He held a simple worship service and asked an uncomplicated prayer that God bless the fishermen and their vessels, one by one, for protection and prosperity.

That straightforward ceremony has grown to become one of Destin’s wonderful annual celebrations and the only one of its kind between Biloxi, Mississippi and Tarpon Springs, Florida. This year, this continuously running annual event will take place on May 9, 2013. This 56th annual blessing is on Ascension Day, an annual Christian holiday, and it will be the culmination of a week-long citywide celebration known as Destin’s Week of Blessing.

Ten years ago, the Blessing of the Fleet evolved into a full week of events to bless local families, youth, and businesses as well as city service men and women through the separate yet unified vision of two men, Captain Mike Parker and then city councilman Mel Ponder. These two men were each blessed with a vision to “do more” and “bless more” – to extend the blessing further than just fishing vessels to the families (Captain Mike) as well as the businesses (Mel Ponder) and reach the whole of the community. The two were introduced through Father Mike Hesse of Immanuel Anglican Church and then welcomed in support from additional churches. Ten years ago only a half a dozen churches volunteered support and resources to host events. This year, 17 churches of differing denominations will all come together to serve the community.  

The events of Destin’s Week of Blessing are for everyone regardless of religious background or preference. There is an opportunity for everyone in this community to team up for fellowship. “All our area pastors are unified in their passion and heart for the city. They recognize that not one church meets the needs of all the people,” said Mel. Just like no one car meets the needs of all drivers, or no one dish is the perfect meal to feed the hungry, the churches are as diverse as its members. The blessing and gift comes from the realization of these pastors that even though a person is not a member of their congregation, they are still a part of one same community and there is a harmony that births from being “a people of faith.”

This idea has transcended into other areas as well. New Zealand and Atlanta are among the growing list of cities hosting similar events. Why? Award-winning author Antoine de Saint-Exupery once said, “One man may hit the mark, another blunder; but heed not these distinctions. Only from the alliance of the one, working with and through the other, are great things born.” In addition, the great philosopher Aesop taught, “United we stand; divided we fall.” Man joined in unity for a common purpose can accomplish great things. Thus, the principle of Church of Destin was formed: “One Church, Many Congregations.”

Destin was built from the beach up, starting with a handful of local fishing families. Many of these same families are still active in the community and credit the annual Blessing of the Fleet as an instrumental event in the city’s prosperous path. The same can be said for the Week of Blessings. When the oil crept closer to our beautiful beaches, the pastors of Church of Destin rallied their congregations to walk the beaches in prayer, travel out into boats and pray and rally their members to action. The oil could be seen coming in from all angles, but no tar balls were ever found in Destin except for a small handful along Henderson Beach State Park – an area not walked by church members.

When hurricane Katrina blew through the area, the many assembled congregations of Church of Destin again worked in unison to have Destin noted as a city of refuge, taking in storm victims and collecting supplies to be shipped to others in need. Blessed? Or just “lucky”?

Dale Allen, a descendant of the Maltezos and Woodwards – two of the city’s founding families, has attended every Blessing of the Fleet since 1957. She will tell you that the people of Destin, whether they were a part of the church community or not, began to realize how important the blessing was and did not want to start a season without having their boats blessed. “It became an integral part of the fishing community,” she says.

Destin’s Week of Blessing has something for everyone, every faith, every walk of life. For more information and a full list of churches and activities, you can visit www.churchofdestin.com. As the founder of the Bahá'í faith, author Baha’ullah wrote, “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.” Get plugged into one of the many Church of Destin families and come proclaim a blessing over the things that matter most in your life!

About the Author
Erika Scannell has been married to Kip for 11 yrs and is the proud mother of 5 plus 1 angel baby; a resident since 1999, founder/president of the William Ryan Foundation and when not coaching soccer and chasing kids likes to read, run and write.

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Community may/june 2013 destin’s week of blessing blessing of the fleet erika scannell church of destin
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