My hope is that in the last 17 years we, all of us together, have grown in our faith. We have strengthened our trust in the one true living God. So much so, that not even failure or rejection or the fear thereof will cause us to abandon our faith, our walk with God.”The Rev. Frank C. Sierra
Fr. Frank became rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church on January 16, 2005. He came to St. Philip’s after serving as a Canon Missioner at three Episcopal churches in San Antonio — St. Stephen’s Church, Trinity Church, and Holy Cross Church.
Fr. Frank shared with me that the four ladies who interviewed him from St. Philip’s were very nice to him and his wife, Debi. He told me how the congregation welcomed him and his wife warmly to St. Philip’s. “The sanctuary of St. Philip’s was overwhelming to me because of its Gothic style, iconic red doors, and stained-glass windows. Debi and I both liked the city of Joplin because it was not the large size of San Antonio”. Fr. Frank shared the following story with me. He was visiting one of our hospitals within the first two weeks of his service at St. Philip’s, and someone saw him and asked if he was the new rector at St. Philip’s. In all his years in San Antonio, no one had recognized him outside of his parish. This incident made Fr. Frank feel immediately at home in Joplin.
“My biggest accomplishment has been sharing the love of God with the people that are St. Philip’s, receiving the love of God from the people that are St. Philip’s…
In asking Fr. Frank about his hopes for St. Philip’s when he first came 17 years ago, he responded, “I hoped that what I learned in seminary and two years in the Rio Grande Valley, plus 12 years in San Antonio I could implement at St. Philip’s whether it be youth work, vestry work, community service, or pastoral care. I also felt that if you do not know the place, people, or town, you had best not come with exact goals.” Debi and Fr. Frank’s two sons were grown and living away from home when Fr. Frank began his rectorship at St. Philip’s so he and Debi’s time was devoted to St. Philip’s. Fr. Frank felt the importance of building a community that loves one another, a community that loves God, and knows God’s love for that community. Fr. Frank always shares the news, God loves me and there is nothing I can do ever in my life for God to love me any less, or nothing I can do to make God love me anymore. God loves me unconditionally. This last statement is “Key to Me”! We do not have to be each other’s best friends but we must respect each other.
I asked what season or event at St. Philip’s will always hold a special place in his heart. Fr. Frank looked forward to our Easter Sunday service and our Christmas services. These are joyful seasons where many individuals attend. Another event that stood out to him was one of our first Shrimp Fests on Shrove Tuesday. “I just like the fellowship, serving tables, peeling shrimp, music, and dancing afterward. St. Philip’s has always let me be “me” and not tried to mold me into someone else and I thank God for that. God called me to be a priest at St. Philip’s not another copy of a priest in the diocese.” Fr. Frank believes the greatest gift you can give the world is to just be who God has created you to be. Fr. Frank also believes in sharing the good news of the Gospel during each sermon.
I asked Fr. Frank about his hobbies during his time as the rector of St. Philip’s. He responded: “I like taking something that does not work and fixing it or reusing parts of it to make something that does work. Somebody else’s trash may become a treasure. I totally enjoy making Walking Sticks”.
When Fr. Frank lost Debi, his wife and the love of his life, very suddenly on October 5, 2020. Our congregation was shocked and brought Fr. Frank under our wing. During Debi’s life she showed many what it is to love freely, to laugh easily, and to leave the world better than she found it.
As Fr. Frank nears his retirement ( his last Sunday service is on February 27), he told me that after being in the priesthood for 31 years there is going to be a large void in his life. “St. Philip’s is my family and is my support system. I want to maintain my friendships and be involved in social functions and at the same time stay separated from the operations of the church during the Interim Rector’s time and during the search for a new permanent Rector for St. Philip’s. For the year I am required to be absent from St. Philip’s, I plan to visit other pastors’ and rectors’ churches that I know, and have not been able to worship with on Sundays. I also want to worship with other faith-based groups.”
Many of us in the congregation care about Fr. Frank more than his just being our rector at St. Philips so I asked his advice on what will be a two-way adjustment. He said, “Put your trust in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God loves you and knows your needs and desires and knows the connection we have had and wants to continue that pastoral care with the new rector at St. Philip’s. It will be different but trust that God will provide that. Starting from scratch is always hard but it is good for our Walk with the Lord. God has not abandoned you or me!”
Fr. Frank concluded by saying “I am very pleased with what we did with the Capital Funds Campaign as a congregation.” adding, “My biggest accomplishment has been sharing the love of God with the people that are St. Philip’s, receiving the love of God from the people that are St. Philip’s, and if somehow, I could make Christ known to someone just a little bit, then it would be a great thing. I am looking forward to being a member of St. Philip’s for our future mission and ministry”.
Fr. Frank ended his sermon on February 13 with the following words from a song Even If by the group Mercy Me,
“Cause I know You are able, I know You can. It is well with my soul.”