Episcopal priest seeks to bring renewed faith to suburbs His message to faithful: 'You need God'


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Welcome to the Rev. Filmore Strunk's mission field, where he believes people are restless for an anchor to keep from drifting in a sea of affluence.

Welcome to suburbia.

"They want community," Strunk said. "They want connections. Underneath that, it's a real hunger for God. They're beating themselves silly with their jobs, mortgaged up to their eyeballs, excited about being a player.

"But underneath it all, they're wondering: 'Is that all there is?' "

Strunk leads St. Margaret's Episcopal Church on Route 51. He and his wife, Sandy, and their children, Asher and Hannah, live in the Charlotte suburb of Matthews.

Strunk, 45, arrived at St. Margaret's in 1994 with a colorful story.

The son of a Southern Baptist preacher in Tennessee, he grew up to stray from his spiritual roots. He tried a taste of Eastern religions while making a living as an interior landscaper - supplying hotels and malls with ferns. But then in the late '70s he experienced a yearning for more to life.

He was ordained in 1988, drawn to the Episcopal church by its more formal liturgy and Eucharist. He served as pastor at a rural Tennessee church before coming to lead the 350-member south Charlotte congregation that is far more expressive than the average Episcopal church. Listen closely and you might hear a believer speak in tongues. "Under their breath," Strunk said. "The Episcopal way of doing it."

There is nothing subtle, though, about Strunk's determination to reach families whose average annual income is $50,000 to $75,000 - people for whom church is sometimes just another piece of the frantic puzzle of life.

"Faith and the living God can just be one more lifestyle option," Strunk said, "one more interesting piece to an already fabulous life."

Instead of faith sustaining them, he said, people believe: " 'It's my career that sustains me. It's the bull market that sustains me.' "

Strunk got an earful of the frustration when he took 20 men on 6 6TC retreat. On a Saturday night in the comfort of a mountain lodge, they unburdened themselves about their work, stress and the search for meaning.

Their pastor responded by reminding them of one of the commandments God handed down on Mount Sinai - You shall have no other gods before me. That is his message to them. Money isn't a god. Status isn't a god. Only God is god.

"It's the same thread," Strunk said. "The hunger. The desire to reconnect with our maker."

And the message he preaches in response is: "You need God."

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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