Five Decades of Spiritual Life

By Daniel J. Carlson: with the assistance of Jeanette Beck, Frances Bernhardt,
Louise Caccamise, Claudia Gatewood, Bob LaFleur, Joan LaFleur, and Shannon Finley


As fairly young as JKV is, already there are decades of ministry behind us – five to be exact. From the perspective of this still fairly new resident, all one has to do to discern that John Knox Village has something of a background in spiritual matters, besides looking to our community’s name, is to scan the framed history of this community which is posted both across from the library in the Barker Center as well as in Majestic Oaks, thanks to resident Bob LaFleur.

Originally founded in 1971/1972 by Aldersgate, a religiously oriented retirement-village company with locations in Kissimmee, Orange City, and two other locations (Key West and Englewood). Aldersgate was then purchased in 1978 by Christian Services International and renamed John Knox Village.

Aldersgate’s philosophy was to build affordable housing for retirees in much the same way as church groups would build churches, parsonages, and schools using tithes, offerings, donations, and endowments to pay off debts.

The name Aldersgate is derived from a street in London, England, where in the early 18th century Charles Wesley had a deeply spiritual experience, one that led him to found what was known as the Methodist movement.

Our community’s relationship with Christian Services International was terminated in 1981 when we became John Knox Village of Central Florida – a non-profit 501(C)(3). We were already one of the largest life-care retirement communities in Central Florida.

In the early years, the chapel, complete with steeple and chimes, was located at 1A and 1B Jonquil Court and was the hub of resident activities. From Koffee Klatches to birthday and holiday gatherings to Sunday Vespers, many of today’s activities and traditions took root.

An organizational chart for the office of the chaplain, dating back to 1985, lists the music committee, Sunday chimes, Medical Center, Sunday morning services, prayer chain, prayer groups, Bible studies, literature tracts, special events, prayer fellowship, and special services; all as part of resident life at John Knox Village.

One notable mainstay from the early years of the community is the weekly prayer list. The late Norma Gimpel, one of the list’s early preparers, is quoted as having said that the list existed long before her arrival here in 1997. Today, volunteers continue to assist with the preparation and distribution of the weekly prayer list, assist at Vespers as greeters, ushers, projection and audiovisual technicians, Communion distributors, or as one who tends to lectern and altar paraments, and editing of Vesper programs and memorial service programs. And let’s not forget some 35 singers who constitute the Vesper Choir and the Men’s Chorus. There is also a Prayer group that meets weekly to pray for the residents and staff members of the community. Other ministries include neighbors-serving-neighbors in a variety of helpful ways, from picking up a meal-to-go when a neighbor is unable, then to simply offering a listening ear or words of encouragement when needed.

As the John Knox community continued to grow and the Centre commons area was constructed in 1980, it included plans for a chapel. In 1981, a stained-glass window was installed as a memorial. Also, these days one might hear hymns ringing out from the noonday chimes. Although the chimes have been modernized through the years to be computer operated and timed, the bells have consistently tolled since the 1970s.

Still another sign of the importance of spiritual life in our community is that JKV has employed a full-time chaplain since 1978. A glance at the cover of the Village Weekly still advertises notice of Sunday evening Vespers.
The first chaplain at John Knox was the Reverend R. Donald Clare who was appointed in August 1978. Other chaplains who have followed and are remembered by some current residents were the Reverend Jack Gates and the Reverend James Patterson, the latter having immediately preceded our current chaplain, the Reverend Ray Bertrand. And certainly not to be minimized, there have been and remain many brother and sister fellow residents who have served and continue to serve, strictly on a volunteer basis – much as in a local congregation – tending to the variety of necessary tasks mentioned earlier.

Walking through the Barker Center on a Wednesday afternoon, you can hear the Vesper Choir rehearsing for Sunday and know you’re not hearing songs from a Broadway musical. As for the Vesper services, they were being held at John Knox as early as July 16, 1978. The first Vesper Choir soon followed in 1979.

Yes, there are signs aplenty of a decided spiritual element and spiritual resources in this lively community. Overseeing much of these resources is the Spiritual Life Council. The Council, initially the Religious Life Committee, was reorganized and enlarged in January 1981. At the time of the restructure from committee to council, a booklet was produced outlining the religious policies and practices of John Knox Village. The booklet states that “the Village Administration encourages all residents to attend Sunday worship services in the churches of the area, according to each resident’s choice of denomination.”

The current chair of the Spiritual Life Council is Bill Knutson; its 12 members serve three-year terms. The council meets monthly and supports a variety of ministries including the chaplain and directors of the Vesper Choir and Men’s Chorus.

In 2019 a new choir director, Reggie May, was hired to fill the role that had previously been filled by Claudia Gatewood from 2004 until May 26, 2019. Prior to those years, John Knox Village resident Paul Allen had been the choir’s first director. Men’s Chorus is under the direction of Brian Larson, who has been with them since 2015. His predecessor was Bob Richter, a former resident of John Knox Village.

Fifty years after the founding of our community, the Spiritual Life Council continues its ministry of making available daily devotional booklets at the chapel entrance and has added a live television broadcast through closed-circuit television so that those who cannot attend in person can still experience Vespers from their homes. Not to be forgotten is the Spiritual Life Library, a special place for some, which was dedicated on October 15, 1995.

Much has transpired in our community over the decades in response to the spiritual needs of residents. Being a retired pastor, I’m well aware that this brief history does not apply to all of us. That is, John Knox Village is more than large enough to include those who do not relate to spiritual resources in traditional ways. And yet, spirituality being in large part a personal and internal experience, whatever one’s spiritual needs and/or practices may be, this home to all of us, with its beautiful campus providing ample quiet and scenic spaces for personal reflection and meditation, certainly is one spot, in the vastness of all of God’s creation, conducive to meeting one’s spiritual needs. And for that, gratitude is the appropriate response of all of us.