Michael Beck was born addicted and was abandoned at birth, and as he grew his life was spinning out of control. He had been incarcerated for drug offenses and his future appeared bleak.
That's when St. Mark's UMC in Ocala became a spiritual orphanage.
Under the mentorship of Rev. Dan Jones, who nurtured Beck in the faith, things turned around. He became the youth pastor and then associate pastor. Beck organized the Recover Ocala movement, and the associated 5K Run/Walk which spawned several similar initiatives.
He is a College of Central Florida and Saint Leo University alum and earned a doctorate in Semiotics. He wrote six books and became a seminary professor.
Beck and his wife, Rev. Jill Beck, used an innovative approach called "Fresh Expressions" to revitalize Wildwood UMC. The church grew from 30 members to more than 300.
Worshipers in Fresh Expressions gather in tattoo parlors, dog parks, salons, running tracks, community centers, burrito joints, and Zoom rooms.
He is the Director of the Fresh Expressions House of Studies at United Theological Seminary, Cultivator of Fresh Expressions for the Florida Conference UMC, and Director of Re-missioning for Fresh Expressions US.
The Becks have founded addiction recovery programs, jail ministries, food pantries, and interracial unity movements.
And now, Beck has come full circle.
He and his wife returned to St. Mark's as co-pastors. They also will continue to serve Wildwood UMC.
“St. Mark's is my spiritual orphanage. It is also the place I got sober in the daily recovery meetings,” Beck said. “I’m at a stage in my ministry where I can choose where I want to serve. I chose to come here."
His wife noted, “We are just so excited to be home.”
The St Mark's congregation has been in significant decline, dwindling to just a handful of members now. To begin to turn that around, every day the church is alive with activity. It houses a shelter for men experiencing homelessness, a residential sober house, a food pantry, and daily recovery meetings.
COVID-19 aggravated negative conditions for the church, which has worshiped online only since March of 2020.
“We can’t employ normal ways to build up the church. The population of the few and the faithful are just too vulnerable. But as soon as we got here, we started a drive-through community dinner, giving away free meals to the community,” Michael Beck said.
And now the biggest change is about to happen.
“We are moving back into the building to worship on Easter Sunday, it is a significant day for Christians, when we celebrate the resurrection, and we believe that this congregation will experience a resurrection," Rev. Jill Beck said.
The congregation is optimistic with the return of the Becks, who have a track record of revitalizing congregations in danger of closing.
“Ocala is our home. We love this community," Michael Beck said. "We will give all we have to see this church, which has been a haven for so many in need, come back to life."