Pastor Keen: Born for this

By: 
Mar. 27, 2013

Church of the Holy Child, led by Pastor Comforted Keen, will launch a month of festivities next week, in celebration of its 50th anniversary.

BY MIKE CAVALIERE | ASSOCIATE EDITOR

Comforted Keen didn’t always know he was meant to be an Episcopal pastor.

“Religious schizophrenia,” he calls it, being raised around both strong Protestant and Catholic influences. He sees his childhood today as a struggle between two very different religious sensibilities: one a “don’t” culture — don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t swear — and the other heavy on the “dos” — observe Lent, go to Sunday mass, confess your sins.

Faced with this duality, he joined the military and earned a bachelors degree in social work. But that was all before, when he was nearly a different person, back when his name was still George Keen.

A pastor now for 33 years, 14 of which he served at Church of the Holy Child, at 1125 W. Granada Blvd., Keen has since simplified his spiritual outlook.

“Just be it,” he says. “Be the gospel. … Be involved in the community, because mission strengthens the church.”

And he would know. Only the second pastor to lead Church of the Holy Child since it relocated from Holly Hill to Ormond Beach in 1983, his congregation will celebrate its 50th anniversary in April, with events every weekend until April 28.

“If you have a derriere, you can do ministry,” he says, all Georgia drawl. “If you can sit and hold a hand, you’re good.”

It’s the idea of a “ministry of presence,” and it’s something he pushes in every sermon. “You can be God’s man, God’s woman, any time, any how.”

Taking off his collar and setting in on his desk, he shrugs, as if it’s the simplest thing in the world. “Only use words when you need to,” he says. Be there for people. Volunteer.

If you’re in an elevator to the 12th floor with someone who looks troubled, that means you have 12 floors to spread a little love their way.

“Dude,” he says, leaning back. “How hard is that?”

After serving in the military — he volunteered but was never sent to fight in the Vietnam War four times before his term expired — Keen realized that he was meant to serve in a very different capacity. He got involved in the church and says, one day, God told him his name was now Comforted.

“When God changes names, it has to do with … character,” he says. “I knew I was supposed to set that (old) life down.”

And that's exactly what he did. He burned all of his military effects. He shattered his old knife with a two-pound hammer.

He became Comforted.

“I didn’t know I was natured to do this,” he smiled. “I had to go through a process. … But I’m born to do what I’m doing right now.”

In the 30 years that Keen’s church has been in Ormond, it has gone through routine renovations. New carpet. Chairs instead of pews. A new sound system. But it’s a small church — 130 in its congregation, one full-time employee, two part-time — and it’s stayed relatively the same.

“It’s a more casual group of people here,” he says. “But there are huge parishes that don’t respond (to service) as much as this congregation does.”

Birthday month

Church of the Holy Child will host events throughout April to celebrate its 50th birthday. Its program is as follows:

April 7: Youth Sunday  Today’s youth will be remembered and honored, with those who grew up attending the church in the attendance.

April 14: Reunion Sunday — Former members of the church will return for a reunion.

April 20: Spring Fling — The entire community invited to this day of fun and celebration.

April 21: Memorial Sunday — Deceased members will be remembered.

April 27: Golden Jubilee Dinner  The Ormond Heritage will host a gala, with guests retired Reverand Greg Brewer and his wife, Laura Lee.

April 28: Celebration Sunday — Bishop Gregory Brewer will be on hand for confirmation and baptism.