A variety of religious books line a shelf in Tod Schwingel's office on Wednesday. RYAN PELHAM/STAFF
BY PAMELa glinski
Published: August 26, 2013
Updated: August 26, 2013 at 09:05 AM
SEBRING -For a man, who at one time in his life was very nervous about speaking in front of crowds, Pastor Tod Schwingel of Sebring Christian Church has found his voice and his true calling. "Preaching is my passion," said Schwingel. "I look forward to sharing God's word every Sunday morning." In a comfortable office filled with shelves of books, golf memorabilia, plaques and numerous duck statues given as presents by members of his congregation, Schwingel talked about his 14 years as the pastoral leader of Sebring Christian.
"The church began in 1984, (holding services) at Stephenson Nelson Funeral Home. They purchased this property, which was formerly a skating rink, in 1987. I came in 1999," explained Schwingel. Sebring Christian has a 22,000-square-foot facility with a sanctuary that easily seats its seasonal congregation of about 250, offices, classrooms and a multipurpose room that is available for meetings, banquets, weddings and other functions. One of the church's community outreach projects is supplying rooms free of charge to the Change of Page Alzheimer's Center, a non-profit organization that has provided supervised care and meals for up to 30 clients since it opened May 1, 2012. "We're here to give relief to the caregivers," said Schwingel, a board member of the day care that is administered by his wife, Cora. "It is very affordable and gives you the entire day to do whatever is needed." An independent, non-denominational church, Sebring Christian not only hosts Change of Pace, they offer a variety of children's programs, clubs, informational workshops and support groups for caregivers, widows and others grieving the loss of loved ones. "We support missionaries in India and Tanzania," he said of the church's commitment to members of Pioneer Bible Translators, Christian Missionary Fellowship and other overseas mission organizations. Each summer, 15 adults and high school students from the congregation volunteer to direct a week of activities for 50 to 70 children at the Lake Aurora Christian Camp in Lake Wales. "I enjoy doing things with the youth," remarked the father of two and grandfather of four, who had just returned from a weekend of tubing and camping with the youth group at the O'Leno State Park. Schwingel is also active with the Highlands County Softball League, playing on Thursday evenings for one of the church league teams, the Saints. Sunday, Sebring Christian celebrated its annual "Friend Day" where members invited family, neighbors and friends to a block party luau following the worship service. With Elvis impersonators and authentic Hawaiian outfits encouraged, it is easy to see why this 50-year-old describes himself as fun loving and childlike. "Tod is such a funny guy and really down to earth. I've learned a lot working for him," said children's director and church secretary Angie Dale, the target of some of Schwingel's lighthearted pranks. After working for him for seven years she emphasized with a smile, "He's not your standard preacher!" "I break the mold for sure," said the casually dressed, full bearded Miami native who "moved around a lot" in his youth before his family settled in Ocala. During high school Schwingel got a job at Winn-Dixie and over 13 years worked his way up to become manager of the Ocala store. He was a deacon of his church, sang in the choir and taught children's Sunday school classes, but he always sensed, "there was something more God had for me to do." Schwingel started preaching at a church in Spring Hill while he earned his bachelor of science in preaching and counseling from Florida Christian College. Trained as a pastoral care practitioner, he doesn't see himself as a counselor but more as an ear for people that might need help or guidance Married for almost 29 years, with his son, Clint, stationed on a Navy nuclear submarine out of Seattle, and his daughter, Beth, ready to have another child, Schwingel has an understanding of families, their concerns and the real-life issues they face. "I would like to think my sermons are interesting and address people's lives, where they are today," said Schwingel.