Berea Baptist Church in Palm Harbor is celebrating its 50th anniversary Oct. 6-7. The chuch has supported a number of missionaries since 1962 including the International Board of Jewish Missions, the Roloff ministries and Shepherds Baptist Ministries. It also supports Clearwater Christian College.
PALM HARBOR – Jeanette Hamilton-Frazier has strong ties to Berea Baptist Church. She is one of four original members who attended its first service in October 1962.
The church is celebrating its 50th anniversary the weekend of Oct. 6–7. The occasion will be of special importance to Hamilton-Frazier.
“In the beginning we didn’t have a building,” Hamilton-Frazier said. “One of the members offered their home; there were some 35 of us in that home.”
Hamilton-Frazier and two other charter members of the church, now all widows, still live in Palm Harbor – Ruby Fleeman, 94 and Mary Belle Gustafson, 84.
In 1962, the church acquired over two acres of property at 370 Alt. U.S. 19 S. for $18,000. In 1963, another acre was purchased and the church built Fellowship Hall. Since that time, the church has added a parsonage, a two-story Sunday school building and a new church structure, which can accommodate 350 people. A 7,400-square-foot family center was erected in 1999.
“One of the things our church was founded on was a missionary vision and half of our budget went to missions,” Hamilton-Frazier said. “Then, we used the rest of the budget building our church and our base here.”
In the 1960s and 1970s, a unique method was used to buy a Story and Clark baby grand piano, Kimball piano and Hammond organ. The ladies of the church donated 1,000 green trading stamp books to acquire the instruments. Recently, in 2011, the church bought a 25-passenger bus after raising $11,000.
A church program advertises the anniversary as “celebrating God’s faithfulness” and “50 years of searching the scriptures together.”
Paul Rowlands, a deacon with the church since 2005, said church members will prepare a home cooked dinner. It will be served from the family center kitchen Saturday, Oct. 6, at 5:30 p.m. The public is invited.
Richard Prochnow, who pastored the church for more than 22 years from 1980 to 2003, will recite a handwritten poem about the church on Saturday. A former youth counselor, Joel Bauman, will speak after morning worship services on Sunday, Oct. 7.
“There will be music both days by the choir and some quartets,” Rowland said. “There will be a lot of music, a lot of eating, fun food and fellowship. It will be a walk down memory lane.”
A white ribbon will decorate family center walls and poster-size collages, made by church members, will depict different periods of the church’s history.
A major emphasis of the church over the past 50 years has been foreign mission support. In the 1960s, missionaries were sent to the Caicos Islands and later to Bangladesh, Brazil, Central Africa, Chile, Haiti, Peru and Puerto Rico. Recently, missionaries have travelled to Alaska, Las Vegas, Mexico, Nevada, Nicaragua and Utah.
M.A. Seiver served as the first pastor of the church from 1962 to 1979, when he was called to duty at Providence Baptist Church in Lakeland. Seiver died in June 2008.
Since 2004, Pastor Billy Mack Gotcher, 49, has overseen the spiritual care of between 180 and 230 church members.
Gotcher, who has a doctorate in theology, resides in the church parsonage with his family. Ted Conover, a retired veteran, is the assistance pastor.
Deacon Rowlands, who has a 48-year-old son close in age to Pastor Gotcher, thinks of the pastor as his own son.
Rowlands said he will be 71 in September and reflects on his upcoming birthday – “I’m old when I get up out of my chair,” he said. “I’m not old when I go to church.”
Likewise, Berea Baptist Church canvasses local neighborhoods to inform and educate the community about church activities and beliefs. The outreach program, Operation Good Neighbor, targets homes within a 5-mile radius of the church. Brochures and special event flyers are hung on doors at least once a month.
Berea Fine Arts is a program that offers music lessons for a fee to congregation and community members for both children and adults.
Music Director Steve Armstrong, who has a master’s degree in music, teaches guitar, brass instruments and vocal in the church studio.
Jimmie Sue Scoggins, 77, a founding member, was with the church when it started in 1962. She said the original name of the church was Calvary Baptist Church.
“We came out of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Scoggins said. “We wanted to be an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church, where we chose our own missionaries.”
In November 1962, a committee recommended the church change its name to Berea (buh-REE’-uh). There were several other churches in the area at the time named “Calvary.”
Berea is a biblical name and small city north of Mount Olympus, where Paul of Tarsus preached. It is now called Veria in Greece and is referenced in the book of Acts 17:11.
Every year on the Saturday before Halloween, the church holds a Community Fall Fair for children and adults.
The smell of barbecue pork, chicken and beef brisket on roadside smokers grabs the attention of motorists driving by the church, where inflatable funhouses, tents and balloons are set up.
Once parked, passersby are treated to potato salad, coleslaw and beans. Last year, the fair drew 250 visitors to the church lawn and family center.
“You can always tell a Baptist,” Scoggins said. “They’ve got their bible under one arm and a casserole in the other.”