Florida history

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Florida

We begin in the southernmost part of the state, Key West, in which resides the oldest assembly in the state, and proceed north along the eastern coast and the central area, across the panhandle, then south along the Gulf Coast.

The assembly meeting at Key West Gospel Chapel is the oldest meeting still functioning in the state, apparently started in 1869. The building in which the assembly still meets, at 720 Southard Street and known initially as the Key West Gospel Hall, is said to have been erected before 1880. The meeting was evidently associated then with one of the ‘exclusive’ branches.

Time has lost the details about the founders of this assembly or its activity until about 1900, when Charles Holder moved from the Bahama Islands to Key West and conducted street meetings around the town. Benjamin Demeritt, an avowed atheist and fisherman, was won to Christ by the open air preaching of Holder. The next day Demeritt led his friend Copeland Johnson to Christ. Copeland Johnson and Benjamin Demeritt became the main preachers and leaders at the Gospel Hall in the early 1900s. Copeland Johnson and his wife were drowned in a 1935 hurricane. Charles Holder had died sometime before that, and Benjamin Demeritt died in 1937.

In 1931, a split developed at the Key West Gospel Hall. Six men who considered themselves ‘exclusives’ moved out with their families and met in a different location. Demeritt and Johnson did not go out with them. The ‘open’ assembly continued to meet in the same location, but changed its name to Gospel Chapel, in part because of local confusion with the Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

There were about 100 members of the assembly in the 1930s. Preachers would come from the north for six or eight weeks at a time and preach every night. During the years of heavy military activity, there was a substantial gathering, but with a declining military presence, the numbers have dwindled to less than two dozen. Sidney Bullman has been ac-tively involved in the assembly since the 1940s. The work now depends on brethren from south Florida to minister the Word each Lord’s Day, and there are no regularly scheduled week night meetings.

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The assembly now known as Miami Bible Truth Chapel was the first in the Miami area and began in the early 1900s. The Christians first met in William Bethel’s home but then acquired a building on SW 8th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, called the Miami Gospel Hall Several the brethren came from the Bahamas and Key West, including Copeland Johnson and his two brothers, T. G. and William. “Uncle Cope” was an able preacher and expositor of the Word, and was considered one of the leaders, although he remained in the Key West assembly. He constructed a beautifully illustrated “Plan of the Ages Chart” which he used very effectively in ministry meetings both in Miami and Key West as well as in some of the other Florida Keys.

Damage to the 8th Street quarters by a 1926 hurricane forced the gathering to move to a temporary location in Glenn Royal Parkway, over a store. Then they purchased a building in which to meet until a new one was constructed nearby on SW 7th Street. Leon Russell, Robert Humphreys, Tweedy Sawyer, and others were instrumental in the construction. It was at about that time that the assembly took the name Miami Bible Truth Chapel.

During World War II, the young people still at home would go to Bayfront Park and invite service men to the evening gospel services. Through the preaching of August Van Ryn and Lawrence Chambers, the Holy Spirit yielded a harvest in the conversion of many of the servicemen, one of whom was Gifford Beckon. He and his wife Madge went to Japan as missionaries. During the 1940s and early 1950s the young people’s group had a Gospel radio program. Elliot Van Ryn usually gave the message.

After World War II, a spacious addition was constructed on the rear part of the chapel. Many missionaries, some with families, were temporarily housed in that addition as they came through for ministry in the southern U.S., the Bahamas, and the Caribbean Islands.

Spanish brethren shared the building with the original group beginning in 1962 into the late 1970s, calling their group Sala Evangelica (see below). The Spanish group purchased the SW 7th Street building when Bible Truth Chapel moved to 6300 SW 99th Avenue in July 1978. Additions to the 99th Avenue facility were made as the assembly grew.

In fellowship at Bible Truth Chapel are saints from Jamaica, St. Kitt’s Island, India, and Cuba, most of whom take an active part in the meetings. The multinational group of believers have an excellent bond of unity and a great youth ministry. The saints have great opportunities with migrant workers and a youth detention center nearby. Several couples have gone out into full time service from the assembly.

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The Miami Asamblea Evangelica, a Spanish-speaking assembly, began in 1962 as Miami Sala Evangelica. At first sharing the building at 629 SW 7th Street with the Miami Bible Truth Chapel, the Christians eventually purchased the building. Rafael and Mariana Carter came to Miami from Santo Domingo to help start the assembly, joined in this effort by Alfredo and Maria Magluta. Dominican brethren coming from New York also helped. In 1982, the Christians changed the assembly name to Miami Asamblea Evangelica. Francisco Escarraman and Alfredo Magluta share in the leadership. The vigorous assembly has about 120 adults and youngsters in regular attendance.

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The 29th Street Gospel Hall in Miami has its roots in the summer of 1916. Mr. and Mrs. E.J. Warner and daughter moved to Miami in that year and looked for an assembly where they could Remember the Lord but found only one small ‘exclusive’ group in the southwest section.

In 1917, William Conlon met and told E.J. Warner that a few Christians met each Sunday morning for a Bible reading at the home of an elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Hector Munro, at 118 NE 4th Street. The Warners went the following Sunday and met the Munros, Mr. Stephen Wall, and Mr. and Mrs. William Clifford.

E.J. Warner wrote to Benjamin Bradford and mentioned the Bible Class they were attending, as they had found no assembly with which to meet. Both Bradford and Samuel McEwen had been praying about a gospel effort in south Florida and took this letter as an answer to prayer. A short time later, Sam McEwen arrived and attended the Bible Class with the Warners; Mr. Bradford came soon after.

In 1918 these two pitched a tent on the corner of NW 7th Street and 4th Avenue, where they preached the Gospel nightly for two months. The first convert was Mr. Conlon’s wife, Jenny. Birge and Jenny Roberts were saved at tent meetings in 1919 when Sam McEwen was joined by W.G. Smith. Soon the group outgrew their small room at the Munro’s home, so Mr. Clifford rented Tompkins Hall on N. Miama Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets, where the first Breaking of Bread was held. In 192l, Mr. Warner selected and purchased a lot on NW 29th Street near Miami Avenue, then deeded it over to the trustees. The 29th Street Gospel Hall was completed in 1922.

Many of the well-known brethren evangelists ministered during these early years, including Benjamin Bradford, William Matthews, W. J. McClure, W. H. Hunter, W. G. Smith, and H. G. McEwen. Many Christians came from the northern states during the winter and proved to be a blessing. George Walker and his wife, who had served in Cuba since 1941, came to Miami in 1961.

In the 1960s, the brethren in the 29th Street Gospel Hall offered their building for Spanish work whenever it was not in use. The neighborhood was by that time seventy-five percent Spanish.

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In 1924, several people left the 29th Street Gospel Hall to meet in the home of Carl Gustafson at 1080 NW 38th Street, Miami. Fred Coombs built and furnished a simple hall at 2416 NW 7th Court for the meeting. This was known as Ebenezer Gospel Hall and the assembly grew for a few years. The fellowship included the families of Fred Coombs, Carl Gustafson, George Mingo Sr., Reginal Morgan, Arthur Christie, Homer Evans, Knowels, Chris Nelson, and Sadie Roberts, Della Jackson, and Anne and Margaret Harrison.

In about 1930, Fred Coombs decided to go out as an evangelist, but returned after several harrowing experiences. Because of a disagreement as to his subsequent support, the majority left Ebenezer and began a new work as the Coconut Grove Assembly, renting Carpenter’s Hall in the Coconut Grove area for their meeting place. These were joined by several people from the 29th Street Gospel Hall. Among those in the Coconut Grove Assembly were the families of E. J. Warner, William McCartney, William Thompson, and Carl Gustafson.

In November of 1949, a small store front building was leased for one year on NW 54th Street, between 14th and 15th Avenues in a middle class neighborhood. The 15 believers took the name Central Gospel Chapel for their meeting place. The neighborhood was canvassed, gospel literature distributed, and a Sunday school started. In about six months, 160 people were in attendance. The members of the fellowship purchased a plot of land in the 1400 block on NW 53rd Street and erected a chapel, which was first occupied in June 1950. Individuals with responsibilities at that time included Carl, Gordon, and Don Gustafson, William McCartney, Benjamin Bradford, Carter Bundy, and Eric Young.

The Family Bible Hour and Sunday School at Central Gospel Chapel grew into the 400s and on a few occasions there were over 500 presents on Sunday mornings. The facilities were expanded as the fellowship grew. Three large Sunday School busses and several station wagons were used to help with the transportation.

After some years the neighborhood changed and most of the families moved away. A lot at 10900 NW 19th Avenue was purchased in 1960 and a chapel was built. As the demographics of the area continued to change, the predominantly Jamaican assembly meeting in Liberty City approached the trustees with an offer to purchase the property, and the transaction was made. That assembly enlarged the building, which is known now as the Miami Gospel Chapel.

The small group meeting at Boulevard Bible Chapel in Pembroke Pines invited the Central Gospel Hall Christians to join with them, and the change was made in 1985.

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Miami Gospel Hall started in 1937 at its present address, 1417 NW First Place. John and Hester Higgs had moved from Key West to Miami with their family, and witnessed to Calvin and Eunice Thompson, who came to salvation, and thus Miami Gospel Hall was formed. John Higgs and Calvin Thompson both preached outdoors on Sunday evenings; others were saved, and the work grew under their leadership.

Edward Lightbourne and his wife came to the states in 1950 and joined the Miami Gospel Hall. They initiated a program that attracted lots of children; some were saved and led their loved ones to the Lord. John Higgs, Calvin Thompson, Edward Lightbourne, and William Rolle are among those who have assumed leadership in the assembly over the years. The work has always remained small.

Mr. Lightbourne went to Moody Bible Institute in 1953, and from there to New York City, where he helped in the formation of the Corona assembly, evidently Galilee Gospel Chapel. They returned to Miami in 1965. Some of the saints at Miami Gospel Hall wanted to expand, but the Lightbournes felt that the Lord would have them develop the work at 1781 NW 73rd Street in Liberty City. As the assembly grew, it purchased the former Central Gospel Chapel and became known as the Miami Gospel Chapel. The Lightbournes remained, however, in fellowship at Miami Gospel Hall.

When Hurricane Andrew blew through, the old Miami Gospel Hall was blown down, and the Christians there moved to other assemblies. Bethel Gospel Chapel in Fort Lauderdale was born out of Miami Gospel Hall.

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The assembly meeting at Hialeah Gospel Chapel started in 1954 and met in its new chapel for the first time in November 1957. This was the work with which the Van Ryn family was identified for so many years. By 1990, the city of Hialeah was nearly all Cuban, and the Christians of the assembly sold their property to a group who could reach that Spanish-speaking community.

Some of the believers then merged into other English-speaking meetings in the area. A small group decided to stay in an area adjacent to Hialeah with the desire of maintaining a small English-speaking work for those who might be interested. After meeting for some time in a Lion’s Club building, these believers rented space in a Seventh Day Adventist building. They occupied several locations before disbanding in about the mid-1980s.

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North Dade Bible Chapel in Miami began in 1981, the result of efforts by Sanford Fray, Reginald Warren, and Charles Astwood, who presented the Gospel through films on prophecy. The assembly has also been known as Carol City Community Church and Faith Missionary Bible Church, its present name. Elders have been Sanford Fray, Lloyd Sawyers, and Derrick Bourne. About 32 are in active fellowship, with 20 to 25 children in the Sunday School.

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The Hollywood Bible Chapel has roots extending back before November 1937. Several families from the Hollywood area of Greater Miami would drive to the 29th Street Gospel Hall for Sunday services, and others went to Bible Truth Chapel. Then in November 1937, the Lord’s Supper was held at 1932 Fillmore Street, Hollywood, the home of Miss Yeager and Mrs. Lily Wolstenholme. These meetings continued through the spring of 1938, then started again in the fall of 1938 and continued through May 1939.

In October 1939, Mr. and Mrs. J. Baum, “Jac” Yaeger, Lily Wolstenholme, the R. L. Conlons, and the A.R. Crockers arranged for the rental of Carpenter’s Hall near Polk St. on North Dixie Highway. The first Gospel meeting was held there in November, and the first Lord’s Supper and the first baptism were celebrated in March 1940. The assembly took the name Hollywood Gospel Chapel at that time.

The Christians soon knew they needed their own building. An abandoned store at 2244 Hollywood Boulevard was purchased and remodeled in early 1941. A larger building was needed again as the assembly grew, so the adjacent lot was purchased in December 1950. Hollywood Gospel Chapel held its 3rd Annual week-long Bible Conference in March 1951. A main auditorium was built and completed by November 1951. In 1954, a Bible school classroom wing was built, and several expansions have been made since then. The name change to Hollywood Bible Chapel was made in 1978.

More than 350 adults and children attended the family Bible Hour and Sunday School on Easter Sunday morning in 1990, and as many as 450 have been in attendance. Hollywood Bible Chapel has a large bus ministry. In the winter a gathering in another part of the building for French Canadian visitors has met with the help of Cyril Shontoff. Part of this group was involved in a beach ministry as well.

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In 1953 a group of about 70 Christians living in the Fort Lauderdale area, left the Hollywood Gospel Chapel to form a new assembly known as Fort Lauderdale Gospel Chapel, which became a large and thriving work and is now called Fort Lauderdale Bible Chapel.

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Boulevard Bible Chapel in Pembroke Pines, at Hollywood Boulevard and 69th Terrace, began as the West Hollywood Assembly. Their building needed repair so when families from other Miami area assemblies moved into the area, it brought an infusion of needed workers and funds. The Florida Gospel Pioneers bought the building in late 1957, then turned it over to the growing assembly. Over a period of three years the believers forged a thriving fellowship with a totally remodeled building, a new outreach into the surrounding community, and the new name. Evangelist William Brown devoted practically his full time to this work from its inception.

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Boca Raton Bible Chapel opened in 1970 at 3900 NW 3rd Avenue, its current address. James Humphrey, Donald Parker, Stanley Davis, Jack Hyser, and Allison Hopper were those starting the assembly. Those men, and more recently Jack Smith, Jack Miller, Perry Pasquale, Harold Buirkle, Keith Brown, and Douglas Waters have been in leadership. Boca Raton Bible Chapel has commended workers to labor among Hindus in England. About 100 are in the assembly in the winter months, with fewer in the summer.

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Bethany-Chapel-By-The-Sea in Cocoa Beach was erected in early 1959 at South Patrick Shores, 4355 N. Atlantic Avenue through the efforts of the Florida Gospel Pioneers, cooperating with brethren living in the Cape Canaveral area. In the fall of 1959 Dan Snaddon served the Lord their full time. An addition was necessary in 1960 and was fully financed by the assembly itself. On Easter Sunday morning 1961, the attendance reached 404.

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Boynton Bible Chapel in Boynton Beach began in 1984. After its initial meetings in a high school, the assembly purchased a church building in nearby Lantana in 1986, calling it Pinewood Bible Chapel in Lantana. Bill and Ena Crouse, Ian and Mary Purdie, and Charlie and Betty McMillan were those who started the assembly. Irvin Robertson and Bron Carlisle were involved in teaching and ministering the Word. Bill Crouse and Ian Purdie were the first elders, followed by John Tardonia, Steve Anderson, and others. About 150 adults and youngsters attend Pinewood Bible Chapel.

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The assembly meeting at Bethesda Gospel Chapel in West Palm Beach was in existence by 1951. Mr. and Mrs. Germany were active and much esteemed by the assembly.

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Palm Bible Chapel in North Palm Beach started in a home in September 1961. A dozen couples from the Bethesda Gospel Chapel in West Palm Beach had desired to establish a corporate testimony in their own neighborhood, to be a center for Bible teaching, missions, and evangelism. Because their history had marked three of the men as elders, it was agreed that these should function as the recognized overseers of the new church until the Spirit of God should raise up more. C.E. Tatham took up residence there to work in the new assembly.

For the first six months Palm Bible Chapel was a household church. With the help of the Florida Gospel Pioneers and Stewards Foundation, a parcel was purchased and a building seating 250 was erected. By 1971, Palm Bible Chapel had a functional building with a fully equipped Sunday School and an auditorium seating 425.

Palm Bible Chapel operated a daily morning radio broadcast and an extensive tape ministry of Sunday morning sermons and other Bible studies. The Chapel spawned many neighborhoods Bible Classes. The Lord’s Supper was held on Sunday evening since the inception of the work. At the beginning this attracted only the committed core, but this meeting grew both in numbers and in spiritual exercise. The weekly prayer meeting averaged around 100, including dozens of young people.

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Grace and Truth Bible Fellowship in West Palm Beach began in 1997 as a result of the closing of Bethesda Gospel Chapel in that city. The assembly met in homes until December 1997 when they moved into the Cross Creek Condominium clubhouse. In 1998, the numbers were increased when some Christians from the assembly at Pinewood Bible Chapel in Lantana joined with Grace and Truth Bible Fellowship. The original organizers were Alfredo Palmer, David Marot, and Furman Martin, later joined by George Cox. These and David Hull, John Mollenhaver, and Don Gustafson Jr. have exercised leadership in the assembly, which has not recognized elders to this point. Attendance is greatest in the winter, then totaling about 25 adults.

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Grace Bible Sanctuary in Melbourne on the east coast below Cape Canaveral, began in 1980 as Saved by Grace Bible Sanctuary. The assembly has met in rented quarters on E. New Haven Avenue, on E. University Boulevard, on Monroe Street, and now meets at 52 E. Line Street. The assembly was begun by Myrue, Patricia, Dorothy, and Jonathan Spivey; Charles and Linda Butler; and Johnny and Denice Bentley. Leadership over the years include Myrue Spivey, Bradley King, Emmanuel Collins, Jim Mantorelli, Waymar Aldridge, Carlton Stewart, Charles Hendricks, and David Diez. Workers have been commended by the assembly to the Haitian community in Fort Lauderdale and elsewhere. Grace Bible Sanctuary has about 50 adults and youngsters in attendance.

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Frostproof Bible Chapel, in the town of Frostproof in the middle of the state began in 1977 in a home on the property of Shepherd Christian Retirement Community. The assembly later moved its meetings to the chapel of the retirement community, where it meets now. Frostproof Bible Chapel was started by Ben Bradford, Ed Armstrong, Alan Walker, Leslie Harris, and Norwood Latimer. Those in leadership over the years include Ron Tewson, Carroll Van Ryn, William Clark, Jim McKendrick, Jim Dunbar, Charles Pinches, John Barclay, and Milton Pruitt. The assembly has commended Carroll Van Ryn as a home worker. About 75 adults are in the fellowship in the winter months, and fewer in the summer.

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In 1959, two small assemblies in the Orlando area decided to join forces. The larger of the two had been meeting in the home of Mr. and Mrs. George Rainey in Sorrento, 20 miles northwest of Orlando. The smaller group met in the Osborne Lepage home in Orla Vista, five miles west of the city center. The combined strength of the two groups was only 40, including children.

Meeting first in the town of Mt. Plymouth, near Sorrento, the merged assembly later met in Maynard Evans High School in the Pine Hills section of Orlando. Leaders at that time were Raymond White, Svend Christiensen, Robert Willey, and Ed Scott. Bob Harper gave several years to the development of this and other Orlando area assemblies. In 1960, the assembly had purchased property in nearby Hiawassa Highland, with help from Stewards Foundation and the Florida Gospel Pioneers. The inaugural service in the new Hiawassa Hills Chapel, was in April 1961, at which time the assembly had grown to about 50.

Over the years, Ed Scott, Louis Capeci, Ted Dippy, Keith Dilley, Don Pell, and Jim Hislop have served as elders. Now called Hiawassa Bible Chapel, the assembly consists of about 200 adults and youngsters. The assembly has commended about 20 people to the Lord’s work.

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In 1963 five of the Hiawassa families, three of them from the original merger, began meeting in Dover Shore School. They were joined by Mr. and Mrs. Tom Willey. In September 1966, this group broke ground for a chapel at Lake Howell, seven miles northeast of downtown Orlando. The new building, called Lake Howell Bible Chapel, was opened April 1967. It was built with a vision for growth, having a seating capacity of 220 to 250, several times the size of the congregation. Hugh MacDonald, commended by an assembly in Scotland, came in February 1972 to enter the outreach of the Lake Howell Bible Chapel.

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Several families from Winter Garden began attending meetings at Hiawassa Hills in 1963. Disappointed in the modernism and heavy organization of the large denomination to which they belonged, they wanted a Bible Chapel in Winter Garden. Svend Christensen, who had pioneered extensively in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, started a Bible Class for them, about 20 people. In May 1965, they rented the city auditorium for Sunday night meetings. Later they moved to a school so that Sunday School classes could begin. The first Breaking of Bread meeting of the Winter Park assembly was in March 1966. Winter Garden Bible Chapel seating 100, was constructed in 1972.

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An Emmaus summer team, operating from the Hiawassa Hills Chapel, held a Vacation Bible School at Bear Lake in the northwest section of Orlando in 1967. The results were so encouraging that a group of Orlando brethren made the down payment on a 2.5 acre lot a few months later, and an assembly was begun in a nearby Community Center. Stewards Foundation granted a loan, and a building was begun. Bear Lake Bible Chapel was officially opened in November 1970. David Vander Noot and Harlan Brown were among the initiators of the assembly. Those and Bob Harper, Phil Guikema, and Dennis Petry have been in leadership. Bear Lake Bible Chapel has about 70 in attendance.

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At Deland, between Orlando and Daytona Beach, the assembly now meeting at Deland Gospel Hall began as Deland Gospel Assembly in 1975. The originators were Bill Walker and Bob Brant, along with several others. In leadership over the years have been Anthony Orsini, Phil Colella, and Bob Brant. About 15 persons are in the assembly today.

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Ocala Bible Chapel in the mid-Florida city of Ocala, north of Orlando, has its roots in a Bible study held in the home of John Suess in 1975, where Bob Saunders and John Suess and their wives been meeting with others. Three couples decided to organize themselves as American Bible Church. They became interested in New Testament principles of gathering and invited Ernest Woodhouse to meet with them for instruction; soon they were meeting as an assembly.

After meeting in homes for six months, they rented Pythian Hall for Sunday meetings. In 1978 they purchased a building, financed through Stewards Foundation, at their present location of 729 NE 2nd Street in Ocala, calling it Ocala Bible Chapel. This historic building was originally the first Jewish temple in the city, built in1888.

The originators of the assembly are Ernie Woodhouse, and the Robert Saunders, John Suess, Smith, and Donahue families. Godfrey Weir, Art Auld, Howard Derby, Jack McLaughlin, John and Paul Barnard, and Al Nye have been in leadership over the years. About 50 persons attend the assembly, which is multi-cultural with believers from Jamaica and various places in the U.S. and Canada.

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Park of the Palms Church in Keystone Heights, near Gainesville, began in 1970, Robert Willey and Frank Waardenburg being among those who started the assembly. Ernest Woodhouse also had an early leadership role in the assembly. Occupying the same grounds as the Park of the Palms Retirement Homes, the assembly is comprised largely of Christians who live there or who come for a vacation at facilities on the 23-acre property. Winter attendance approaches 200, while about 100 persons attend the assembly in the summer months. An eight-week annual winter conference is a highlight of the assembly, attended by people from throughout the continent. Local outreach is made through Bible classes conducted by teachers in the assembly. Ernest and Joyce Woodhouse have been commended to the Lord’s work by Park of the Palms Church.

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The assembly meeting at Bible Truth Chapel in Gainesville was called Gainesville Bible Chapel when it started in 1974 in a home at 4828 NW 143rd Street. It moved in 1987 to its current address at 13410 Archer Road. A hive-off from Ocala Bible Chapel, it was started by Guy McDaniel, Lyman Loche, Jerry Svetlik, Roy Pell, and Clarence Irwin. These and William Grant and Robert Shevlin have shared in leadership. About 30 adults and youngsters are in the assembly.

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The Jackson Assembly of Christians in Jacksonville in northern Florida began in 1954, with its first meetings at the local YMCA. After that the assembly met at several locations before purchasing a lot at 2701 Dean Road in 1958 and constructing Dean Road Chapel in 1959. In the mid-1980s, the Christians changed the name to Southside Bible Chapel. The original group who started the assembly includes William Perry, Hollis Johnson, Ralph Butler, Garland Lester, Jack Lees, Hubert Fancette, Sam Sergent, and R.T. Elliott. These and Jerry Powers, Mike Lester, Dave Eastman, and Larry Price have been in leadership. The assembly has commended several workers to the mission field and full-time work at home. About 40 people are in Southside Bible Chapel.

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Grace Bible Chapel in Niceville in the Florida panhandle began in 1987 in the Paul Carmean home. This was the first assembly in that region, the closest established works then being in Montgomery, AL, and Albany and Thomasville, GA, about 100 miles distant. The Carmeans had been in fellowship at Riverview Chapel in Hinton, WV, which has been supportive of the newer work. Grace Bible Chapel now meets in rented space in a store front. Four main families share leadership and teaching responsibilities, with about 12 adults in fellowship.

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Forest Lake Bible Church in Niceville began as the Open Door Bible Church in 1971 and was not affiliated with the brethren at that time. Those who started the Open Door Bible Church were Jack Murphy, Ed Avery, Phil Lacy, and Harold Thomas. Over the years, several people from brethren backgrounds chose to worship there. The Lord’s leading and study of Scripture convinced the leadership and the people of New Testament principles of church governance.

The Christians affiliated with the brethren assemblies in 1991, having changed their name by then to Forest Lake Bible Church. The assembly met for a few months in an elementary school in Fort Walton Beach before moving to its present location at 1000 37th Street.

In active leadership over the years have been those mentioned above, plus Dave Baker, Jung Leong, Dave Bergman, Bob Grete, Arnold Dykman, Joe Vetter, Pat Tidwell, Tom Marinello, and George Kaim. Forest Lake Bible Church has commended workers to Papua New Guinea, Emmaus Bible College, and Rocky Bayou Christian School in Niceville. George Kaim is commended as a resident worker at Forest Lake. About 50 adults and children attend the assembly.

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Holiday, Tarpon Springs, and New Port Richey are towns north of Tampa Bay and near the Gulf coast. The Tarpon Springs Assembly was apparently started by V. Phillips, a Greek immigrant. In 1951, he remodeled a house into a comfortable hall for the meeting. He labored there for years. Holiday Bible Chapel was started in the late 1950s by some of the younger people from Grace Gospel Chapel in St. Petersburg. They started in a store building but later bought land and built the chapel that they continue to occupy. They have a good Sunday school, though most of the people in the assembly are now senior citizens. Bible Truth Chapel in New Port Richey started in the early 1960s. They met at first in the backroom of a bookstore. Sometime before 1970, they built their chapel on Massachusetts Avenue in New Port Richey. Charles Faulkner and Mr. Schultz were among those who started the assembly.

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Grace Gospel Chapel in St. Petersburg was started in the late 1930s by people from the north who had retired, including Sam McCartney. Among those who came later and found work in St. Petersburg were Wally Hall, a paint store owner, and Mr. MacGregor, a builder. A Sunday school was started which grew to over 200 for a while. They built the chapel on 5th Street in the early 1940s, and it is still being used. The wing was built in 1956. Later many moved away and the assembly declined. It is considerably larger in the winter when there are visitors from the north.

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A Palm Harbor Assembly, north of Clearwater in the Tampa Bay area existed for a time and had an outreach into Jamaican fruit pickers’ camps in the 1950s.

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Cornerstone Bible Chapel in Clearwater began in the home of Bill and Karen Davis. Mrs. Davis had played a leading role in two large non-denominational women’s Bible studies for many years. The Davises had also been conducting a home Bible study as a vehicle for Christian growth. When the believers in these studies found they were of like mind, they began Breaking Bread together in late 1994, desiring to form a fellowship based on New Testament principles of meeting rather than joining with existing churches in the area. Soon, Tim and Karen McDermott, neighbors of the Davises, joined with the embryonic fellowship, and both homes were used. Most of the people had no brethren background except for the Davises and the John Finns who had been in fellowship at Brooksville Bible Chapel in a small town about 60 miles north of Clearwater.

After the early period, the assembly met for a time in a school in the Long Center, then in a warehouse, and in an exercise gym. In 1998, Cornerstone Bible Chapel purchased property in nearby Dunedin, anticipating occupation in 1999. Those most active in leadership include Bill Davis, Mike Barlow, Speck Ansers, and Frank Brzezinski. About 60 persons regularly attend.

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Central Bible Chapel in Tampa was originally known as Tampa Gospel Hall, and later as Florida Avenue Chapel. The present building was built by Michael Hughey in the mid-1950s. Woody Murphy was the first full-time worker, followed by Wayne Carter, son-in-law to Mr. Hughey. The assembly has a large young people’s group. The chapel has a gymnasium, which is used for Awana and other programs.

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Carrollwood Bible Chapel, in a suburb north of Tampa, was started in 1983 by David Binnie, Conrad Campbell, Paul Krokenburger, Mike Gentile, and Paul Zapadenko. Some of the believers came from Tampa’s Central Bible Chapel. The assembly met first at the Carrollwood Civic Center, until their chapel was constructed in 1986. David Binnie, Conrad Campbell, and Mike Gentile have been the elders. Carrollwood Bible Chapel has commended a worker to Brazil. About 80 adults and children are in the assembly.

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North 56th Street Gospel Chapel in Tampa is also a hive-off from Central Gospel Chapel and has a good cultural mix of people from the continent and the Caribbean islands. Founded in 1966, it was known first as North Tampa Gospel Chapel and met in the Riverhills Elementary school cafeteria. In 1968, land was purchased, and construction of the present chapel was completed, and the name North 56th Street Chapel was taken. The founding families were the Bennetts, Grattons, Greens, Huenishces, Peterkins, Paynes, Thisses, and Touzeaus. Over the last 20 years the leadership has consisted of Alfred Adams, Jerry Balloon, Raymond Montgomery, Pembroke Peterkin, and Ed Pawasarat. About 60 adults and youngsters attend the assembly.

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The assembly at Lockwood Ridge Gospel Chapel in Sarasota, south of Tampa, began in 1968. Chartered as Saramana Bible Center, Inc., it took its present name after a few years. Those who began the assembly are Wesley E. Erickson, James P. Fraser, John A. Walford, and J.E. Hoffman. These, with Isaac Selby, Wendell E. Bearce, and Percy Sutton have been the elders. About eight persons attend the assembly in the summer months, and up to 20 in the winter months.

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The Church of the Open Door in Sarasota began in a home in 1980. One of its originators had been in fellowship at Believer’s Chapel in Dallas, TX. Since that time, the assembly has met in the West Coast Symphony Building and the Girl’s Club building, and now has returned to the home where it started. Chuck Nixon and Brian Chase started the assembly. Those and Steve Ponchot, Scott Schurr, and Bruce Ewing have been in leadership over the years. The Church of the Open Door has about 35 adults and youngsters in attendance.

Sources

  • Questionnaire Responses
  • Letters of Lillian Jones of DeLand, Florida, 21 October 1997; Eliot Van Ryn, 1 August 96; Frances Sands, dictated by her husband, Elijah Sands
  • Grace Magnified or Captain Ben Demeritt’s Conversion, A. E. Booth, about 1940
  • In the Beginning, a History of 29th Street Gospel Hall, Ida M. Warner, 9 September 1980
  • History of Bible Truth Chapel, Ben A. Roberts, 28 July 1996
  • History of Central Gospel Chapel, Donald Gustafson, 3 November 1996
  • A History of the Hollywood Bible Chapel, November 1990, author not identified
  • Miami Daily News, 16 Dec. 1951, reprinted in Letters of Interest, February 1952, p. 16
  • Letters of Interest, November 1949, p. 3; August 1951, p. 22; September 1951, p. 3; November 1956, pp. 7, 8; June 1959, p. 11; July 1961; September 1971, p. 13; May 1972, p. 5; February 1977, p. 3
  • Uplook, April 1989, p. 141; August 1990, p. 283