HISTORY AND WORK of the CENTRAL CHURCH OF CHRIST, CLEARWATER, FLORIDA
On October 14, 1956, a group of Christians from the South Fort Harrison congregation began the work of the Lord in the Belmont area. This opportunity presented itself when a building owned by a denominational group was offered for sale. About thirty members, who formerly worshiped at the South Fort Harrison congregation, realized the need and their responsibility to spread the Gospel in this community. Since the building was located on Howard Street, the brethren designated the name to be used to distinguish the new congregation, and thus the Howard Street Church of Christ came into being. About two years after this beginning, Brother Lawrence Hazelip from Valdosta, Georgia held a two week meeting in that Granny Severance was baptized.
This congregation met for eight years at this location until it became evident that a larger and more adequate facility were desperately needed. In 1964 the Howard Street building was sold and services were conducted in the Belleair School on Lakeview and Missouri. Plans were formulated and a bond issue was launched in the amount of sixty thousand dollars. During this time six acres of land were selected for the building site of the congregation. Since this land was located geographically in the center of Clearwater, it was decided that the name of the congregation be changed to the Central Church of Christ. Three of the original families who helped to begin this work were still worshipping at that time. The Humphries family, the Kilgore family, and Mae Woods. Even Granny Severance had remained faithful up until this time.
Ground was broken for the building in November, 1965. The new building was completed the first of February and the first services were conducted on February 13, 1966. The land was purchased for $33,000.00, and the building was completed at a cost of just over $42,000.00. The building will seat about 250 people and the educational unit housed 9 classrooms, with the auditorium providing an additional three classrooms, office and nursery.
Preachers who have served the congregation in those early years include: Paul Tidwell, W.C. Richardson, Bro. Bolen, Bro. Driscol, Robert B. Murray, Jr. Assistance in a part time way had been received from Charles Haslam, Richard Powlus, William McEnerney, Bill Stowers and Billy Hood.
A Second Building Program
Clearwater was in a period of time of high growth. The population was about 30-35,000. With a large influx of people moving into the area Central's growth was such that soon two morning services were being held each Lord's Day with chairs placed in the aisles, so that in January 1968 a second bond issue became necessary in order to construct new facilities. The amount was $125,000 at 6½%. The building in which we are meeting today was ready for use in December 1968. It seats 505, with an overflow capacity of 195, and contains six classrooms, a library, offices and a nursery. Because much of the work was done by members of the congregation without charge, the cost was only $115,000. The first building was divided into classrooms, a teacher resource room, a fellowship hall and is being used for that purpose now. At one time it housed the quarters for production of the Are You Sure?TM program.
Care of Homeless Children
In the fall of 1972, a 4-bedroom, 3-bath cottage for homeless children was constructed on the northwest corner of the church property. Roy and Gail Crutcher were employed as house-parents, and a number of children were cared for in the home. Later this work was discontinued to problems connected with regulations imposed by the state. It was then decided to send regular support to the Christian Home and Bible School at Mount Dora, Florida. In addition to regular monthly financial contributions, at least 1000 gallon-size cans of food had been given to them for five years. This food was paid for by donations of the members, separate and apart from their regular weekly contributions. The home was then used to house the preachers working for the congregation.
Elders Appreciation Reception
An Elders Appreciation Reception was held by the congregation on July 13, 1974. A plaque presented to them at that time and a photograph of the occasion is on display in the church office.
The ARE YOU SURE? TM Program
In March 1979 the congregation launched a concentrated effort to carry the gospel to the local community with the publication of a monthly paper entitled Are You Sure? TM As was stated on each copy, ''Are You Sure?TM is dedicated to teaching the Bible and provoking religious thought.'' It was sent first into the zip code area surrounding the church property. Additional zip codes were added each year, so that in 1982 over 50,000 homes were reached with the gospel of Christ each month. The articles were written by bro. Jackie Stearsman, and with the exception of the typesetting and negatives, the paper was produced totally within the confines of the congregation, with volunteer help. The members of the Central congregation had supported the program wholeheartedly—in labor, financial sacrifice, and prayer. Are You Sure?TM had an impact, not only in the community, but in the brotherhood at large, and we were thankful to God, who has blessed us so richly.
The West Coast Lectureship was hosted by the Central congregation in this building October 31 - November 1, 1975. Among the speakers were: G.K. Wallace, Alan E. Highers, William Woodson, Wallace Maxwell, and Jackie M. Stearsman.
Elders who have served the congregation over the past fifty years are: Ben Giddens (1966-1973), Norman Groves (1968-1977), George Hollis (1966-1974), William McEnerney (1966-1967), Ben Kinzer (1974-1979), Jack Cronk (1974-1993), Gordon Methvin (1970-2004) and (2008-present), Buford Carroll ( -1986), Tom Milianta (1990-1995), Scott Gerhardt (1995-2008), Billy Davidson (1995-2008), James George (2003-present), Joe Bonelli (2009-present) and Charles Broyles (2019-present).
Preachers who have served over the years were: Robert B. Murray, Jr. (1965-1973 – 8yrs), Jackie M. Stearsman (1973-1986 -13yrs), Johnny Ramsey (1986 -1989 – 3yrs), Billy Davidson (1989-2008 – 19yrs), Charles Broyles (2008-present – 11yrs).
Deacons who have served over the years were: Merritt Bailey, Tom Barrett, Tommy Crawford, Keith Eversole, Marshall Masters, Jerry Royalty, Arnold Schnabel, Gary York, Gary Reynolds, Richard Powlus, Bob Vise, Eldon Stevens, Bill Lydie, Joe Pierson, Bill Rachels, Leon Humphries, Charles Kilgore, Eulis Lancaster, Bobby Groves, Lloyd Ray, James McEelvey, Wayne Means, James Loy, Jeremy Lowe, Sidney Hooper, David Himes, Bob Helms, Steve Warner, James Scroggins, Stan Warford, Jackie McDonald, Phillip Lancaster, David Ray, Scott McKeever, James George, Joe Bonelli, Tim Simmons, Tom Jewell, Max Herman, Chad Broyles, Jim Follis, Matthew Kropp.
Youth and Education Directors over the years were: Ray Bean, Roy Crutcher, Terry Hightower, Glen Jobe, Max and Vicki Herman.
Church Secretaries over the years have been: Gail Crutcher, Violet Masters, Ann Litchford, Kay Eversole, Mildred Jergins, Kathy Warner, Helen Davidson, and Mary Bonelli, our present secretary.
Among the preachers who have conducted gospel meetings thru the years at Central are: William Woodson, Rubel Shelly, Johnny Ramsey, Roy Deaver, Franklin Camp, Ray Hawk, Warder Novak, Will Ed Warren, Ira North, Lawrence Hazelip, Kenneth Franklin, James Groves, Jack Exum, John Tracy, George Merritt, Jackie Stearsman, Maxie Boren, Winford Claiborne, Windell Winkler, Winfred Clark, Jimmy Clark, Willard Collins, Harrell Davidson, Bobby Duncan, Brad Harrub, Tom Holland, Wayne Jackson, Alan Highers, Ryan Roark, Freddie Clayton, David Sain.
The Warren-Matson Debate
The elders of the congregation assumed the oversight of the Warren-Matson Debate on “The Existence of God,” which was held at the Curtis Hixon Hall in Tampa, Florida, on September 11-14, 1978. The participants were brother Thomas B. Warren, and Wallace Matson, world-renowned atheist. The work of planning, fund-raising, publicizing, etc. was done by the members of the congregation and in less than four months over $25,000 was raised from throughout the brotherhood to defray the expenses of the Debate. The Debate was published in book form and thus available for generations to come.
The congregation has supported the Florida School of Preaching at Lakeland on a regular basis since 1979. Brother Stearsman and brother Hightower taught classes there for two years while working with Central. Billy Davidson taught at the school for many years as well. In addition, assistance was given on a regular monthly basis to Mark Swindall while he attended the Bear Valley School of Preaching. After graduation, he was the preacher at the Tenth Avenue Church in Lake Worth, Florida. Glen Jobe (Schaumberg IL)
The Central congregation has always been mission minded and have supported many missionaries for many years. We have helped the brethren in various locations with support for meeting houses in Dunellon, FL., Monticello, FL., Brooksville, FL., Cape Coral, FL., Candler, NC., and Elk Grove, Illinois. Also, there was support of the Bible Chair at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Mt. Dora’s Children’s Home, and Rainbow Omega,. The church here has supported mission work in other areas of the world also, namely, Jerusalem (John Crosslin); Panama Canal Zone (Ben Sheffield); Brazil (John Paul Simon); Germany (Jim/Elsa Springer), Kenya, Africa (Barry Rosie), Ireland (Ryan Roark), and in Ghana, Africa and Panama (Tim Simmons).
A great mission work had started in Kingston, Jamaica with (Cliff/Dolly Martin), of which Central had purchased a building for the church to meet and supported them for about 20 years. Bro. Martin had much influence in Jamaica in which we were able to help by providing shipments of food and clothing for the orphans in that area and other necessities over the years. Following a hurricane which did heavy damage to Jamaica, just within days Central had been first in sending out shipments of food and building materials to cover their losses. During this time and for several years after the students from the Florida School of Preaching had gone for two weeks in the summer to work with bro. Martin with all expenses paid by the Central church. We as a congregation also supported Robert Lindsey and his wife with salary and moving expenses for two years to assist bro. Martin in Jamaica at that time. There was no one willing to take over the mission work in Jamaica after bro. Martin had died and so the property was then sold.
In 2009 we began offering a Free Bible Correspondence Course through the local community papers and it was distributed to at least 125,000 people. It was a great evangelistic work in that many signed up for the course (at least 275 at this time) and some were interested in a home Bible study as well. Through this effort many were able to complete the course, getting a certificate of completion and many were baptized into Christ of which some are still faithful.
From (2009-to the present) our preacher Charles Broyles began going into the Pinellas County Jail visiting with inmates one on one having Bible Study and as a result, some who have been released, were baptized and began worshipping with us here at Central.
This congregation has always helped individuals and families through benevolence work and continue to do so even today as the need arises.
The spirituality of the brethren at Central is evidenced by the fact that without exception they have met every challenge presented to them by the elders -- the first building, then the second building, the cottage for homeless children, and with the Are You Sure? TM program. The congregation was challenged in July 1979 to contribute on one Lord's Day the amount of $12,000 with which to purchase a new Offset Press. The amount needed was exceeded by several hundred dollars, indicating a love for lost souls in our own community. In 1981 the weekly contribution averaged $2,125, for a total of $110,000 – well above the budget of $109,000, which was the largest in its history.
The Central congregation purchased the entire inventory (125,000+) of gospel tracts from Quality Printing Co. and distributed them free of charge to congregations around the world. Many of the tracts were written by Johnny Ramsey as part of our outreach program.
The congregation was able to support many good works over the years due to the generosity of numerous members who have died and remembered the church in their wills and estates: Mildred Coldren, Elihu/Vivian Moore, Mary Bell Whitehead, Bessie Barnes, Marshall/Violet Masters, Gladys Covey, Blanche Craddock, Teresa Thomas, Fred & June Flake.
During the fifty years of service from this location, the church has always had harmony and has never had a division to split the church.
We have had many members as well as “winter visitors” who were once living and working here who have moved on to other places. There has been many members (at least 250) who have passed on to their reward.
Central's history has been one of-service to God and untiring efforts to spread the borders of the Kingdom. Today we have reflected on this history and expressed gratitude and appreciation to God and to those who labored so diligently to establish the congregation, maintain it, and provide the facilities we now own. Let us resolve to use the greater opportunities that have become ours and strive with all that is within us to proclaim the gospel to a lost and dying world. May we, indeed, let our light shine before men, that God may be glorified.
The future lies in our hands. May God help us to build on the accomplishments of the past and have the foresight and vision that is needed for the future.
Thank you and may God bless us more!