For the last four years, Harbor Community Church has held their Sunday worship service at the Bradenton YMCA.
Members say chairs were mismatched, the set up and breakdown time-consuming, and the acoustics not the greatest for worship, but it was all the congregation ever knew. And they were perfectly content with staying there, too. At least for a while.
But when Geoff Henderson, Harbor’s pastor, received a Facebook message from Mark Alt, the pastor at the Bridge Church-Palma Sola Bay, he never guessed what was going to happen next.
They were about to have a church of their very own.
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In the message, Henderson said, Alt told him that Kings River, a church at 2300 43rd St. W., was joining his church in a combination of congregations and that the church building they had been leasing was going to become available soon.
“He told me he knew Harbor had been worshipping at the YMCA for years, and said he wanted us to get the first shot at it,” Henderson said. “It was completely out of left field, it wasn’t even on the radar.”
The building is owned by the Church of Bradenton, which uses the space on Wednesday nights for their youth group, and various days for special events.
So while Harbor is only renting the space, and would have to share the church occasionally with the Church of Bradenton, Henderson said the move was a no-brainer.
He started the modest Presbyterian church in 2014, when he and his family moved to Bradenton from West Virginia.
What began as only a few people and Henderson preaching in living rooms, backyards and parks grew into a congregation of more than 100 and a space to worship at the YMCA.
And while Henderson said Harbor wasn’t planning on looking to move any time soon, everything with the building lined up – the price, the location – the opportunity couldn’t be more perfect.
He spoke with elders and other leadership within the church to see if the move would make sense. It was the first big decision for the leadership team that only fully formed a few months prior.
“It was a great deal, but the Y was very gracious to us, too, so I wanted to make sure I had everyone on board,” Henderson said. “But once we saw the inside, and how much Kings River had put into it, we were just blown away.”
The music team was particularly thrilled.
Every Sunday at the YMCA, the group arrives early and stays late to set up and break down the equipment and often don’t get the chance to talk with other parishioners.
Now, everything is a little bit less of a hassle and everyone gets a little bit more time.
“This is a big step and a more permanent feel. Even though we are renting, it still feels more settled,” Henderson said, “To be able to worship and have our offices together is huge. It really makes it a lot easier to have everything in one place.”
The church seats about 225 people and comes with office space, a cafe, a nursery and a “kids zone.”
Henderson describes Harbor Community as a gospel-centered Presbyterian church that welcomes all people from all backgrounds and keeps grace at the center.
A lot of religious experiences people often have, Henderson said, is being told they have to be “good” and that they need to fix themselves first. But at Harbor, he says, the order is reversed.
“It’s God’s grace that covers over your sins and that’s why we want to go live differently,” Henderson said. “Angry judgment is all a work system and we don’t want it to be like that.”
Compared to West Virginia, Henderson said the church community in Bradenton is like night and day.
Here, he says, even people with deep roots and established churches are still welcoming and friendly. In West Virginia, it was much harder to break in, especially as a new church.
Conversely, it was other local pastors that helped bring about the new building for Harbor. Instead of competition, it was cooperation.
“We just want to see people not thinking competitively in the church community because we are trying to reach folks who don’t have a place, we are not trying to take anyone away from anything,” Henderson said.
“No one wins when it’s like that.”
If you go
Harbor Community Church is located at 2300 43rd St. W. The Sunday service starts at 10 a.m.
Call (941) 226-1082 for more information.