PALMETTO -- First Baptist Church of Gillette held the official ground-breaking Sunday for its new $1.8 million building scheduled to open in the summer of 2014 on the corner of Ellenton-Gillette and Moccasin Wallow roads.
Church members raised $1.25 million and borrowed the rest from the Florida Baptist Convention Church Growth Investment Fund.
Pastor Tim Durden, excitedly told a crowd of 200 the church, already rising with some trusses in place on the popular corner, will expand its role to be a "beacon" for the community and offer a comfortable place for members and strangers alike to nourish their souls with the good news of the Gospel.
The new facility on 4.5 acres, includes a 300-seat sanctuary, fellowship hall, five classrooms, 14 bathrooms, increased parking from 10 spaces to 90 and increased square footage from 5,000 to 13,000, Durden said.
Lawson Group Architects from Lakewood Ranch is handling design, Windham of Windham Construction Inc. is general contractor and Bill Konecy is site manager. Kit Cameron is Building Committee chairman.
First Baptist Church of Gillette will have a roomy new kitchen with commercial appliances, large new pantry filled with food and a huge 60-foot-long by 36-foot-wide dining hall off the sanctuary to feed hungry souls who come to the famous 5:15 p.m. Wednesday country-cooked meal, one of the best-kept secrets in Manatee County, church member Amy Cadwell said.
Those $4 meals, including treats such as "Ritz Cracker" chicken with creamy sauce and cheese, baked ziti, and roast beef and mashed potatoes, were started 15 years ago by Amy Cadwell's mother, the late Arlynne Cadwell.
Attendance at those meals sent church membership soaring to new heights and helped set the table for the ground-breaking, said David Windham, First Baptist Church of Gillette general contractor.
"The church wasn't getting many at its Wednesday service and the deacons were wringing their hands trying to figure out what to do," said Windham, whose family has attended the 125-year-old First Baptist Church of Bradenton for five generations. "But one woman, Arlynne, thought through the problem."
"She realized that mothers who are working couldn't bring their families to church on Wednesday nights because they had to cook," Amy Cadwell said. "When mom started, I think there were about 30 coming to dinner. Now, there are about 150 and many have become members of the church."
"Feeding God's people has more than one meaning," Windham said with a grin. "That's why we made sure to build a great kitchen and dining area for this church."
Windham's inspiration was to make the church face northeast so the congregation can see Jesus approach from the east.
"Graveyards face east for the same reason," Windham said.
Families grab shovels
Two prominent church families, the Cadwells and Teacheys, led by Buzbee Cadwell and Lynn Teachey, turned the ceremonial first shovels of dirt along with about a dozen others, including Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant.
The McClure family, which helped make the building possible, was not present but will attend the first service next summer, Durden said.
Durden said three families donated a total of $900,000 toward the building fund.
The church greeted former Pastor W.A. "Brother Bud" Gillett and his wife, Velma, with much warmth. Gillett served part-time 2004-08.
"Brother Bud was the first person I met in the parking lot when I first came to the church," Durden said. "He reached out his hand, introduced himself and got my name. I didn't know he was the pastor. During that service he mentioned my name several times. He made me feel wonderful."
The Rev. Howard Carter, who served 1971-92, said a stunning prayer for the new building, offering the building to God to do His work. Carter served the longest of 43 church pastors.
During the morning service, church worship Pastor Peter Jensen, a tenor, received rousing applause after a duet with choirmember Laurie Combie, a soprano. The pair belted out, "Something's Happening," but Jensen added new words to the song, specifically, "Something's happening outside these walls...We're building a building to the glory of God...We will see souls saved for the glory of Christ."
The ever-smiling Kenneth "Skip" Bishop, a fifth-generation Manatee County resident whose great grandfather was Asa Bishop of Bishop Point, performed as unofficial Gillette greeter, making every guest feel at home. Bishop tells everyone who comes to the church the same joke.
"Do you know Bishop Point, that's my family," he says. "Do you know Bishop Harbor, that's my family. Do you know the Bishop Planetarium? That's not my family. Those are the rich Bishops."
Ken Burton, Manatee County tax collector and a longtime church member, gave the church history, which includes two fires and several name changes.
The church officially organized in October 1868 as Benevolence Church, about a half-mile northeast of its present location, Burton said. In 1887, the church relocated just south of Interstate 275 off Frog Creek until a brush fire burned it down in 1898.
A new church was built in 1901 on the corner of Ellenton-Gillette Road and Amlong Road and was renamed New Hope Baptist Church. In 1929, the church burned down again due to natural causes but members continued to meet at the Gillette school. The church moved to its present location in 1931 and was renamed First Baptist Church of Gillette.
85 feet makes difference
When the economy was booming in the late 1990s, Manatee County planners decided to widen Moccasin Wallow Road and take 85 feet from the center of the road from the oldest church north of the Manatee River. First Baptist Church of Gillette members, who had been saving money since the 1970s to construct a new building at the corner of Moccasin Wallow and Ellenton Gillette roads, were upset to lose the frontage, Durden said. There was even talk about moving, Durden added.
"But there's something special about the corner of Moccasin Wallow and Ellenton-Gillette," Durden told the congregation Sunday.
A positive emerging from the Great Recession is Manatee County abandoned plans to widen the road and take frontage from First Baptist Church of Gillette. That led to the building celebration Sunday.
"When I first came here from Macon, Ga., I heard stories about what the church meant to the town and what people did on a Sunday evening and how the kids grew up," Durden said.
"I came away believing this church needs to be a beacon to this community from this corner. From this corner we have led people to the Lord in Africa, because of the monies given on this corner. This church, this church, needs to stay. Our people knew that God wants us here to minister to souls passing this corner."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or via Twitter @ RichardDymond.