For devoted members of the Congregational United Church of Christ at 3700 26th St. W. in Bradenton, celebrating the church’s golden anniversary became a joyous occasion and a time to look toward the next 50 years.
“We’re looking ahead at the next 50 years with interest and vigor,” said Gayler Boettcher, who has been part of the golden anniversary task force.
The church kicked off “Fifty Years of Faithfulness” last year with a reconsecration service, a dance, roast beef dinner, and an organ concert. They will conclude their year-long 50th jubilee with a banquet Sunday.
“We have a strong sense of family here,” said Boettcher. “People that come to worship with us will find it friendly and welcoming. You soon get to know a good circle of people.”
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The Congregational Church of Christ actually started in 1957 when Rev. Coral Badder, a retiree from the Michigan Congregational Conference, moved to Bradenton with his wife, Ethel, according to a historical account compiled for the 50th anniversary. Upon their arrival, they noticed there was no Congregational Church and advertised in the newspaper for interest in starting a new church.
The inaugural church service was held at the Masonic Temple on First Street on Nov. 10, 1957, and services continued at the Seventh Day Adventist Church on 17th Avenue West for a short time. The Congregational Church formally organized Jan. 5, 1958, with 63 charter members, and three of those first members are still active in the church today, said Pastor Paul Scheele, senior minister of the church.
The year 1957 became pivotal for congregational churches as Evangelical and Reformed churches merged with the General council of Congregational Christian Churches to become the United Church of Christ, according to church history. The Congregational Church became the Congregational Church of Christ although for a few years they did not include the designation in their name.
In the early years of the church, a men’s fellowship group and young couples club were established. In 1958, the church had its first baptism. In 1959, the first church service was broadcast on radio station WTRL, and that same year the church celebrated its first picnic.
Eager members yearned for a church of their own, and bought five acres of land on 26th Street for $1,300. They broke ground for the new facility in 1959, and the new sanctuary was dedicated on May 22.
The Congregational Church of Christ flourished during the 1960s and 1970s. An Easter service in 1960 saw 454 people and a Christmas Eve candlelight service attracted 520.
As the church headed into the 1990s, Sunday school and other youth programs started to decline. The church made attempts to bring younger families back into the church with little success, said Scheele.
“We have been working since to get young families to join our church,” he said. “The problem is when people come to church, they want to see young faces.”
The church survived and looked for alternatives. The solution for the maturing congregation became to enlist more outreach programs geared towards youth and families, said Scheele.
“We still care deeply for children,” he said. “We are so appreciative and have so much to give.”
The church started the Kids Club, a before and after-school program for children, 11 years ago. The Kids Club Closet gives clothing, food and other assistance to needy families. The congregation raised $1,200 for food and gifts for families at Christmas.
“It’s a wonderful ministry for the families that need childcare,” said Janet Hanstrea, director of the Kids Club which has about 45 children enrolled. “It’s not just a ministry to the kids, it’s a ministry to the families.
In the last two years, members also have taken on the task of raising money for a man who needed a kidney transplant. They also have been donating funds to help a malnourished young girl with a gastrointestinal disorder.
“It’s taken us a long time to get to this place,” he said. “Even though we’re an older congregation, we’ve tried to stay active in the community.”
Pace for Girls, the Grandparents as Parents group, Transitions Church, Harvest Counseling Services, Interfaith Hospitality Network, Alcoholics anonymous and Codependents Anonymous all use the Congregational United Church of Christ facilities for meetings and activities.
It’s been a good fit for the organizations as well as the church, said Jackie Scheflin, a member of Grandparents as Parents. The Congregational Church of Christ has been a blessing, she said
“Without this church, this group would not have been possible,” said Scheflin. “It means the world to us.”