Like the founders’ names preserved in stone on the church facade, St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church at 525 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. E. in Bradenton has built its foundation by reaching out to the community.
“We are known as the community church,” said Lorine Brown, a longtime member. “We are family-oriented and community-oriented. We help a lot of people.”
This weekend, the congregation will commemorate the church’s 123 years of community involvement with a three-day celebration. Festivities include a special youth night Friday, a choir concert Saturday, and a special Sunday afternoon worship service to dedicate recent sanctuary renovations and the new fellowship hall addition.
The 123rd anniversary celebration will also be a time of homecoming for those who have moved away to return to the church, said Sheila Murray, a deaconess and part of the anniversary committee.
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“It’s a time when we extend a welcome for people to come back and celebrate with us,” she said.
Bartholomew Banks, pastor of St. John Progressive Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa, will be on hand for an afternoon worship and dedication ceremony. The Rev. G.I. Bradley from Providence Mission Baptist Church of Palmetto will lead the Sunday morning service.
One of the highlights of the weekend festivities will be the colorful African attire worn by church members during the Sunday worship service.
“It will be a sea of different colors,” said Murray, a lifetime member whose great-grandfather helped start the church. “We look forward to it.”
St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church is the largest African-American church in Bradenton with 506 members, according to Brown, who has been the clerk for the past 41 years. The anniversary observance will recall the church’s long history of community activism and evangelism.
The church slogan reads “the friendly church in the midst of a friendly city, where friendly people come to worship and the love of God flows like a river.” Murray said members feel it is their duty as Christians to help people both at home and abroad.
“In addition to its longevity, we have the spirit and attitude of becoming servants,” she said. “We open ourselves up to the community.”
Last summer, they facilitated a free lunch program for children when school was out, and the church continually supports the 13th Avenue Youth Center. They also have organized Christmas toy drives and collected school supplies for children.
They have a clothes closet for people in need and a monthly street corner outreach where church members give away food, clothing and Bibles, and bring God’s word to people on the street, said Murray.
“They all won’t come to the church, so we have to take it to them and encourage them to join in our fellowship,” she said.
St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church has been instrumental in a number of other community outreach programs like helping people get health screenings for various diseases, including diabetes, glaucoma and cancer. They also help women get mammograms, and reach out to those affected by HIV and AIDS through a program called Project Smile.
From time to time, the church offers seminars on subjects like insurance, living trusts, wills and probate. They have town meetings and discuss pertinent political issues.
Overseas they support missions in Tanzania and Haiti, and support the Senior Women’s Missionary Union and the National Baptist Brotherhood Union programs of the National Baptist Convention of America.
Their passion for helping people comes from the teachings of Jesus Christ, said Rev. James M. Roberts, pastor of the church for the past seven years.
“The Bible says man can’t live by bread alone,” he said. “We have to feed our people mentally, physically and spiritually.”
St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church was started by the Rev. J.W. Rosier at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 10th Street, according to Brown, also the church historian. The church was destroyed by fire in 1913, but members rebuilt the church in 1916.
For 123 years, St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church remained a place where generations of families found solace and renewal, said Brown.
“There’s a lot of history in this church,” she said.
Over the years, the church has seen a lot of physical changes with newer, more modern buildings replacing aging wooden structures. But with a solid base built through the generous and loving spirit of the congregation, it continues to attract new families, said Roberts, who also grew up in the church.
”God has really blessed us,” he said. “We keep building. We keep growing with families. When the word of God is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit will draw.”
St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church remains steadfast to God’s word and doesn’t “use gimmicks” to attract new members, said Roberts.
“We are a Bible-based, teaching, preaching church,” he said. “We just take from the scriptures. The love of people draws people.”
Cason Glover, a 23-year-old man who grew up in the church and plays drums in the church band, credits the elders of the church with drawing in younger members to hear the word of the Lord. The church is basically like a big family, he said.
“If someone does something wrong, everybody disciplines you, and if you do something good, everybody praises you,” said Glover. “It’s like everyone is your mom or dad, or aunt or uncle.”
Generations of families have passed through the doors of St. Paul’s and passed on a passion for enriching the community, said Glover.
“The families grow up and the kids come,” he said. “A lot of people come back and give back.”