ON HALLOWED GROUND: Longboat Church to build sanctuary

LONGBOAT KEY — Five years ago when a handful of friends began worshipping in members’ homes, their new church didn’t have a name, a denomination or a regular worship place.

But soon, the little congregation moved into rented space at Bayfront Recreation Center on Longboat Key with the Rev. Ray Woody as pastor.

Most recently, the congregation, now known as Christ Church of Longboat Key Presbyterian-USA, has met Sundays in second-story space in the Mediterranean Plaza Building, 595 Bay Isles Road.

Congregation members now are planning a groundbreaking for their own sanctuary and fellowship hall March 14 at 6400 Gulf of Mexico Drive. The value of the land and buildings for the church, which will be on the north end of Longboat Key in Manatee County, is more than $5 million. Dooley Mack will be the contractor for the building, which is projected to be completed by March 2011.

“We didn’t know if we would make it or not, but it’s marvelous that we did,” said Jackie Dixon, a founding member. “We have had outstanding ministers and a very warm, friendly congregation that has attracted so many people.”

After Woody stepped down due to family illness, Rev. Bruce Porter moved into the pulpit.

Porter, who started in the ministry in 1959, previously had served as senior pastor at the Church of the Palms in Sarasota, which had 2,800 members.

Porter had been retired from Church of the Palms two years when he became pastor of Christ Church on Sept. 3, 2006.

“I have been in four congregations that built or rebuilt the sanctuaries,” Porter said, adding this is his first church to be built from the ground up.

Attendance at the church can push toward 300 in the peak of the winter, and be less than half that during the slower summer season, he said.

A clue to the church’s success can be found in its mission statement: “We seek to honor God, draw people to Jesus Christ and reach out and meet human needs.”

Members pride themselves on the friendly welcome they give visitors. Porter said the congregation has been generous in its financial support, and members have many outreaches into the community.

Members support the Neighborhood Learning Center in Bradenton with an after-school reading program. Other outreaches include support and involvement with mission projects, Agape flights, riding therapy for the disabled, a prison ministry, and support for migrant workers.

“It’s a very dynamic congregation. They are terrific to work with. It’s the only church that I’ve had where I’m concerned they go too fast. They work real hard,” Porter said.

Bennie Dods, another founding member of the church, says the congregation has succeeded through “a lot of prayer.”

She believes the many groups within the church — Bible study classes and men’s and women’s groups, and others — have helped bring the congregation together.

Members are hopeful that more young families will be attracted to the church when it moves into its new sanctuary, which will be more visible in a better neighborhood setting.

The groundbreaking for the church will be held after the 10 a.m. worship service on March 14, when members will be bused to the new location, Porter said.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.

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