Religion

Church expansion campaign kickoff Jan. 15

PALMETTO

The corner of Moccasin Wallow Road and Ellenton-Gillette Road was quiet, save for the rustling of the live oaks in Wednesday morning’s breeze at the First Baptist Church of Gillette.

You could almost feel the history of the old church, whose origin dates back to pre-Civil War.

Rev. W. A. “Bud” Gillett’s own roots are there.

His great-great-grandfather, Daniel Gillett, settled the area in the 1840s, and donated the property for the church.

“Whenever you think of Gillette you think of that corner,” said the retired pastor and 2007 Manatee County Distinguished Citizen. “We had opportunities to move but people said, stay.”

The words and their meaning resonate with Gillett’s successor, the church’s 44th pastor.

“This corner is sacred to a lot of people,” Pastor Tim Durden said. “I’m humbled by it.”

Humbled, too, by the undertaking facing him and his 400-member congregation.

On Jan. 15, the church will host a kickoff to their building fund campaign: “Honoring Our Past and Building Our Future.”

The goal is to raise between $1.3 million to $1.8 million, combine it with the $600,000 the church already has, and construct a 12,000-square foot sanctuary and multi-purpose building with seating for 400 to 500 people.

The present sanctuary is 80 years old, was last renovated in the 1950s and seats 150 to 175.

“We’re running out of space,” Durden said. “We’ve been averaging 170 to 180 on Sundays lately with chairs down the aisles. We put the overflow in the fellowship hall with piped in video.

“We also have a big Sunday school class, and for youth services on Wednesday evenings every classroom is packed in the fellowship hall. We’re maxed out.”

The new building will occupy the northeast corner of the church property.

The playground will be relocated.

“We thought about getting some other land across (U.S.) 41, but people said we want to stay right here if we can,” Durden said.

Paul Cumbie, the campaign chairman, heard their sentiment loud and clear.

“That was important to a lot of people -- preserving the existing building -- but we still need space,” he said.

The church’s history is rich.

According to its archives, it is the oldest Baptist church in southwest Florida, and the first of any de- nomination to be organized north of the Manatee River.

It is the descendant of the Benevolence Church, started in 1868 in a one-room log building northeast of the present location.

In 1900, the church was renamed New Hope Baptist Church and met at school house on Moccasin Wallow Road.

A year later, a new church building opened on the corner of Ellenton-Gillette Road and Amlong Road and remained there until a fire destroyed it in 1929.

The church has been in its present location since 1931, and was renamed First Baptist Church of Gillette in 1932.

Ground will be broken on the new sanctuary when the campaign’s goals are met.

“I’m thrilled,” Gillett said. “Even though it will be a new building, it will still be in keeping with the Gillette image and keep the character of that corner, what we think of when we think of the Gillette Baptist Church.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.

IF YOU GO

What: First Baptist Church of Gillette building campaign kickoff

When: noon to 5 p.m., Jan. 15

Where: 3301 Mocassin Wallow Road, Palmetto

Who: The Wares Creek Boys and Nashville-based recording artists, “No Other Name” will perform. There will be a dinner and silent auction.

Information: Call 722-1937, or visit www.gillettefbc.org.

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