New sanctuary to help Gillette church with 'frontier' mission

GILLETTE -- A hardy group of dreamers journeyed from Georgia, Alabama and northern Florida to Manatee County before the Civil War hoping to find a fertile tract to farm, ranch and call home.

The place they found and settled now surrounds the corner of Moccasin Wallow and Ellenton-Gillette roads, within Palmetto's ZIP code, but back then they called it Frog Creek.

Among the Georgians was Daniel Gillett, who brought his family to Frog Creek in the late 1840s.

He and his descendants became so well known that the town's name was soon changed from Frog Creek to Gillette, with an "e" added to the end of the name.

Although Gillette would eventually have a post office, a school, a small store and statewide fame in the 1980s when a group of its farm boys caught and hog-tied an escaped prisoner from the local jail, perhaps the most important event on its timeline occurred back in 1868 when Benevolence, a Baptist Church, was formed.

That church, whose stated mission was to reach out with what its founders called "frontier cooperation" rather than competition, later became Gillette First Baptist Church, at 3301 97th St. E., Palmetto.

In time, the church became First Baptist Church of Gillette, whose members, to this day, proudly and accurately, according to county historians, say they are the oldest church north of the Manatee River.

The frontier that the original Frog Creek settlers faced with their church has changed in 144 years.

Now, the frontier is new subdivisions and an Imagine charter school. The church has decided to honor its"frontier cooperation"heritage by building a$2 million, 13,000-square-foot sanctuary on its existing playground to serve these new "settlers."

The new sanctuary, planned to seat nearly 300, will be a big change from the current sanctuary, which was built in the 1940s, is still mostly original, and seats 140.

The new sanctuary is scheduled to break ground where the church playground is located in the first quarter of 2013.

The old sanctuary will be turned into a youth center.

Church members, including the church's pastor of five years, the Rev. Tim Durden, and lifetime church member Barbara Cameron are excited about the upcoming changes.

The church has been raising money for this event for generations and has $1.35 million already in the bank, Durden said.

"I am so excited because we are blessed to have all this new development around us," Cameron said.

"It will be wonderful to be able to seat all these new people if we can get them to our church."

"We are a very open, friendly church," Cameron said. "I've been in churches where no one knows you are there. You won't hide in the corner in our church. We search them out."

Ken Burton Jr. joined the Gillette church five years ago.

"I grew up in a large church and this is a smaller church with a quaint and family-type atmosphere," Burton said.

The church service is blended, a bit of old hymns with new music.

The pastor is faithful to the Bible and often makes the congregation laugh with his stories.

"Pastor Tim has a true pastor's heart and loveshis congregation," Burtonadded. "He preaches God's Word to where it is easy to understand and makes it relevant to our everyday lives."

Cameron hopes others will pick up a special spirit she feels in the church.

"As a young child, church was the only thing you had other than school," Cameron said.

"Everything in my life centered on Gillette First Baptist. I will always remember us drawing names for Christmas gifts and that we children all got an apple and bag of candy."

The church meets 9:45-10:45 a.m. for Sunday Bible Study and the adult worship is 11 a.m. each Sunday.

There is a family dinner at 5:15 p.m. every Wednesday that costs $4 a person or $12 per family.

An adult Bible study follows at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday.