MANATEE -- The Rev. Lawrence Livingston had a startling vision during a church service he attended as a younger man.
"We were in Dundee, Florida, helping with another church, and during that service a vision occurred to me, and I heard the voice of the Lord say, 'Go to Palmetto and set up a church.'"
He did what the Lord asked, founding Eternity Temple Firstborn Church of the Living God Inc. at 716 29th St. E., in the Washington Park neighborhood of Palmetto.
More than three decades later, Livingston, 71, and Clifford, his wife and co-pastor, are still ministering to the faithful.
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"We're getting ready for the 33rd anniversary this year," said Livingston.
He earned his master's degree in theology from the First Born Seminary and Training School in Waycross, Ga.
His wife is also an ordained minister and the mother of their four adult children. The couple will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this summer.
With a congregation of about 100, church leaders and some members are active in civic affairs.
Livingston and churchgoers occasionally appear at Manatee County Commission meetings and before other boards to lobby for improvements for historically black neighborhoods north of the Manatee River.
The church also boasts a nonprofit community development arm, Eternity Temple-Washington Park Community Development Corp.
"The primary objective is to speak to the community about the wholeness of God, first with his people," said Livingston.
Church members are a visible presence cleaning 29th Street as a partner of the nonprofit Keep Manatee Beautiful while operating a computer lab and a food pantry.
The mostly black church serves as a family service center for those who need Medicaid or food stamps, Livingston said.
Youngsters enjoy a basketball court next to the church and there's also a small children's park.
It also participates in a community garden, growing collard greens, cabbage, blackberries, grapes and other produce members take home to help them toward more healthful living, Livingston said.
On Tuesday nights, there's a "Men's Den" designed to help youngsters and young males grow into men.
"It's a spiritual mission," Livingston said. "We can identify with that because several of our parishioners are in prison. It is a crisis in our neighborhoods, and one reason we clean our streets is so when prospective homebuyers come in, they'll see we have a spiritual quality to our environment."
The church also is affiliated with outreach efforts in other countries.
Regular services at Eternity Temple church are at 9:30 and 11 a.m. Sundays and 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.