MANATEE -- During football season at the church office of 53rd Avenue Church of Christ, you just might hear a "Roll Tide" or "Hook 'em Horns."
Not that football is the focus of the busy church set well back from the highway at 3412 53rd Ave. E., Bradenton.
But there are fans in the office. Church secretary and treasurer Melanie Duckett is an Alabama fan, and preacher Lon Schlindler is a Texas fan.
The 6-foot-5 Schlindler grew up in the Dallas area, and ran track and played football in high school. He earned an athletic scholarship to Ranger College, where he was a hurdler.
Schlindler, 60, has officiated high school and college football games for 31 years in seven or eight states. He began working high school games in Manatee County and elsewhere in Southwest Florida after he and his wife moved to the Bradenton area about three years ago.
Schlindler came to 53rd Avenue Church of Christ, not as a minister, but as a member of the congregation. When the previous minister took a job in Alabama, Schlindler, a 1978 graduate of Preston Road School of Preaching in Dallas, stepped into the pulpit.
"We have been growing rapidly the past two years," Schlindler said.
In the summer, about 200 worshippers fill church pews on Sundays. In the winter season, that grows to about 300.
Schlindler credits the congregation's growth to the church's unadorned focus on the Bible, and its active involvement in the community.
"If there is somebody out there who is looking for some
thing that is simple and not tied down in tradition and theology, but who simply wants to live a Christian life, that's what we offer," Schlindler said. "We strictly follow the Bible. We are not perfect. We strive to be as much like Jesus as we can. We speak where the Bible speaks, and we're silent where the Bible is silent."
There are common values in team sports and the church, Schlindler said.
"No person is bigger than themselves," he said, noting a team or congregation working together can achieve much more.
"We are just a big spiritual family, It's all centered around love," he said.
Ministries at the church range from weekly food pantry distribution; the SEW-ers of the Seed group who cut, stuff, and sew pillows for heart surgery patients at Manatee Memorial; the SonShiners who focus on engaging seniors; and an active children's church.
The congregation also supports missions in Malawi and Puerto Rico.
"It's important that a church should not be people hiding in a building, but should be out in the community," Schlindler said.
In addition to Schlindler, the church has two other ministry positions.
Brandon Harriman serves as youth minister. The congregation is working to fill an open position for family life/counseling minister.
Duckett discovered 53rd Avenue Church of Christ with her daughter six years ago.
"We came here and loved it. We knew this is where we wanted to worship. It's a very friendly, loving congregation," Duckett said.
Bible study is at 9 a.m. Sunday, followed by 10 a.m. worship. Bible study is at 7 p.m. Wednesday, too.
Information: 941-753-4153 or 53avecofc.org.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.