Bradenton's Manatee United Methodist Church is celebrating its 165th anniversary over 10 days starting Sunday.
The church at 315 15th St. E. is the oldest Christian congregation between Tampa and Key West, according to Cathy Slusser, Manatee County director of historical resources for the Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller's Office.
Established in 1842, the church formally organized in October 1849, and the first meeting place was built in 1850.
The congregation purchased the Manatee County Courthouse in 1866, and, in 1887, construction began on a third house of worship.
"These early church buildings are located on the grounds of the Manatee Village Historical Park," said Slusser. "The church building that was built in 1887, the one located at Manatee Village, is listed on the Methodist Register of Historic Places."
The Rev. Sharon Davis describes her church as an integral part of its East Bradenton neighborhood, and an active force in the whole community.
"We have seen ourselves as a lighthouse for the community for many years," said Davis. "We are focusing on the theme of 'beacon of hope.' We have served our community over the years not only with our spiritual services, but we've been active in missions in the local area. We continue to want to be not just focusing on ourselves, but on the community, too."
Manatee UMC is a predominately middle and senior adult congregation, with an energetic and musically talented youth group, Davis said.
"Our worship is warm and our music is a blend of favorite hymns, contemporary melodies, special music featuring country, gospel and contemporary soloists, and our Maker's Dozen men's ensemble," Davis said.
Manatee offers a full program for adults and youth, including a "Mid-Week Connection" fellowship meal and program, a weekly Adult Bible Study, weekly United Methodist Youth Fellowship and monthly Women of Manatee breakfast and a "Man-to-Man" men's breakfast gathering.
Manatee UMC sponsors the Manatee UMC Day Care and Pre-School. Presently, 65 children are attended by a staff of 10 dedicated teachers.
Manatee extends its ministry to children through its Homeless and Orphan Outreach in the Dominican Republic. Manatee is also involved in inter-denominational outreach and service ministries in Bradenton.
A special anniversary committee planned the 10-day celebration beginning Sunday through Oct. 29.
It calls for a picnic on the grounds, an old-fashioned hymn sing, Anniversary Sunday where members plan to dress in period clothes, among other events. A calendar of events can be found at manateeumc.com, or call the church office at 941-746-0101.
In 1842, following the end of the Seminole War, a few families crossed over to the southern banks of the Manatee River and established the settlement of Manatee Village, according to a history compiled by Barbara Huffman, church administrative assistant.
They gathered for worship in private homes and received visits from Methodist "circuit riding" preachers. Once they had a building, missionaries of several denominations preached there over a period of 16 years, the history said.
The congregation occupied other buildings through the years. Its present sanctuary was built and dedicated in 1975.
Church member Betsy Benac, also a Manatee County commissioner, said she was searching for a church home and found one at Manatee United Methodist Church.
"I went there because I had some friends there," she said. "I love the history, its significance and they give so much to the community."
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.