Mount Hermon Missionary Baptist Church's addition is a tangible sign of the congregation's determination.
By TERRI D. REEVES
Published May 8, 2004
TARPON SPRINGS - They waited nearly a decade for this resurrection.
In 1996, a bolt of lighting set fire to the old classroom building at Mount Hermon Missionary Baptist Church.
Now, a bigger, better, more beautiful building has arisen.
The new 5,600-square-foot addition to the church houses a fellowship hall, five classrooms, a conference room and two offices. In the back, a new paved parking lot with more than 100 spaces replaces an old dirt one.
Now that their vision has become a reality, members of the oldest African-American church in Tarpon Springs can't wait to show it all off.
Today, a dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at 6 p.m. at the church on the corner of Levis Avenue and Lime Street.
"This was a faith walk," said the Rev. Milton Smith. "Five years ago this was considered a blighted community and some said it couldn't be done. But we did it. God did it."
Mount Hermon's leaders contracted with a private church finance company to raise money through $425,000 in bonds for the addition and another $150,000 in bonds for the new parking lot.
"People felt comfortable investing in this church," Smith said. "It has been here 121 years and it's not going anywhere."
The colors in the new building are no-nonsense white and charcoal.
"I let the ladies of the church choose the colors for inside and outside, so I won't have any problems," Smith said.
The 30-by-60-foot banquet hall includes a commercial kitchen with a large oven, deep fryer, and heating and cooling tables.
"We'll have food for the soul over there," Smith said, pointing toward the sanctuary, "and soul food in here."
Having a commercial-grade kitchen was critical to the church, which plays a key role in addressing both the spiritual and material needs of the people in the Union Academy neighborhood. Mount Hermon's soup kitchen serves up to 175 homeless and hungry on any given Saturday.
For the last two years, church members have held community meals in a small rental property owned by Smith across the street from the church.
The new addition will allow other church programs to be expanded or restored as well. The youth summer-vacation program will be extended to full time. Church leaders are contemplating a full-time preschool.
A work program for the homeless is under consideration and college classes may soon be held at the church.
The Wednesday night children's Bible school and recreational activities will be resumed and a separate children's service will be on Sundays in the fellowship hall.
But to the faithful, it's not only what they built, but also what they found along the way that matters.
During construction, contractors found an old rusted church bell, with the words "C.S. Bell Co., Hillsboro" buried in the dirt where the addition now stands. For many parishioners it was a tangible symbol of past weddings, funerals, and Sunday mornings.
As a child, Love Cole would jump out of bed on Sunday morning and race across town in his attempt to be the first one to ring the big steel church bell.
"If I got there on time, I could ring it 10 times," he said. "I remember I had to jump up and catch the rope. It would wake up the whole side of town."
Cole, 62, lives in Clearwater, and is a deacon of the church, which has about 125 active members. The bell will be sandblasted and housed in a bell pavilion created with donated labor and materials and placed on the front lawn between the sanctuary and new addition.
Mount Hermon originally was built for the black community in 1883 near the Sponge Docks. In 1946, the church moved to its present location. In 1982, a new sanctuary was built. It was remodeled in 1997.
Toynetta Brown Thompson, 61, lives across the street from the church in a house that was owned by her grandmother. On Thursday, she stood in her front lawn and admired the church.
"It's beautiful," she said. "It does wonders for the neighborhood. I've seen the church change and grow over the years and it has always provided such good in the community."