St. Petersburg Times
Special report
Video report
  • For their own good
    Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
  • More video reports
Multimedia report
Print Email this storyEmail story Comment Email editor
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
Your name Your email
Friend's name Friend's email
Your message


Calling took time, but love did not

Published March 16, 2007


It may have been a marriage made in heaven. It was definitely a marriage made in church.

The Rev. Bernie Brewster and Cathleen Beers were youngsters when they spotted each other at a church service in Columbus, Ohio. It was love at first sight for both.

They soon married and spent their lives together serving God. The Rev. Brewster, who died March 10 at age 52, was the founder of World Harvest Assembly of Zion in Riverview and Beit Abba Congregation in Brandon.

Neither the marriage nor the Rev. Brewster's career got off to a conventional start.

The couple had to elope because she was only 15. He was five years older. They took a bus to Tennessee and went from town to town looking for a judge who would marry them.

"We started in Nashville and then went to smaller towns," said Cathleen "Sarah" Brewster. "We found one judge who said he couldn't marry us, but he told us about another judge whose eyesight wasn't so good."

That myopic judge couldn't see the date on the bride's birth certificate and performed the ceremony.

The newlyweds returned to Ohio and lived for several years with his parents, who accepted the marriage.

The Rev. Brewster was always a committed Christian, but he wasn't always sure that a pastor's lifestyle suited him. He worked for his father's tour bus company for several years, devoting his spare time to work with Christian youth groups.

In 1990, the Rev. Brewster decided to go to Bible school. After he finished, he returned to his youth group work and held informal Bible study sessions in his home. He still didn't think he wanted to be a pastor.

Attendance at the Bible study grew, and the sessions became more formal. Finally, a pastor who was familiar with the minister's work had some insight.

"He said, 'When are you going to start calling it what it is? It's a church,' " Sarah Brewster said.

Soon, a man who had been attending the sessions said that God had called on him and his wife to tithe to the Rev. Brewster.

"We know it's God because my wife and I agree, and we never agree on anything," Sarah Brewster recalled the man saying.

That was when the Rev. Brewster realized he had become a pastor.

In 1992, Sarah Brewster said, the Lord started calling on the couple to move to Florida and start a church.

"We prayed over it, because we didn't want people saying what they were saying, that we were just coming to Florida for the weather," she said.

When they were sure they were being called, the Brewsters moved to Riverview and started a church in a storefront. Several couples from Ohio moved with them and formed the new church's foundation.

It quickly grew, and eventually the Rev. Brewster was heading two congregations, including one on 56 acres in Riverview.

In September, he was diagnosed with cancer and liver disease. Treatment was complicated because of prior colon surgery. He died peacefully at home.

His passing brought an end to a 33-year marriage that had begun with a visit to a nearsighted judge.

"I used to tell him that I had fallen in love many times in my life, and each time it was with him," his wife said.

Also surviving are two sons, Bernie F. Brewster III and Cameron Brewster, his mother and a sister, Lois.

[Last modified March 15, 2007, 07:33:17]

Share your thoughts on this story

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Subscribe to the Times
Click here for daily delivery
of the St. Petersburg Times.

Email Newsletters