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Church bids couple farewell with party

Today's celebration honors the minister and his wife, who started a Christian school more than 30 years ago.


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG -- Today, church members and friends will hold a large celebration to say goodbye to the Rev. W. Edward Fine and his wife, Billye Joyce, who have been at Central Christian Church for three decades and started a school that now has 600 students.

He has performed 884 funerals and 423 weddings and has counseled innumerable people.

Edward Fine, originally hired to strengthen Christian education at the church, also turned his attention to civic leadership, sitting on the corporate board of the Boys and Girls Club of the Suncoast and the city's Community Police Council.

Today's party at the Coliseum will be a farewell to the couple, who will be moving in a few weeks to Elizabethton, Tenn.

The Fines are sad to be leaving the city they have called home for 31 years, but they say they feel a sense of satisfaction for achievements in their own lives and at Central Christian Church, 4824 Second Ave. S.

The time is right, though, said Edward Fine, a few days before giving his last sermon.

"I felt like a lot of the goals we had set for the church and the school had been accomplished. And, of course, that's important in a ministry to complete your goals," he said.

"It was God's timing. We're healthy, so it wasn't a health issue. The church is in good shape, so it wasn't a conflict issue. There was really nothing, and I think it shocked everybody."

The Fines arrived in St. Petersburg in January 1970, from Titusville, where they had both been public school teachers and Edward Fine was the head of a small church. When the offer came from St. Petersburg, Fine, now 62, jumped at the opportunity to start a Christian school and become minister of Christian education. For the past nine years, he has been Central Christian's senior minister. His wife, 59, became principal of the school and director of children's education for the church in 1972.

Giving a tour of the school recently, Mrs. Fine repeatedly referred to the students as precious, adorable and wonderful.

"My wife is really going to miss this," Fine said, as she hugged and chatted with little ones having a mid-morning snack.

She proudly showed off old newspaper clippings of the school and gave updates about each child that appeared in photographs. She said that Shaun King, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback, was one of Central Christian's students. Over the years, the school has produced its share of successes, she added.

"A lot of them are teachers. Some of them are into sports. Some are lawyers," Mrs. Fine said.

"It's interesting to see the second generation," her husband added.

Many of the children who start in Central Christian's preschool continue through to eighth grade, the last grade offered. Then, Mrs. Fine said, many go on to private schools or magnet programs in public schools. Like Courtney Baker.

"Courtney has made straight A's, " she said of the teenager who has been at the school since she was 4.

The student body and teaching staff are multicultural, boasting children of 14 nationalities and teachers from the United States, Australia, Bosnia, Peru, Spain and Canada.

The school, which was first housed in a tiny house on church property, now is established in three modern buildings. Central Christian also owns many properties around the church and school.

"We own from 48th to 49th Street, from First to Third Avenue S, and then we own the lots across from 49th Street between Second and Third Avenue S," Fine said.

Some houses are used for church youth groups and one, with the name of Firey Furnace, is used as an art room for the school. A large playground at Central and 49th Street is humorously called Central Park.

Even as they leave the church and school that have been part of their lives for so long, the Fines are making plans to develop other interests. They will be busy, Fine said.

"We're retiring from Central Christian Church," he said, "but not from God's service."

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