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AVON PARK (FBW)—First Baptist Church in Avon Park marked its centennial Feb. 10. The celebration service included several former staff members, and a sermon by Pastor Jon Beck, who acknowledged the centennial as a “great accomplishment and testimony to the faithful men and women” who served the church during its first 100 years.
Among the former staff members in attendance were Vernon Harkey, pastor; Scott King, youth; Bob Lewis and Terry Clark, music.
The church’s history includes a long roster of ministers who served the congregation, and those who were called from the church to minister in other places.
In 1913, preachers Elmer Albritton and Sam Durrance visited Avon Park to lead a series of evangelical meetings. During their time in the city, they assisted 16 Christians in forming First Baptist Church.
According to the church history booklet, the group met in the town’s schoolhouse until 1914 when a rough-hewn tabernacle was constructed on land donated by a church member—the site of the present church facility.
During the early 20th century, churches commonly called pastors to serve one year, and at the end of the year, the church voted whether or not to extend his call another year. According to the church history, First Baptist was among the first to issue an indefinite call to a pastor, J.A. Davis, who served the church four years. In the mid-1930s, the church also veered from tradition by adopting a “unified church budget” that ended the practice of every church organization soliciting funds from members.
The church called Pastor Aden Childress in 1956 and he served the church 23 years before retiring. As pastor emeritus he continued to preach in the church’s missions and in other churches in the Orange Blossom Baptist Association.
First Baptist’s ministries expanded to include Sunday Schools at a nursing home, retirement hotel and trailer park, and a worship service at a local drive-in theater. The church also established two mission churches, Avon Park Lakes Baptist Church and First Haitian Baptist Church, both of which are active today.
First Baptist continues to serve its community through a plethora of ministries including a medical clinic, Samaritan’s Touch Center, and Share Food Ministry. Many of its members have served as mission volunteers nationally and internationally.
The church’s facilities were heavily damaged by three hurricanes in 2004, and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams based operations in the church parking lots. The church made repairs to its campus, and the congregation continues to thrive under Pastor Jon Beck, who has served the church since 2010.
The Feb. 10 centennial celebration participants were reminded of the words of Pastor Emeritus Childress on the occasion of the church’s 50th anniversary in 1963: “Anniversaries are meant to be more than a review of days that are no more. This should be a time of rededication for the days and tasks that are yet to be.”
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