GAINESVILLE (FBW)—In the heart of Florida’s Gator territory, Westside Baptist Church in Gainesville celebrated 50 years of growth in a month-long series of celebrations ending Jan. 26.
“Welcome beloved,” Gary Crawford, senior pastor since 1981, told the congregation. “We’ve waited 50 years for this service and we’re glad to be here.”
The church, which constituted in 1964 with 258 charter members, gained little momentum in the intervening years, but since the ’80s has relocated to its current facilities and grown to 4,400 members.
The Jan. 26 Sunday morning worship service, “The First 50 years,” was the fourth celebratory service for the month, with John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, preaching. Guest speakers at the other January services were: Ted Yoho, U.S. House of Representatives, Jan. 5; Jim Henry, pastor emeritus, First Baptist Church, Orlando, Jan. 12; and Johnny Hunt, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga., Jan. 19. Tom Kinchen, president of The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, preached in a Jan. 26 evening service.
Fran W. Terhune, former minister of education at Westside and author of Westside at 50: Where Friends become Family, told hundreds gathered in the church’s sanctuary and viewing online in the church’s Family Life Center, “It’s a story that deserves to be told.
“God has had His hand on Westside in a remarkable way,” said Terhune, the first woman to serve as president of the Florida Baptist Religious Educator’s Association—winning nine “Eagle” awards for growth and excellence in Sunday School leadership.
The two-hour service was marked by baptisms, special music, guest appearances by former staff members and missionaries, and testimonies by those whose lives have been indelibly changed by Westside’s ministries.
Jerry Haag, president of Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, introduced a moving video that talked about the needs of children, and a young child who offered a huge, frosted cookie to Crawford. He also thanked Westside for its involvement in supporting the new Gainesville-area Cellon-Thomas campus of Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, a spacious 7,500-square-foot home for siblings who are foster children.
“Thank you for letting us come alongside you in making a difference in the lives of children for an eternity,” Haag said.
David Acton, an IMB missionary in Western Europe whose parents are members at Westside, reminded the congregation they are his family’s “feet on the ground” and are able to “love” his parents while he is on the mission field.
“God uses your hands, your smiles … your little bit of Spanish,” he laughed. “You mean everything. You remember our names. You call us. You write us. You send care packages.”
Acton said the Westside family “is” his family—and literally picks his dad “up out of the chair” to bring him to Sunday worship.
Sullivan, in one of his first preaching engagements since a long recovery period following surgery in November, preached vigorously from Phil. 1:1-6, “A time to remember.”
“You have been faithful to God and He has blessed you,” Sullivan said. “For that I am extremely grateful.”
Books without good subjects will sit on a shelf and collect dust, Sullivan said. Likewise, the Gospel lived out faithfully is obvious in a healthy church.
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