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History of Florida Avenue Baptist Church
As Updated in 1989 (August)
By: Mrs. Letha Rewis, Mrs. Wavy Jones &
Mrs. Pauline Gilbreath (wife of former Pastor Rev. J.M. Gilbreath)
Revised 2016
                On March 3, 1929, a group of concerned Christians met together from the First Baptist Church of Avon Park, at the home of Mr. & Mrs. E.A. DeLaney Sr., for the purpose of organizing the Southside Baptist Church of Avon Park.
 Rev. T. O. Baldwin, who was pastor of First Baptist Church, met with the group to help organize the church. A survey had already been taken in that particular area, on the south side of town, and it was time to go forward under the leadership of the Lord. Those who participated in this organization were: Mr. & Mrs. Hunt, Mrs. West, Mr. & Mrs. W.H. Martin, Mrs. Dave Skipper, Mrs. L.D McGiboney, Rev. T. O. Baldwin and Reverend J. H. McClelland. Great care was taken in the first meeting.

The Organizational Services were as follows:
                Song by Mr. & Mrs. Hunt and Mr. & Mrs. West. Scripture 16th chapter of Matthew, verse 13-20 and Matthew 28: 18-20, and Acts 1:8.  Brother T. O. Baldwin, pastor of First Baptist Church of Avon Park brought the message. There was special music by Mr. & Mrs. W.S. Martin, Mrs. Dave Skipper and Love McGiboney.
 The church was named Southside Baptist Church of Avon Park. The Articles of Faith and Church Covenant were adopted as put forth in 1925 by the Southern Baptist Convention. Rev. J.H. McClelland was called as the first pastor of the church and served until his resignation in 1935.
The first clerk was elected, Mrs. O. R. Perry; Treasurer was W. H. Martin, Deacon J. D. DeLaney. There was a hymn sung by the members of the newly organized Church and an offering taken of $24.16.

There were eleven Charter Members as follows:
 Mrs. E.A. DeLaney            Mr. & Mrs. J.D. DeLaney                 Mr. & Mrs. W.H. Martin
 Mrs. O.R. Perry                  Mrs. Jim Cravey                                Miss Ruby Wells
 Mrs. Bernice Grantham                                                                 Mr. & Mrs. T.P. Powell

Sunday School was organized in April of 1929. BYPU was organized a little later on. During the time of Rev. McClelland’s pastorate, the building was erected on the south side of town and many wonderful services can be remembered by those who united with this progressive church. The Church had times of discouragement, as well as times of mountain-top experiences. One main highlight was when Brother E. T. Earnest felt the call into the ministry and was ordained as a Minister in 1934.
In April of 1935, Bro. Herman Collins was called as Pastor and served well until November of 1936. (pastors back then were bi-vocational, as the church could not pay much and times were hard)  Bro. C.W. Mann was called as pastor on December 9, 1936 and served only nine months, leaving in October 1937. The Lord’s work kept on going and Rev. J.H. McClelland was called again as pastor and served until November 9, 1939. Bro. W.D. McInnis was then called as pastor and served until 1940.
The forties saw good signs of growth, a new dream came to reality, and God sending good men to pastor Southside. Rev. J.H. Johnston was called, commuting from Manatee and served two months, then Rev. Vernon Coker, from Wauchula, was called and served until 1941, when Rev. Glenn Collins was called and served almost a year. The next pastor was Bro. W.D. McInnis, who served again until 1942 at which time Bro. O.K. Collier was called as pastor. Bro. Collier was serving when the members of the church saw that the building needed to be moved to a better location, and under Bro. Collier’s leadership, the building was moved to Florida Avenue and its name was changed to Florida Avenue Baptist Church, which was a great move toward progress. Also under his leadership a house was purchased and moved on the church property on the corner of Florida Avenue and Bell St.  Bert Frizzell was very helpful, along with Harley Murphy, to get the house in place, for a Pastorium. Bro. Collier and family were the first to live in the Pastorium. Then on November 5, 1947 Bro. Collier resigned and Bro. L.E. McRae was called on December 17, 1947. He served almost a year. Rev. L.M. Collins was called on October 3, 1948. During Bro. Collins’ ministry the new auditorium was erected and the old church building was used as Sunday School rooms. It meant a lot to have a more comfortable building in which to worship, also the membership had reached a point that more room was needed. Bro. Collins, as well as many men of the church, did a lot of the building of the new Sanctuary. Bro. Collins resigned in October of 1952 because of ill health.

The fifties and sixties were also marked with continued growth and various leadership changes. Rev. Kenneth Tucker was called as pastor November 18, 1952 and served until May 5, 1954, when he resigned to further his education in Texas. During Bro. Tucker’s ministry, the long Sunday School Plant was begun and not quite completed, before his leaving. Rev. J. M. Gilbreath became the pastor on the first Sunday of October 1954. During his ministry the first Sunday School plant was finished in 1954, and as the attendance began to grow so swiftly, a larger Educational Plant was badly needed. The old church building, which had been used south of town and moved to Florida Avenue, was being used at this time for Sunday School. It was very hard to hear and was not adequate, so, the church voted to sell it and have it moved, in order to have space to erect a larger Educational Plant. The old church building was sold to Hart’s Garage and they moved it. Bro. Gilbreath drew the plans for the new educational plant, which included spacious rooms for Nursery, Beginners and also smaller rooms for Juniors and Intermediates (as all these were called at that time). The Junior and Intermediate Departments used the Fellowship Hall, which was also included in the plant, for their assembly with the Juniors using it at the beginning of the session, while the Intermediates had classes, then the Intermediates used it, while the Juniors had classes. The Young People’s Department used the living room of the pastorium for a long time until space could be provided for them. We had a kitchen now, and Fellowship Hall for a lot of activities. The men of the church did a lot of the labor on the Educational plant, the Pastor right along with them, in between times, he, along with George Lewis, did quite a bit as well as others who did the electricity and plumbing. One Thanksgiving during this time there were twenty-five laymen who put the roof on the plant, the ladies brought dinner and it was one of the BEST Thanksgiving Days any of them can remember. The Lord was working and all were happy. This building was completed in 1956.
Things were happening that was almost unbelievable, all buildings were full, but we needed a baptistry, as we used Lake Denton for Baptismal Services. The Lord laid it on the hearts of the members to take another step forward – so, the church voted to put in an addition on the back of the Sanctuary, which would include a Baptistry, designed by Bro. Gilbreath (he wanted one large enough). A contractor drew the plans for the other part which included two dressing rooms upstairs and two classrooms on the floor level. All the buildings so far, along with this one, was done within four years, by the blessings of the Lord and cooperation of the membership in work and tithes and gifts of time. One of our younger men felt the call into the ministry, Brother Roy Snipes, and was ordained by Florida Avenue Baptist Church, and went to Pastor in Lorida. This was a great time in our church, also. We had a Radio Ministry, and reached people in this manner for the Lord. There had been some work in Woman’s Missionary Union, in prior years, so, our women and men kept the growth of a full Women’s Missions Union and Brotherhood by having the Girl’s Auxiliary, Sunbeams, Young Women’s Auxiliary (as they were call then). The Brotherhood sponsored the Royal Ambassadors with a group of Crusaders, Page, and Knights. Some of these boys went to RA Congress at different times with some of the leaders, they also attended camp at Lake Denton. The girls also went to camp at Lake Denton. The Gilbreaths served as Camp Pastor and Music Director there several times, along with being counselors. Our church was wide awake with knowing the importance of Missions. The ladies rolled bandages and filled barrels to be sent to Nigeria, where Miss Valda Long, from Orange Blossom Association served. This too, was a great time in the life of the church.
It was time to move on to more things for the Lord, so the church voted to buy property behind the small parking lot we had at that time, from Canfield to Bell Street. Mr. & Mrs. George Lewis donated one lot and the church purchased the others, which included a house on the side of Canfield. This was used as a Nursery Department and the property nearest Bell St. was to be used for a new Pastorium. This also gave us more space for our parking lot and to pave it. Brother Gilbreath continued his ministry until May of 1963. During his time here, Mrs. Gilbreath was our first part-time Secretary during the last three years of his ministry here.
The church called Rev. R.L. Polk, who served one year, leaving to enter Norman Park College in Georgia. The Rev. W.E. Hicks (retired) served as Interim pastor until February 1965, when the church called Rev. Lester Miller. He served four years and resigned February of 1969. During his ministry the church built a new pastorium on West Bell Street and air-conditioned the church. Our church property looked better than it had in a long time with the help of a very good custodian, Bro. O.S. Rutherford. In March of 1969 the church called Rev. Clay Jennings. During his ministry many things were accomplished. The Pastor’s study was remodeled, and new furnishings were purchased for it with donations made in memory of loved ones who had gone on to be with the Lord. All expenses of the cost of this project was taken care of and a plaque hangs in the Study in memorial to them. The indebtedness of the Pastorium was paid off when Bro. L.S. Pickett and his wife, Grace, donated enough fruit to be picked and sold. Different members of the church paid for the fruit to be picked and Rev. J.D. Partin hauled it to the plant. This note was paid off January 9, 1973. Bro. Jennings resigned April 15, 1974.
The church called Bro. Perry Tomlinson as Interim Pastor, he had a wonderful ministry with us until the church called Rev. Edwin Tharpe August 25, 1974. He led the church into having a Radio ministry again. In the early spring of 1979, the church voted to enter a remodeling and church improvement program. The church Sanctuary was extensively remodeled, by lowering the ceiling, indirect lighting installed, new carpet, new pews, new piano and organ put in. Stained glass windows were installed. Drapes were placed in front of the Baptistry, a new roof was put on the Sanctuary, the pulpit was redone and made larger, and a storage building was erected behind the pastorium. A new air and heating system was installed in the educational plant as well as a complete re-modeling of each area contained in it, which included folding doors and making larger rooms available. All this resulted in a $45,000 indebtedness in which all the members along with those of past years were given an opportunity to help defray this indebtedness. This was complete and dedicated on December 9, 1979. A bus ministry was also begun under Bro. Tharpe’s leadership while being a pastor of the church. Rev. Tharpe resigned August 12, 1984.
Rev. E. E. Earnest was then called as Interim Pastor and stayed until the church called a pastor, he did a very good work in getting the church prepared for a new Pastor.
Rev. James E. Davis was called and became our Pastor on April 20, 1985. He began immediately winning the hearts of the members, as well as doing a great work for the Lord. The church was still paying on the remodeling of the church and educational plant, so, after leading the members to get it paid off as soon as possible, a great day came about. On Sunday, May 3, 1987, the Church had a Mortgage-Burning Service, to clear the indebtedness. Those who participated in it were Rev. Ron Holley, Director of Missions of Orange Blossom Association; Rev. S.C. Couch, President of Avon Park’s Ministers Association; Rev. Paul Gettinger, Pastor of Union Congregational Church, Avon Park; Wendell Williams, owner of Williams Citrus Nursery; Matt Collins, a grandson of Rev. L.M. Collins who had been a pastor of Florida Avenue, along with the pastor, Bro. Davis. Those who participated in the Mortgage burning were: Ranfred Rewis, Deacon Chairman; Mrs. Hazel Dodd, Church Treasurer; Mrs. Kylene Thompson, church clerk; Mrs. Wavy Jones, WMU Director;  R. Dennison, Jr. Stewardship Chairman;  Rev. James E. Davis, Pastor and Wendell Williams, Mortgage Holder. The Service was well attended, and it was a great day, the Service concluded by singing “To God Be The Glory”. What a wonderful day!
It was not long until the Pastor realized the church needed to extend more, and led the church to vote to purchase the property from Florida Avenue to DeSoto Ave., which included what is known to us now as “The DeSoto House”, and was used for the Children’s Department in Sunday School, this was voted on and agreed to be bought on September 9, 1987. The DeSoto house was in need of some repairs, which was done, including painting the roof.
On April 5, 1987, Bro. Art Dryer was licensed into the Ministry and on August 14, 1988, Bro. Sal Pellicano was licensed into the Ministry and furthered his education at Florida Baptist Theological College at Graceville, Florida.
In December of 1987 the church purchased new choir robes to replace the old ones, purchased several years before and had their first Christmas Cantata.
In January of 1987 Rev. and Mrs. J.D. Partin united with Florida Avenue Baptist Church, a little later Rev. & Mrs. Ken Pennell united with us that same year, then in September of 1988 Rev. & Mrs. J.M. Gilbreath, who had pastored here for nine years several years ago, united with us. These three Ministers were respected enough to be listed as Associate Pastor, or Staff Members, to help when needed.
Rev. Ken Pennell was called in June to the Christian Missionary Alliance Church in Ft. Pierce. We can see that our church has been blessed with several Ministers to help in the Lord’s work at Florida Avenue Baptist Church.
On Sunday, March 5, 1989, we celebrated 60 years as a church. We had a great day with a high attendance goal of 150 in Sunday school, which we exceeded. Rev. Richard Broome from the Florida Baptist Convention, brought the Morning message, challenging us for future growth in our church. Mr. Harry Hill, dressed as a clown, had the children’s church. Everyone enjoyed the bountiful meal that was provided at lunch time. During the afternoon session, Rev. R. L. Polk, a former pastor, brought the message and Matt Collins, a grandson of L.M. Collins, a former pastor, brought the special music. Several former pastors were present including Rev. Herman Collins, Rev. Glenn Collins, Rev. R.L. Polk and Rev. J.M. Gilbreath, these, along with Rev. E. E. Earnest, which had been an Interim pastor, were presented a lapel pin with Florida Avenue Baptist church printed on them. Their wives also received one, these were presented by our pastor, Rev. James Davis. After the day’s gathering, each one was given a helium balloon which was released at the proper time. During the time of Rev. Davis the congregation experienced unity, harmony, and growth.

In 1994 Rev. Larry Sizemore became the pastor. During his ministry the church experienced a tremendous growth. The church purchased a manufactured building from Pratt Whitney and converted it into the Children’s educational building. During his ministry the pastorium was converted into the church office and the pastor study.

In 1997 Rev. Ken Geren served as our interim pastor. The church was blessed under his leadership as he prepared us for a new pastor. In 1998 Chris Rottenberger became the pastor. During his pastorate an extensive remodeling project for the sanctuary, social hall and kitchen area was completed in 2000. In 2001 Rev. Ken Geren served a second time as our interim pastor.

From 2002 – 2005 Rev. Scott Waldron served as our pastor. During his ministry our sound system was updated, as well as a live video feed of the services added to the nursery department. For a short time Rev. Ken Geren returned a third time as our interim pastor.
In 2006 the church called Rev. John D. Girdley as pastor. Under his leadership the church started a children’s ministry, young adult class.

As we look back over the history of our church and see it has accomplished much for our dear Lord and has stood amidst the storms, for the faith that was once delivered to the saint. Sure we are the recipients of the great heritage of our fore fathers and mothers, and should bow our hearts in thanksgiving with the rededicating of our lives to the great challenge that faces our church today.
Those Attended Mortgage Burning
Grace & Spencer Pickett                                                 Melvin & Louise Green                  
Wendell & Martha Williams                                           Rev. Ron & Zana Holley, Cindy , Steven
Faye Woodham                                                                Kim Nelson                                        
Jerry & Betty McKenzie                                                  Matt & Dee Collins, Becki & Christi
Walter & Mary Clerk                                                       Mildred Carpenter
Bob & Carol Knapp                                                         Martha & Chick Farless
Danny, Anna, & James Woodham                                   Mildred Tomlinson
Ray & Nancy Carrier                                                        James L. Stewart
Lee & Clarice Brown                                                        William A. & Donna Cavendish
Stuart & Blanche Hummel                                                Virginia McDaniel
Pastor Ken & Ann Pennell                                                 Vernon & Leona Sanders
Cloyd Bolerjack                                                                 Darryl Sanders
Bill & Marlo Hassler                                                          Erie Lewis
Rev. & Mrs. William c. Wall                                              Irene Silas
Carey, Kent, Kurt & Caryn Wall                                       Sam Downey
Fran, Callie, Kevin, & Kara Howard                                 Rosa Nell Downey
Renae, Racquel & Junior Gunn                                         Ray & Lillian Stevens
Ike & June Slonaker                                                          Sal & Bette Pellicano, Natalie, Michael & Leslie
Jackie, Jonyy & Loretta Wirick                                        Shirley Davis
Paul Bolerjack                                                                   Paul and Gerry Gettinger
Elise Prevatt                                                                      Dr. Mark & Sherrie Griffin
Edna Long                                                                        Gladys Rutledge
Arthur & Carolyn Dryer                                                   Edward & Mabel Fortune
Lousie Griffin                                                                   Wavy Jones
Ranferd & Letha Rewis                                                    Wendy Shuart
Trory, Misty, & Monica Moore                                        Florence Singleton
Madie Landress                                                                 Carolyn Bone
Artie M. Freeman                                                              Thelma Elder
Marjorie Mance                                                                  Bill & Kylene Thompson
Pastoral History
Rev. J.H. McClelland  (First Pastor)                                                    1929 – 1935
Rev. Herman Collins                                                                              1935 – 1936
Rev. C.W. Mann                                                                                     1936 – 1937
Rev. J.H. McClelland  (Former Pastor)                                                 1937 - 1939
Rev. W.D. McInnis                                                                                  1939 – 1940
Rev. J.H. Johnston (two months)                                                             1940
Rev. Vernon Coker                                                                                   1940 - 1941
Rev. Glenn Collins (One Year)                                                                1941
Rev. W.D. McInnis (Former Pastor)                                                       1942
Rev. O.K. Collier  (Building Moved to Present Location)                      1943 - 1947
Rev. L.E. McRae                                                                                       1947 – 1948
Rev. L.M. Collins (New Auditorium, Old Building=S.S.)                       1948 – 1952
Rev. Kenneth Tucker                                                                                 1952 – 1954
Rev. J.M. Gilbreath (Property Purchased)                                               1954 – 1963
Rev. R.L. Polk                                                                                            1963 - 1964
Rev. W.E. Hicks (Interim Pastor)                                                             1964-1965
Rev. Lester E. Miller (Pastorium Built)                                                    1965-1969
Rev. Clay D. Jennings                                                                                1969-1974
Rev. Perry Tomlinson (Interim Pastor)                                                     1974
Rev. Edwin Tharpe  (Radio Ministry & Remodel Sanctuary)                  1974-1984
Rev. E.E. Earnest (Interim Pastor)                                                            1984-1985
Rev. James E. Davis  (Paid Off Debt; Purchased DeSoto Prop.)             1985-1994
Rev. Larry Sizemore  (Children’s Building; Pastorium=Office)              1994-1997
Rev. Ken Geren (Interim Pastor)                                                                1997-1998
Rev. Chris Rottenberger (Sanctuary Remodel)                                           1998-2001
Rev. Ken Geren (Interim Pastor)                                                                 2001-2002
Rev. Scott Waldron                                                                                       2002-2005
Rev. Ken Geren  (Interim Pastor)                                                                2005-2006
Rev. John Girdley                                                                                          2006 – Present

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