THE BEGINNING OF PINEWOODS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
Through the vision of the Fairfield Presbyterian Church, a new work for the Lord was established in the Pine Forest area. Most of the nucleus for the new church were members of the Fairfield Church and resided in the Pine Forest and Cantonment areas. The Lord used Rev. Lee Trinkle as the instrument to set His plan in motion. Lee was the former pastor of the Fairfield Church, awaiting his call to go as a missionary to Taiwan at that time.
Beginning on April 6, 1977, Lee organized a Wednesday night Bible study at the home of Mick and Jane Breault. With the approval of the Fairfield Session, Rev. Ben Konopa, interim pastor at Fairfield, led this Bible study for folks in the Pine Forest – Cantonment area. It began to grow and was blessed by the Lord immediately. Along with Ben Konopa, Charlie Sledge met with the group while waiting for his missionary assignment. He later became the first missionary the fledgling group would support by pledging $1200/year to Mission to the World for his support. Rev. Sledge recommended a classmate of his at Reformed Seminary as a possible candidate for our pulpit. This classmate later became our first pastor, Rev. John B. Findlay.
During this very same month, Rev. Tom Hughes of Mission to the U.S. Committee met with our Bible study and told us how to become organized as a particular church. He recommended that we wait two years to become organized.
However, after intense prayer for the leading of the Holy Spirit, the group decided to pursue organization immediately. On the night of May 25, 1977, after the Bible study, a general meeting was held and a Steering Committee was elected. Rev. Ben Konopa was elected as the moderator. Frank Oaks was elected chairman, Mrs. Shirley Hill was appointed secretary, Charlie Cobb was appointed as the advisor to the committee. Other members of the committee were: Tom Roberson, Buddy Sport, Don Hill, and Mick Breault. Charter members of the new body of believers were: Mick and Jane Breault, Charlie and Elsie Cobb, John and Agnes Hamm, Don, Shirley, and Becky Hill, Frank and Sarah Oaks, Tom and Rilla Roberson, Buddy and Betty Sport, Mrs. Margaret Askins, Lewis Sport, Mercer Sport, Mrs. Faye Scordato, Larry and Sharis Pike, and Peggy Sargent.
The Steering Committee held its first meeting on May 28, 1977. After a season of prayer, the committee decided to advise the Session of Fairfield Church of our intentions to organize and to ask for the blessing and prayers of their mother church. They decided to advise Presbytery of the same intentions. Praise the Lord that we were given the go-ahead to proceed by both groups and were given their blessings.
The Lord began opening doors for us which reassured the group that we had Divine approval. On June 3, 1977, Rev. Donald Graham of the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Panama City, Florida outlined the necessary steps we must follow and gave much encouragement to the group. The young group were continually amazed to see how the Lord worked to bring His plan for the new church into fruition. We found we had all the necessary talents and gifts for all church functions. For example, at one Bible study, the members needed to know what kind of budget we could expect to operate under. Each family signed the amount they would pledge to our church, and we discovered that we had enough to pay a preacher’s salary from the very start. Our charter group was committed to tithing.
Another amazing thing was the way the Lord provided our present building site for us. A piece of property across the street from Meander Lane containing ten acres and a wooden frame house became available. It was an ideal site for our church. After a Bible study, the members independently wrote down what they felt we could offer for the property. Interestingly enough, all bids were within $2,000.00 of each other, so again we felt this was the Lord’s leading. Mick Breault was appointed to negotiate for the property. We made the offer which was below the asking price for a choice piece of property. The realtor felt it would not be accepted for there was another party interested in the property as well. The offer was accepted. How we praised the Lord! God even worked out the financial arrangements for the purchase which was nothing short of a miracle itself since we had no collateral. So our present site on Highway 297-A was acquire in November 1977.
In the meantime, on June 15, 1977, the group petitioned the MUS committee of Gulf Coast Presbytery to become a P.C.A. church in the Pine Forest area. August 7, 1977, was selected for starting the first worship service for the body of believers. The new church to be was named on June 22, 1977. Out of seventeen names submitted, the congregation voted to name our church Pinewoods Presbyterian Church. Don Hill was appointed to secure worship facilities. After an overture to the principal of Tate High School and to the school board, the group was given permission to meet in the Tate High School choral room—rent free! Our first address was: Pinewoods Presbyterian Church, P.O. Box 608, Gonzalez, Florida 32560.
Rev. Ben Konopa was appointed as adviser to the new group by Presbytery. The first worship service of the proposed Pinewoods Church was held in the Tate High School choral room on August 7, 1977. It was conducted by Rev. Konopa and his text was Revelations 3:7-13. The early group was nomads as we carted in hymn books, play pens, nursery supplies for each Sunday and then we carted them out again!
The Lord was faithful in supplying fine supply pastors for each morning and evening service. Some of the men who filled our pulpit during this time were: Rev. Herbert Woerner, Rev. Ed Gray, Rev. Tony Cooper—all from the Waterfront Rescue Mission and Rev. Harold Matolka of Overseas Christian Servicemen’s Center. McIlwain Presbyterian Church supplied us with Rev. George Brengle and Dr. Will McIlwain. Later on, RTS Seminary student, John Findlay, supplied our pulpit twice monthly. How grateful we were for the ministry of all these dedicated servants of the Lord.
In September 1977, after Bible studies on the Biblical qualifications for elders and deacons from I Timothy 3 and Titus 1, the following men were elected as elders for the proposed church: Frank Oaks, Tom Roberson, and Buddy Sport—all three had served as officers in the Fairfield Church. The Session met for their first meeting on November 7, 1977. Elder Frank Oaks was elected Acting Moderator. Elder John Sport was elected Treasurer and Elder Tom Roberson, Clerk.
On October 8, 1977, at the 15th stated Gulf Coast Presbytery meeting which was held at the Wildwood Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee, Florida, the petition for the official organization of Pinewoods Church was presented. The Presbytery appointed a commission to organize the church and examine and ordain the elders. The organizational service was held on October 30, 1977. This is officially the birthday of our church. Rev. Warren West of Fairfield Church conducted the worship service. Presbytery’s organizational committee was composed of the following men who conducted different parts of the service: Rev. Bill Davies, and Ruling Elders, Al LaFleur, Raymond Fell, and Al Tripp.
Catastrophe was averted at the fellowship following this service because of a wise decision made at the planning meeting. Colored punch was ruled out because children might spill it and stain the carpet in the choral room. Plain lemonade was the beverage chosen. How glad we were that we had decided in favor of lemonade when the glass punch bowl broke spilling its contents all over the floor. A thorough mopping and drying restored the carpet to its original state and maintained Pinewoods’ good name!
Our first Women in the Church group was organized on November 12, 1977. While Mrs. Jane Breault was being examined by the Session for Church membership, the women were electing her as first president of the group. Other officers were: Vice-President-Mrs. Rilla Roberson, and Recording Secretary-Treasurer-Mrs. Agnes Hamm. It was decided by the group to meet monthly in the member’s homes. The first book selected to study was Knowing God by J. I. Packer. Additional officers were elected at the February 13, 1978 meeting. These were MTW Chairman, Mrs. Sharis Pike, MUS Chairman Mrs. Sue Ann Oaks, Hospitality Chairman, Mrs. Betty Sport, and Mrs. Faye Scordato, Christian Growth Chairman, Mrs. Elsie Cobb, and Historian, Mrs. Sarah Oaks.
From the very start, Missions was a top priority for the new church. The first missionary we supported was Rev. Charles Sledge who was to serve at Christ’s College in Taiwan. We began supporting him in 1977. Then we held our first Mission’s Conference in conjunction with Fairfield Presbyterian Church on April 19-23, 1978. The kickoff dinner was held on April 19 at Fairfield, and they shared their speakers with us. Our speakers were: Steve and Marilyn Thrasher, planning to go with TEAM to Pakistan. This did not work out, so they transferred to Wycliffe Bible Translators and went to Korea instead. Jose de Jesus, National Pastor in Puerto Rico, Jim and Nan Thrasher, Wycliffe missionaries to Papua New Guinea and Vange Blood, Wycliffe missionary to the Philippines. We pledged $5,000.00 to go to home and foreign missions through the Faith-Promise method of giving. God was faithful and supplied enough for us to reach this goal. Missionaries supported this year were: Rev. Charles Sledge, Taiwan, $1200/year; Mr. and Mrs. Jim Thrasher, Papua New Guina, $240/year; Rev. and Mrs. Lee Trinkle, Taiwan, $600/year; Mr. and Mrs. Joe Creech, Mexico, $360/year; Rev. and Mrs. Tim McKeown, Ecuador, $120/year.
Waterfront Mission, a local ministry, had always been close to the hearts of our church membership, so on December 30, 1978, we began a monthly worship service there to be conducted by various members of the church. Our WIC would supply the refreshments. Our church has been commended by the Missions for joining in the fellowship with the guests at the Mission. The Mission was also supported at a rate of $120/year.
“We will be having a gumbo supper at the home of Mr. & Mrs. Frank Oaks September 5, at 6:00 P.M.” was a bulletin announcement for our first Pinewoods’ fellowship. Fellowship around the table has been a high priority item at Pinewoods since its inception, for we have some excellent cooks!
Another high priority was the weekly Bible study. By September 28, 1977, we had outgrown Mick and Jane Breault’s den and were divided into three weekly studies at the homes of different members of the group. The Bible teachers and meeting places were: Larry Pike at his home, Buddy Sport at his home, and Tom Roberson at the home of Mrs. Agnes Hamm. It was felt that we needed to get all groups together once a month at different homes for a combined prayer meeting.
The Lord added to our number slowly, these new members, during the latter part of 1977 and 1978: Mr. and Mrs. Mike Richard, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Oaks, Mr. and Mrs. Coman Rothrock, Mr. and Mrs. Bill Hurston, Mr. and Mrs. Larry Pike, Mrs. Belle Gibson, Mr. and Mrs. Larry Beckman, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Yasenchak, Valerie Scordato. Our first infant baptism was of Katie Breault on November 13, 1977. Rev. Ben Konopa conducted this service. All of these added to the vitality of the new church.
By the summer of 1978, we felt confident enough to attempt our first Vacation Bible School under the directorship of Mrs. Sarah Oaks. It was held on July 31-August 4, 1978. The Breault’s new barn loft seemed the best gathering place. An average of 40 children participated in this, and a fellowship was held at Monsanto Park complete with watermelon and games on Saturday afternoon, after Bible School was over.
Early on, the group felt the need to call an organizing pastor to help us in outreach and growth. In September 1977, a Pulpit Committee was elected by the congregation, and they began their search for the Lord’s man for our pulpit. The members of this committee were: Mick Breault, Mrs. Sarah Oaks, Larry Pike, Tom Roberson, and Buddy Sport. The congregation had fallen in love with their pulpit supply pastor, John Findlay, from Reformed Theological Seminary. His wife, Janice, and their two daughters, Jan and Jennifer, were definite assets also. The Pulpit Committee examined only one other candidate besides John, and issued a call to John Findlay. Would this dedicated servant of God consider our fledgling congregation to start his ministry? He would and did. He gave his first trial sermon, taken from Ephesians 3:17-22, on December 4, 1977, after his examination by the Pulpit Committee on December 3, 1977, at the home of Buddy and Betty Sport. John agreed to serve as our intern supply pastor until his graduation from RTS.
On December 11, 1977, our church was invited to celebrate the Christmas season with Fairfield Presbyterian Church by attending their Christmas Cantata. How can we forget our worship service on Christmas Day, 1977. Our regular pianist was away visiting family over the holidays. It seemed we would have no one to play for our service. Then 9 year old Lisa Sport stepped forward and played for us. A service we will all remember.
With these two happenings we can see an exciting principle in the Christian life: we need not be perfect to be used of God—we need to be available.
The Elders agreed to examine one family per Sunday until all charter members were enrolled. The first family to be accepted to membership was Mr. and Mrs. Mick Breault, who at the same time presented their infant daughter, Kathryn Diane, for infant baptism on November 13, 1977. The following families have been accepted as members in this order: Don and Shirley Hill and daughter Becky; Mrs. Agnes Hamm, son John Hamm, and mother, Mrs. Margaret Askins; Charles and Elsie Cobb; Mrs. Betty Sport, and sons Mercer and Lewis; Mrs. Rilla Roberson and daughter Peggy; Mrs. Sarah Oaks, and Mrs. Faye Scordato.
On June 11, 1978, Rev. John B. Findlay was ordained and installed by a commission from Gulf Coast Presbytery, as the first pastor of Pinewoods Presbyterian Church. This service and the reception following were held at Fairfield Presbyterian Church. Our newly organized W.I.C. introduced our pastor’s wife to the Presbyterian women of the area at a tea held on July 27, 1978, at Mrs. Jane Breault’s home. The Lord has blessed us by John’s teaching sermons and evangelistic outreach in a continuous ministry for the past ten years.
As the congregation grew, the need for a sanctuary of our own became increasingly apparent. With the help of an interest-free loan from the P.C.A. “Five in Five” program, we broke ground for our first sanctuary on May 30, 1979. The text for this service was from Psalm 127:1. “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” The Lord was faithful, and we dedicated this first building on September 23, 1979. It is now our Fellowship Hall.
If our early church history teaches us anything, it is that God’s purposes will be carried out. He can work through what seems like impossibilities when His people step out in faith and let Him. And this becomes a building of greater faith in His people.