Winter Haven Christian Church
The first worship service of the newly formed congregation was held on Sunday, October 29, 1967, at the Recreation Hall of Board’s Mobile Home Park. Brother Ron Wilson of the Haines City New Testament Church brought the morning message to the approximately 70 people in attendance with a morning offering of $520.97. Sunday school was held for the young people, followed by a business meeting to select temporary officers.
Those elected included the following:
Raymond Epperson, Chairman
Grace Ellen Garlinger, Secretary
Fred Creal, Legal Committee
Dick Hostler, Bible School and Youth Committee
Ray Johns, Temporary Location Committee
Dick and Maxine Board, Welcome Committee
Raymond Epperson, Jr., Set-Up Committee
After two Sundays at Board’s Mobile Home Park, the Location Committee recommended renting the Woman’s Club building on Pope Avenue for $125 a month. Beginning November 12, 1967, services were held there at 8:30 a.m., followed by Sunday School at 9:45 a.m., evening services for youth groups at 6:00 p.m., and evening worship at 7:00 p.m. The congregation selected the name “Winter Haven Christian Church”, which was suggested by Terry Hostler.
The Sunday School teachers included:
Fay Morgan – 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades
Phyllis Hostler – 4th, 5th, and 6th grades
Kay Johns – 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th grades
Grace Ellen Garlinger – 11th and 12th grades and college age
Youth evening groups were sponsored by Dick and Maxine Board, Phyllis and Dick Hostler, and Joyce and Ernie Brown.
On November 14, 1967, the Women’s Faithful Circle was started as a daytime circle at the home of Barbara Creal Delaney. Ten ladies attended, with Emma Board acting as Chairwoman. At a congregational meeting November 26, 1967, the members voted to call Charles R. Wingo as a part-time minister, at a salary of $75 per week. The group also voted to revise the church service times to 9:30 a.m. and Sunday School to 10:30 a.m. The charter member roll was closed Sunday, December 10, 1967, with 94 members reaffirming their faith in Jesus Christ. That same day, John McClintock became the first to come to Christ in the new congregation. His baptism took place at the Ray Johns residence on Lake Howard with 33 members in attendance. Of the 94 charter members, the following 9 are still serving the Lord in this place: Debbie Board Ambrose, Kenneth Board, Joyce Brown, Florence Epperson, Steve Epperson, Kay Johns, Lana Johns, Raymond Johns, and Cynthia Johns Reynolds.
The first Winter Haven Christian Church (WHCC) board members were elected on January 7, 1968, and included the following:
Robert Garlinger, Treasurer
Fred Creal, Assistant Chair
Raymond Epperson, Sr., Chairman
Robert and Grace Ellen Garlinger
Fred Creal, Ray Johns, and Robert Miller
Fred Creal reported that the State of Florida had accepted the church’s charter and that Articles of Incorporation were being filed with the State at the January 7 meeting. After much searching for property, the Location Committee approved a triangular block bounded by Lake Martha Drive, Avenue C NE, and 6th Street, for $28,000. On June 15, 1969, the congregation approved purchase of the property, and on August 1, 1969, the transaction was completed.
At the church board meeting in June 1969, the Building Committee was selected: Dick Hostler was chairman, aided by Wayne Finley, Charles Deming, Ray Johns, and Charles Bentley. The Finance Committee was chaired by Robert Garlinger and he was assisted by Charles Hale and Francis Vandever. The Furnishings and Grounds Committee was chaired by Dale Board, who was assisted by Robert Miller, Dale Jones, Ernie Brown, and Charles Morgan. Fred Creal served as secretary to all committees. Charles Deming was selected as the building contractor on a cost-plus basis. Most of the “plus” was returned to the church. Plans costing $400 were obtained from the architect of a new Presbyterian church in Valdosta, Georgia, and altered by Birch Brooks at the request of the Building Committee to meet the needs of the local congregation. Birch Brooks and Charles Deming worked out an estimate for the building of $85,000, which the board approved in January 1970.
The Finance Committee then worked out a First Revenue Bond issue bearing 7% interest in $250, $500, and $1,000 denominations. Home meetings were held to explain the plan and a special gift service was held on Sunday, February 22, 1970. The entire bond issue was sold out in two weeks.
Dick and Dale Board provided the equipment and led a group from the church in cleaning off the property. On March 15, 1970, a ground-breaking ceremony was held.
The original building seated 230 people, had 10 classrooms, restrooms, an office and a storage room. Construction started in May 1970 and the first service in the new building was held Easter Sunday, April 11, 1971. Charles Wingo resigned as minister in August 1971, and Ronald Fox became the church’s new pastor.
In early 1976, the WHCC board decided more space was needed for Sunday School, as well as a fellowship hall. Bruce Bowers was hired as the architect with congregational approval, and S&S Construction began the work in May 1977. The additions were completed in December 1977 at an approximate cost of $45,000. A $30,000 Bond Issue was sold to finance the new construction.
In mid 1980, Ron Fox resigned and Mel Gresham came to minister in late 1980. Mel left for a pastorate in Bayonet Point, Florida, in October 1984, and Earl Wood came to the congregation in June 1985.
During Earl’s ministry, the congregation decided new building expansions were needed again. Bonds were authorized up to the amount of $175,000 and issued on December 20, 1987. This new construction added to the east wing restrooms, two nursery rooms, 20 feet to the west wing of the fellowship hall, expanded the sanctuary to seat 300, and provided a store room, library, and three administrative offices.
Earl Wood resigned in June 1988 for health reasons. James “Preacher Jim” Reed, D.V., and his wife Sharon came to minister on September 1, 1988, two weeks before the congregation was able to occupy the remodeled sanctuary. Preacher Jim continues serving today as the Minister of WHCC, and is supported by Jim Strunk, Youth Minister.