HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
Community Congregational Church
History of Community Congregational Church (1973)
By MRS. FLOYD H. ANDRUS
This history of Community Congregational Church is being written for several reasons. I was anxious to find out and record as much as possible about the first 20 years (1921-1941) of the church. Here Mrs. Herbert F. Waters was of great help with her scrap books and her personal memories of the early years.
For the next 22 years I was the Minister's wife (1941-1963) and I still have my scrap books and records along with very vivid memories of those years. I have often thought of writing some of my memories of the church growth during that period. The group who are interested in recording the early history of New Port Richey sent out questionnaires and that triggered my decision to do a little writing,
I have not covered the period since 1963 very thoroughly but have mentioned the significant changes under the two pastors who have served since then.
Mrs. Floyd H. Andrus (Nellie B.)
The appearance of churches in New Port Richey was a natural outcome as soon as enough people had moved here to form a nucleus of religiously inclined people. New Port Richey was founded and laid out by George R. Sims. Among the people who settled here were many from New England and other Northern States.
By 1914 there was a gathering of people in what is now Sims Park for the purpose of holding religious services. Apparently many denominations were represented. The Methodist Church was the first one to become fully organized, in 1916. This was followed by the Community Congregational Church in 1921 and by the Baptist Church in the same year. The Episcopal Church was organized in 1926 and the Catholic Church in 1919.
The Community Congregational Church was started by a small group meeting in Snell Hall, located at the southwest corner of Adams and Main St. Snell Hall was the largest hall in town and was used by many organizations. Rev. Milton H. Babcock was the organizing pastor. The first service was held June 14, 1921. During the following summer a church building was started on two lots facing Orange Lake on the circle. Those lots were donated by George R. Sims. Before the building was finished it was badly damaged by a hurricane in the fall of 1921. The fledgling congregation needed help in finishing the building. They applied for help from the Denomination. They were given an outright grant and also a loan which was eventually repaid in full. The building was completed and services were held there continually until the present church was built. Many additions and improvements were made through the years.
Rev. Babcock resigned in April 1922 to be succeeded by Rev. Charles Drake who served from April 1922 to Feb. 1923. Rev. Ray Busler served from Feb. 1923 to October 1923, followed by Rev. Oscar Denney, October 1923 to November 1929. Rev. Ralph Krout was pastor from November 1929 to April 1932, followed by Rev. Frank J. Brown May 1932 to April 1935. The following year the church was in a rather low state financially. Mr. Charles De Boer served as lay minister from April 1935 to April 1936. Mr. De Boer continued to serve the church for many years, as Deacon, Trustee, Teacher and Choir member. He and his wife gave the chimes to the church. They were the trademark of the church as long as the church was in use. The cupola was added to house the loud speaker.
The next pastor was a young ministerial student named Eben T. Chapman who served the church for the summer months from April to Sept. 1936. Rev. James Parker assumed the pastorate and served until April 1941. It was during his pastorate that the Doric porch was added. Rev. Donald Douds, a young man who had just finished his ministerial training, served the church for three months in the summer until Rev. Floyd H, Andrus assumed the pastorate in October 1941 and served for 22 years, retiring in July 1963. Dr. David Shepherd served as pastor from Oct. 1963 until June 1970. During his seven years' ministry the church increased greatly in membership and in improved organization. The old church building was demolished and a beautiful new sanctuary was built in its place which was similar in architecture to the Fellowship Hall which had been erected during the pastorate of Rev. Andrus. In June 1970 Pastor Stephen Diller arrived to take over leadership of the church and is providing fine leadership in Christian living.
Looking back over the group of pastors who have led this church one must believe they were a very dedicated and hard-working group. In the early days there were times of discouragement and strained finances. There was always a group of loyal members to help over the rough spots.
During the early years of the church we have rather meager information. We know that the church had a difficult time paying the ministers even the low salaries of $600.00 to $800.00 per year. Nevertheless the membership seems to have been a devoted and energetic lot. Some of the names of the members who organized the church as charter members were: Deacons, E. W. Kaley and C. F. Burns; Trustees, H. Marston, L. Wanner, A. G. Stratton; Treasurer, H. W. Richardson; Clerk, Mrs. Ona Woods; Sunday School Superintendent, C. F. Burns; Organist, Mrs. J. H. Moran; Building Committee, C. F. Burns, J. H. Moran and Mead Wood. Of the charter members Archie Stratton was the last member to survive. He died about 1940, having served the church as trustee for more than 20 years.
The records show that between 1923 and 1929 Easter and Christmas Cantatas were given, Mrs. Denney and the young ladies of Mr. Denny's class made the costumes. Monthly class socials were held at the Denny home on the river. (Now the Kissner home.) Mrs. Elsie Coburn and Mrs. Winnie Waters assisted Mrs. Denny in the formation of a Junior Society which met once a week. There was a Kitchen Band and a Children's Circus Street Parade.
Other names of people active in the early years were Karl Olson, G. M. DeVries, H. H. Dartnell, E. Boone. In 1922 Mr. and Mrs. William Dustin arrived from Worcester, Mass. and purchased an orange grove on Congress St. just east of Missouri and Montana Ave. (A Nursing Home has been erected on this property.) Soon, in 1923, they were followed by their daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Herbert F. Waters and their 5 year old son Wendell. Another daughter and husband, Mr. and Mrs. Albert Coburn soon followed. This family proved to be a great addition to the church. Mr. Waters became clerk Jan, 1, 1925 and a trustee June 4, 1928. He remained a trustee until appointed clerk again Jan. 1, 1931 and remained in office until Jan. 1, 1958, having served 28 years. He had a beautiful trained bass voice which added greatly to the musical activities. His wife was an accomplished violinist and gave her services freely to the work of the church. Mrs. Waters also served as assistant clerk during the last years of her husband's service as clerk. Her sister, Mrs. Elsie Coburn was a fine pianist and son Wendell developed into an excellent musician, playing numerous instruments but cello principally.
Mrs. Charles Hunter was one of the devoted workers in the church for many years. She and her husband and three children moved from Bergensfield, N. J. in 1928. She was a tireless worker in the Ladies Aid Society, was active in the Sunday School, serving as Superintendent for many years. She also sang soprano in the choir until poor health prevented her participation, about 1960.
Mrs. Cora Downing was another faithful worker in the church. She served as treasurer for several years. Her lovely home on the river was available for social events. Mr. Carl Soderberg was another of the old-timers, moving to New Port Richey in 1928. He had been a minister in the Swedish Lutheran Church and took an active part in all phases of church life. He served as deacon for many years and then was made Honorary deacon. His wife and son and daughter also took an active part in the church life.
Mr. George Mooi, a native of Holland, Mich. bought a home in a part of the town which came to be called "Little Holland" because so many of the residents came from Holland, Mich. They were members of the Reformed Church but since there was no church of that denomination in the vicinity, many came to Community Congregational Church. Mr. Mooi served as a trustee, teacher of the Adult Sunday School Class during the winter season, and was interested in all phases of church work.
Another of the Hollanders was Rev. George Schilling. He served as Assistant Pastor during part of Rev. Andrus' pastorate and did much of the calling on the members and attendants of the church. He also taught the adult class for many years.
There were many more of these former Holland residents who attended the church regularly and contributed in many ways to the welfare and growth of the church. A number of them eventually brought their membership here.
The original church building was a rectangular concrete block structure. Inside there were two rows of pillars which helped to support the roof. There were rows of clerestory windows at each side which helped to provide light but were exceedingly difficult to clean. There were multi-paned windows on three sides of the sanctuary. There was a raised section at one end where the pulpit was placed. There was also room for the choir and a piano. There was a railing across the front which held a curtain. At first there were wooden benches for pews. In 1928 Herbert and Frank Waters made 40 pews of Magnolia wood for $15.00 each. These pews were used continuously until the church was replaced by a new building in 1966.
Behind the sanctuary was a smaller room which was used for Sunday School and social events. Eventually a kitchen was added at the rear. The size of the Sunday School Room was doubled the first year of Rev. Andrus' pastorate. All the work was done by the members and friends of the church. It made it possible to serve more people at the Fellowship dinners. But even with the addition many times there had to be second sittings. Meanwhile those who had to wait were entertained by musical groups. Through the years many improvements were made to make the building more attractive, outside and in. During the pastorate of Rev. Parker the Greek-style portico was built. There were seats at both sides of the portico. Another improvement to the exterior was the cupola which housed the amplifiers for the chimes which were played from special recordings. The roof of the church was made of metal and developed leaks frequently. The trustees had a yearly chore of trying to locate and remedy these leaks. During the rainy season a few leaks would develop which required remedial action.
During the pastorate of Rev. Andrus the need for more parking developed so the church bought the six lots immediately behind the church bounded by Penn., Adams and Indiana Avenues. This piece of land has been hard-surfaced and has supplied ample parking for the church.
In recent years the property and houses on both sides of the church have been purchased. The property on the south side was purchased as a parsonage and was so used by Pastor Diller for the first two years until he purchased a home in the Gardens of Beacon Square where his family now reside. The parsonage is rented.
The small house at the rear of the parsonage is used by the youth and children's department of the Sunday School. The house on the north side of the church was in such a poor state of repair that it was torn down and the lot cleared.
To return to an earlier period of the church, during the pastorate of Rev. Parker a house on Delaware Ave. was purchased from Frank Waters for $900.00. It was built by Mr. Waters and was well-built, surely a wonderful bargain. This house was first used for the three months of Rev. Douds' tenure. The house was then thoroughly cleaned by Mrs. Elizabeth Stubblebine, Mrs. Waters and Mrs. Hunter in preparation for Rev. Andrus and his wife and in October 1941 they moved in. The parsonage was partially furnished, and additional furniture was purchased after the Andrus' arrival. It was a comfortable home for them for six years. The church soon bought the adjoining lot for $50.00. (New Port Richey was in a bad financial condition and had difficulty collecting taxes due to the boom and bust economy. Many lots were sold simply by paying the back taxes.)
The parsonage property was virtually surrounded by deep jungle growth. There were many tall live-oak trees surrounding the house. In fact it was so shady and damp it was difficult to keep the inside walls free of mildew during the rainy summer months. Eventually a number of trees were cut so that the sun could reach the roof and breezes could help dry out the house.
After six years Rev. Andrus bought 5 acres on Massachusetts Ave. and built a home. The parsonage was rented for several years but the trustees had trouble collecting rent from the tenants so they sold the property.
From the earliest days of the church the women played an important role in the development of the church. In the early days there were two women's organizations, the Ladies' Aid and the Missionary Society. During the first year of Rev. Andrus' pastorate the two groups merged and formed one called the Women's Society. The work of the two groups were unified.
The president of the Women's Society starting with 1941 were: Mrs. C. R. Hamlin, wife of a retired minister. She served faithfully for two years as did most of the Presidents. She was succeeded by Mrs. Lenna Teeslink, Mrs. E. W. Ost, Mrs. Lillian Myer, Mrs. A. L. Moe, Mrs. John Slagh, who could not serve out her term because of illness. Mrs. Eleanor Ely, vice-president finished out her term. Next came Mrs. Gilbert Funk, Mrs. Clarence Herrand, Mrs. Ela Arnold, Mrs. Charles DeBoer, Mrs. Roberta Ragland, Mrs. Mae Borck. This brings up to 1963 and covers the pastorate of Rev. Andrus.
About this time the name was changed to Women's Fellowship. Mrs. Finn Huseby then served as president for a three year period, followed by Mrs. James Norman who also served three years. Next, Mrs. Stephen Diller served for a year and then Mrs. Leland Poole was elected and is now serving her second year as president.
During the pastorate of Rev. Andrus the Women sponsored a home-coming dinner in the fall and a Fellowship dinner in the spring before the winter visitors left for the North. More and more of the attendants stayed longer periods in Florida and less at their Northern homes. As this trend developed more of the people joined the church in New Port Richey.
The Women's Society was active in helping to improve the physical needs of the church. They bought new dishes sufficient to feed 200 people. They also bought a hot water heater and a new cook-stove. They also bought new pulpit furniture and made velvet curtains for the choir loft and covers for the communion table and pulpit. The women helped in many ways in keeping the church building in good condition.
When the Fellowship Hall was built, the women, under the president Mrs. Omar Borck, completely furnished the lovely new kitchen. They cooperated with the Building Committee in planning the whole building. The chairman of the Building Committee was Mr. Carl Kissner. He gave tirelessly of his time and talents. This building was built during the last two years of Rev. Andrus' pastorate.
During the early years of the church a piano was used for worship services. The church was fortunate in having members who could play the piano and also many good singers who gave freely of their talents. Mrs. Herbert Waters was a fine violinist and she played regularly for many years for Sunday Services and also for social events and dinners.
There was a volunteer choir that served faithfully. Among the musicians who contributed their services were Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Waters, Mr. and Mrs. Charles DeBoer, Mrs. Floyd Andrus, Mrs. H. J. Feagin and Mr. Fred Melmoth, who was an English-trained organist, and Mrs. Kay Kolean, who was playing when Rev. Andrus retired in 1963. She continued to play for several more years during Dr. Shepherd's pastorate. She was succeeded by Dr. Halsey Carstens and then by our present organist, Judith Koutsos.
In 1952 a movement was started to raise money to buy an organ, Mr. W. C. Davis, a local business man, offered to give $1,000 if the church could raise a like amount. The money was raised and a Connsonata was purchased and installed. The first organist was Hr. Douglas Taylor, a teacher in Gulf High School. He played for two years and was instrumental in getting four students to sing in the choir. There were many others, too numerous to mention, who gave freely of their time and talents to provide good music for the church. Many cantatas were given at Christmas and Easter. The choir has always had a very good spirit of loyalty and faithfulness and willingness to help in the work of the church.
During the 40's several cantatas were given under the direction of Mr. Ben Whittam. A chorus of approximately forty from several churches in town, presented "Immorality" by Stults for Easter 1949 and "Immortal Life" by Heyser in 1950.
In the early years of his ministry Rev. Andrus gave book reviews of worth-while books. A few which he gave were "Prayer" by Buttrick, "Song of Bernadette" by Franz Werfel, "Paul Revere and the World he Lived in" by Ester Forbes, "Van Loon's Lives" by Van Loon, "The Mediterranean - Saga of a Sea" by Emil Ludwig, "We Took To the Woods" by Louise D. Rich, "Abundant Living" by E. Stanley Jones, "The Robe" by Lloyd Douglas, "Burma Surgeon" by Gordon Seagrave, and "George Washington Carver - an American Biography" by Rachman Holt. These books were given to the Avery Public Library, New Port Richey's first public library. He served on the Library Board for several years.
During the years of the Second World War Rev. Andrus assisted in the office of Civilian Defense. His duties were to help with the rationing of food and gasoline. He had an office in the old City Hall, just east of Potters store on Main St.
Rev. Andrus started his ministry in Oct. 1941. At first the congregations were small but soon the winter crowd began to arrive and the congregation grew in numbers. It was not long before the little church was well-filled for Sunday Services. His sermons seemed to meet the needs of the people he was talking to and they came in increasing numbers. During the months from Christmas to Easter the church was filled to over flowing. Chairs were brought in for the overflow and many sat in the Sunday School room and listened though loud speakers.
Each year during the peak of the season Rev. Andrus preached a series of six to eight sermons on the same general subjects. These sermons proved so popular that there were requests for printed copies. This presented a problem since Rev. Andrus preached from an outline. However, the problem was solved by the gift of a tape recorder by a member. The sermons were then transcribed by volunteer typists and mimeographed copies were made available. This required the help of a dedicated group of members.
Three of these series are still in existence (perhaps more). They are for the years 1955, 1956 and 1957. The 1955 Series was called "Promises We Live By". There are eight sermons in this series. The 1956 series was called "Prescriptions by the Great Physician", also eight sermons. The 1957 series was "Exploring the Possibilities of Prayer". Many people reported receiving inspiration and help from these sermons. The other series of sermons have not been preserved although he continued the practice as long as he served the church (1963) and they continued to attract crowds,
When Rev. Andrus first came to New Port Richey in 1941 the church was not able to offer a very high salary even with the help of the denomination. The Church Extension Board offered to help to the extent of $200.00 per year toward the pastor's salary. It was however agreed between the pastor and the officials of the church that he could augment his income in any way he wished. Since the Second World War started soon after he started his pastorate, he decided to raise chickens to help in the war effort to provide food.
At first he started by building a chicken house on parsonage property. Since jungle growth came very close to the house he had to start by clearing the jungle growth, which was no mean task involving removing palmettos which cling to the earth with dozens of tough roots. There were also vines intertwined between trees and under growth. Looking at Delaware Ave. now one cannot believe that much of the land beyond Jefferson St. was unpenetrable jungle, not yet even laid out in streets.
In 1946, the war being over, Rev. Andrus and his wife decided that raising chickens in the city limits would perhaps be frowned upon and finally forbidden, so they purchased 5 acres of land fronting on Massachusetts Ave. near Congress St. from Dean Anderson. This land had been partially cleared but had grown up in a second growth and was in a pretty wild condition. Working alone and with a neighbor who also was building a house next door, the two men bought a machine for making concrete blocks, one at a time. Together they made enough blocks to build their respective homes. Then the actual work of building the houses started. It was slow going for it was work Rev. Andrus had never done before. However, the neighbor, Mr. S. L. Van Buren was a retired farmer and was expert in many of the construction problems. Rev. Andrus bought books on carpentry, masonry and all phases of the building process. Eventually the house was ready for occupancy and the Andrus couple moved in. It was not complete. but eventually another room was added and they continued to live there from 1947 until Rev. Andrus died in 1965.
Meanwhile the chicken houses were constructed and the chickens were moved to their new home. Rev. Andrus continued in the chicken and egg business until he retired in 1963. He had from 400 to 700 chickens at one time. He raised them for eggs, chiefly, and sold them for meat, wholesale, at the end of their first laying season.
The next project was wood-working. He had accumulated a complete power workshop during the building operations. He began to turn his attention to finer wood-working such as inlay jewel boxes, turned bowls of rare woods, lazy-susans, jig-sawed corner shelves, silhouettes, mottoes, serving trays and inlay pictures. The last name items were the most unusual and brought him local recognition when they were displayed at hobby shows and art exhibits. He sold most of his work at his workshop as people stopped by to see him at his work.
During this whole period he never neglected his work as a minister. He devoted many hours each week to the preparation of his sermons and was called on frequently to talk before local clubs, organizations and schools. He was always available for pastoral counselling or visiting the sick. He missed only one stated service when he was scheduled to preach in the 22 years of his ministry. He never mentioned from the pulpit his outside interests. Many who heard him preach regularly were surprised when they heard of these outside activities.
Once someone questioned his spending time on chickens and wood-work. He replied "Paul was a tent-maker and Jesus was a carpenter".
Toward the end of his long pastorate he developed yet another skill. He was not in the best of health and became quite lame so that it bothered him to stand for long periods of time so he took up oil painting so he could remain seated as he worked. He bought many books on the subject of painting and started out to teach himself with the aid of his reading. He soon realized the need of individual instruction so he registered for classes held at the Gulf Coast Art Center and attended for two terms. His teacher was William Grant Sherry whose critical help was just what he needed. He found painting very fascinating and produced dozens of pictures for which he made his own distinctive frames. He exhibited at a number of local art shows and won a Third place in competition at the Belleaire Art Center. He also took an Honorable Mention with one of his pictures two years after his death in 1965.
During his vacation he went to New York City and studied at the Art Student's League. He also visited many of the Art Galleries there. He also collected a very fine Library of Art which was sold to the Richey Public Library after his death. After his retirement in 1963 he continued to spend many hours painting and reading on Art.
Perhaps since this is primarily a history of Community Congregational Church a little more should be said about the development of the church during the long pastorate of Rev. Andrus. The Church had about 65 members when he assumed the pastorate. They were a loyal and devoted group but many felt the church was on shaky foundations, financially, and wondered whether they could raise enough to pay even the small salary he received.
Rev. Andrus never emphasized or favored money raising projects. However, the congregations grew larger steadily and as the amount of the contributions increased the church gradually paid off its loan to the denomination, gained complete independence from missionary help, increased its missionary giving, and raised the pastor's salary. These things did not happen quickly but they did come as the church became known as a friendly church where they could hear a sermon which helped them to meet the problems that beset them.
During the last couple of years of his ministry the need was felt by many for some major changes in the building. The Women's Fellowship spearheaded the drive for a Congregational Hall for the use of the various organizations of the church. The church treasury had accumulated a fund set aside for church improvement. A committee was formed to investigate new churches in the vicinity. Mr. Carlton Kissner headed the Building Committee and personally supervised the planning and construction of the Fellowship Hall. The Women's Fellowship, under the leadership of Mrs. Omar Borck, president, sparked the decoration and equipment of the building including the well-equipped kitchen. The Hall was dedicated, free of debt early in 1963.
Fellowship Hall was a real contribution not only to the church for its various dinners, social gatherings and for the Sunday School, but was also used by many local organizations not connected to the church. It fulfilled a real need in the community.
The church did increase in membership, but there were many who came regularly who, for one reason or another, did not join the church. For the three months when the northern visitors were most numerous the congregations were consistently larger than the membership of the church. The congregation numbered two hundred to two hundred and fifty from January to April. This condition changed as more people bought homes in New Port Richey and its vicinity, and stayed for longer periods. They then joined the church.
This historical account ends with the retirement of Rev. Andrus in July 1963. He felt very strongly that a minister who had resigned should get out and leave the field to the next man who was called to serve the church so that he could work out his plans without the predecessor always looking over his shoulder.
Dr. David Shepherd succeeded him for a very successful 7 year pastorate, during which the old church was demolished and the beautiful new sanctuary was built. During the time of the building of the new church all services were held in Fellowship Hall. During Dr. Shepherd's pastorate the church continued to grow in membership and in usefulness. After he resigned Stephen Diller accepted the call to become pastor. He now is in the third year of his pastorate and under his dedicated leadership the church continues to grow in numbers and in the spirit of love and concern for others.