A HISTORY OF TEMPLE BAPTIST CHURCH
Under the ministry of Pastor Dennis E. Wheeler
August 1, 1971--January 31, 1995
In June of 1971, Rev. Robert Hodges of Winter Haven and Rev. Johnny King of Lakeland called me and asked if I would go with them to visit a church in Sarasota. Its Pastor, Rev. Bob Allgood had resigned.
At that time I was the Principal of Temple Heights Christian School in Tampa. I was making plans to start a church in New Port Richey. They asked if I would prayerfully consider becoming the Pastor of the church in Sarasota.
I visited the church and discussed the situation with them along with Brother Allgood. The church was heavily in debt. It had a Christian School, 4.5 acres of property on Wilkinson road, two buildings and a parsonage. Kitty and I prayerfully considered this and decided this was what the Lord would have us do.
The Church voted to call me as their Pastor and the last of July, we moved into the Parsonage at the rear of the Church. We would live there for the next 8.5 years. Mr. and Mrs. Norman Honhart led the people to paint and repair the house before we moved in for which we were grateful.
There were 28 in Sunday School the first Sunday and 36 in the Morning Worship Service. Rev. Clint Peterson and his dedicated and talented wife had just begun working for the Church a few weeks before we came. Mrs. Alice Kimbler was the Church and School secretary.
The Church name was changed from Southeast Bible Baptist Church to Temple Baptist and the Schools name was changed from Patrick Henry School to West Florida Christian School.
The offerings were inadequate to service the large debt of the church. We felt our Lord would some way take care of this and He did in many miraculous ways. "Without faith it is impossible to please Him." This was not done in one fell swoop but over the years He would provide as His faithful people worked in His vineyard and trusted Him. What a glorious journey it has been. As God's people walked with Him and tirelessly served Him, He provided for the work in ways that built the faith of His servants in a marvelous way.
Rev. Peterson had just graduated from the Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri and did not know what the future held for him with all of these changes. I saw in him a young man who greatly loved the Lord and wanted to serve Him. I offered him a salary of $65.00 a week and more as the church grew. He accepted the offer and rolled up his sleeves and went to work. And my how he worked! And his wife Althea also, who was a great blessing to the church. She was a hard worker, willing to serve in any capacity and very capable. We were very fortunate to have her services in those early days. Mrs. Alice Kimbler donated her time to the work and was a great help.
Brother Peterson and I began working diligently at the task before us. We worked on the buildings, the grounds, the bus, and the attendance. We visited and visited and visited. During the day and almost every night. It was a formidable task but we felt we must build the work, we must get people saved, we must get the school open so we could train young soldiers for the Lord's work, we must save the good Name of our Lord by seeing that every debt was paid. This was what needed to be done and by God's grace we would do it.
The debt was a grave problem. The church owed a lot of money to a lot of people. They began calling us about their bills. I told them we would get them paid as soon as possible. I visited personally with many of them at their place of business to assure them of our intentions. They were willing to give us time to work things out.
Rev. Peterson, Mrs. Kimblerk, and I began meeting every morning at 8:00 for prayer in my office. If this work was to survive, our Lord had to do a miraculous thing. As you will see in the pages to follow, He did!
The Day School was another serious problem. Should we keep it open? Should we close it and concentrate all of our efforts toward building the church? The school had much to do with causing the debt problems of the church. I met with the school parents and told them of the financial situation. I wanted to find out how much they wanted a school and if they would pray and help us pull it out. They were adamant that they wanted the school and would back us in this endeavor. We were encouraged by their support.
This was in 1971. We could see the Public Schools moving more and more away from traditional values. The Bible had been taken out of the schools and Dewey's Humanistic Philosophy was becoming more and more prevalent. There was a great need for schools that would employ a Christian Philosophy of Education and those schools needed to be owned and operated by a local church, for the Great Commission of our Lord as recorded in Matthew 28:18--20 "to go and teach" was to the local church. Sarasota needed such a school!
Realizing as we did the great need for the school although the work load would be greatly increased, we decided to open the school on schedule. The teachers from the previous year returned. The grades were from one through eight as we added two grades. Rev. Peterson and I would teach them.
I was unable to draw a salary for several months, so my faithful and dedicated wife Kitty was provided by our Lord with a job teaching Physical Education at Bay Haven Elementary School. She had an Education degree from the University of Florida with minors in History and Physical Education. She had taught many years in Public Schools. Our son Dennis attended Riverview High School where he played first string Tackle on the football team. It was his senior year. Our daughter Kathy attended West Florida. Our oldest son Gary attended Bob Jones University.
Although we had much to do to get the school open, Rev. Peterson and I did a lot of visiting. The first five weeks saw the attendance increasing but no one joined the church by letter and there were no salvation decisions either. I was beginning to think God had written "Ichabod" over the door. But then on the sixth Sunday, we had decisions. Mrs. Mildred Randolph and her daughter Susan came forward on the invitation with others. Susan came for salvation.
In that first year, the church had 205 additions. My, what a revival! Almost every Sunday, folks got saved. We baptized over 100. A high attendance day of 200 was observed and in May of 1972, the church enjoyed an average attendance of 170 in Sunday school. The bus ministry was very productive during that first year and there were 145 brought in on buses for their high day.
This was accomplished while Rev. Peterson and I divided the school day teaching the seventh and eighth grade and I was the school Principal. During the year we took out a wall in the rear of the auditorium to accommodate the crowds. These were exciting days!
The debt problems were still with us. We had made little headway in retiring the debt. We decided to float a mortgage bond issue for $125,000.00 for the purpose of retiring our known debt and thereby get our fiscal house in order. A bond company out of Atlanta helped us with this. We sold all of the bonds we could locally and then they sold the rest to folks across the country. This gave us some relief as we now knew what we needed to pay out each week to service the debt. We continued to struggle financially. Many of those who had joined the church were still "Babes in Christ" and had to be taught about tithing and giving to the Lord. Therefore we had a difficult time paying our bills but our wonderful Lord came through for us every time we got in a pinch. In a few months we discovered another problem. More debts kept surfacing. In time we realized we needed to borrow more money. We then floated another $15,000.00 bond issue and paid all our known creditors off. This issue was an issue that required no weekly payments but would balloon in three years. We were trusting the Lord to build His church in a manner that would allow us to pay our indebtedness on time and He did. We did everything we could to clear the moral conscience of the church and as far as we know every debt was paid. Praise the Lord!
In April of 1973, the church purchased three acres of property fronting on McIntosh Road. There was a house on it and a little pond which was later filled in. The house was rented out and that helped us make the payments on the property. This land later became our athletic field.
Our day school went through an accrediting process in 1973. This was a big task but it enabled us to get the school better organized. We passed and the accreditors were very pleased with the school. This gave us better credibility in the community.
A church bulletin at the time of the Pastor's second anniversary stated that over 400 people had accepted Christ in the last two years. The church had grown from 28 in Sunday School to over 150 and the Day School had grown to 110 enrollees. In the Vacation Bible School of 1972 there was an average attendance of 149, a high attendance of 168 and there were 40 professions of faith. Truly, Our Lord had sent revival to Temple. Vacation Bible Schools have been held almost every year with great success at Temple.
The Educational Building was incomplete when I began my ministry here in 1971. Three rooms were usable as classrooms along with the restrooms. There were some materials such as light fixtures and used carpet available that had been donated or purchased for the buildings completion. These were used in the completion of the building over the years. Every summer the men of the church would finish two of the rooms so they could be used for the next school term. The materials we had were not the best but we made do. Eventually every room was usable and furnished. Later we refurbished the complete interior and now it is a fine facility.
One of the families that have contributed so very much to the work is the Jesse Craig family. They joined the church six months after I came and have been very faithful and extremely helpful all of these years. Joan has worked in the Sunday School and sung in the choir. Jesse has served on the Finance Committee for many years, longer than anyone else. He worked on the buildings and the buses very diligently for years. He and Joan were faithful on visitation as long as their health permitted. A church needs many like them.
The Forney and Chilton families came to our church in August of 1974 and they were to be a great blessing. Mr. Ray Chilton had been a Deacon in the Akron Baptist Temple in Akron, Ohio. He had also supervised the construction of all of their building programs. He was a great help to our church in many ways.
Mrs. Eva Forney, his daughter, became the Church and School secretary and has been for all these many years although her job has become more that of bookkeeper in recent years. Words cannot express the vital and important role she has played in our church.
Rev. Gary Forney, Mrs. Forney's son, was called to be our assistant Pastor in 1974. He is the best soul winner I have ever worked with and he led many people to the Lord the one year he was with us. The church was strengthened by his being in our church. The Lord led him to go to Arctic Canada as a missionary out of our church. He has been there in that capacity ever since and has done an outstanding work.
The Wheeler family worked together to make the church a thriving mimistry for the Lord. My wife Kitty became the Superintendent of the Beginner Department although she had never served in that capacity before. She worked with the Youth Department which was always her love and the department thrived. She also visited on church-wide visitation weekly. Dennis, in his Senior Year of High School, was the Choir Director and did an excellent job. Kathy worked with the Youth Department and was a great help in reaching teens. Gary was in college and when he graduated he worked as the Business Administrator, Youth Director and Teacher in the High School.
Mrs. Mildred Randolph contributed to the church in a magnanimous way. She began playing the piano in the church services in 1972. She is a very accomplished musician and has used her skills and talents for the Lord for over 23 years. When she heard we were planning on getting an organ for the church, she purchased one for her home so she would be ready to play for the church. Over the years she has practiced throughout the week preceding the church services what she was going to play for our spiritual enjoyment and edification in the Lord's day services. What a wonderful blessing she has been Sunday after Sunday with her specials. She has played for the congregational music and for the special singers. She has played for almost all of the school plays and for many funerals of our deceased members, weddings and graduations also. In addition, she seldom has missed a Sunday or Wednesday service in all of those years even though she has driven further to church than any other of our members except those who live in Venice.
An $80,000.00 bond issue was floated in 1975 for the purpose of consolidating debts and to improve the buildings and property. It was at this time that we put new carpet in the church auditorium and central heat and air conditioning. We formerly had a discarded bank carpet that was worn out when it was obtained from the bank. We also had put up with two one-ton air conditioning units in the front of the auditorium which were always a challenge to preach over. "But a baby has to walk before it can run." The $15,000.00 debt incurred in 1972 was paid off with this issue.
In the following years, the church and school continued to grow and strengthen as it carried on a vibrant ministry for the Lord. Hundreds of people were saved and many joined the church. In examining the Clerk's records and the weekly church bulletins that could be found for the period from August 1, 1971 through December 31, 1994 the following numbers have been obtained. There were 205 additions to the church from 9-1-71 through 8-31-72.
Year/ Baptism/ Professions of Faith
* I am not comfortable with the accuracy of this number. These numbers do not include the hundreds who were saved through the ministries of Children's Church, Church-wide visitation, Vacation Bible School and Missions.
Dr. David Bedell came with us as assistant Pastor in 1975. He had a double major in Education and Biology from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton and a four-year Bible College degree from Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. He also had a Master's Degree in Educatonal Administration from Missouri State Teacher's College. When he came with us, I encouraged him to enroll at the University of Florida in Gainesville and obtain a Ph D degree in Educational Administration. He did, and commuted to Gainesville from Sarasota weekly while he carried on full-time duties in our church and day school. An outstanding achievement. There is no higher education degree to attain than such a degree. I had the privilege of baptizing him when he was eleven years old in a church I was pastoring in Miami, Florida.
He is the most dedicated Christian servant I have ever known. His contribution to Temple has been and is outstanding. The Church and this Community have been tremendously blessed by having him serve his Lord here in this field. Our Church ordained him to the Gospel Ministry on January 21, 1982. He received his Ph D degree on May 4, 1985.
The first year Dr. Bedell was with us he began to seek places to serve the Lord. He taught in the High School during school hours. He became the bus Director and after school he visited for the church and the bus routes. He became the Choir director. Through the years many have commented about the superb choirs at Temple. Christmas and Easter cantatas were always superbly done. He became involved in Children's church and then became the director of these services that were held during the Morning Worship services. Miss Sharon Hambly helped him and taught in these services for many years. Mrs.Beth Hingson taught and directed the Toddler and Beginner departments during the morning church services for many years also. The children saved in these services are numerous. The impact he has made on the lives of children in this community is not measurable in this life. People all over this town know there is "a man of God " that cares for them and his name is Dr. David Bedell. He has encouraged many young people to go to Youth Camp during the summers and they have all been spiritually challenged and many have had life changing experiences.
Dr. Bedell became the School Principal in 1976. Under his leadership the school has gained in its reputation as a school with very high academic standards. The school especially excels in its ability to teach reading skills. Hundreds of students have attained proficiency in reading that will enable them to have an enjoyable and productive life. The School's Science Fair is exemplary. All the students in the grades are required to have an exhibit that manifests scientific enquiry. This is an important part of the curriculum every year. The Christmas programs that he supervises every year includes all of the students. It is a great learning experience for them and is also very entertaining. In unique fashion the Gospel is always an important part of the presentation. The school walkathon which he directs is always a success and has raised over $200,000.00 for school projects throughout the years. He has also played a significant role in designing the church plant. He made significant input in the plans for the Locker rooms, Coaches' offices, Band room, Science laboratory, 300 Building, and Driveway patterns. He is truly a remarkable fellow.
The church voted to build a gymnasium on April 4, 1979 with Craig McAlister as the General Contractor. There was already $16,000.00 available for it's construction. Groundbreaking was held on May 6, 1979.
The "Gymnasium," also called the "Family Life Center", was built entirely through donations. It cost $150,000.00 and it was paid for upon completion. There was a lot of donated labor. I met with Craig McAlister and Moe Warrington almost every Monday night in my office during construction. Under the Lord's direction we planned the work.
I remember Moe Warrington donating so very much to it. He got men out (some of them his own employees) and poured the floor. (A big task!) He got men to lay the blocks. He and his wife Shirley wanted to do more so they bought the glass backboards for the basketball goals.
I remember the Walkathons that raised thousands of dollars for the construction led by Dr. David Bedell and the hundreds of people that sacrificed in them, especially the children. They had gotten pledges for walking, then walked, collected their money, and gave it to the school for the gym.
I remember Mr. R. C. Martin of Martin Concrete Company calling me to come to his office. He gave me a check of $10,000.00 for the Granville floor to be installed in the Gym. He was a dear friend to the Church and School and made significant contributions from time to time.
I remember, Craig McAlister sacrificing time and giving of his means to build the Gym for the Lord. His wife Lori was behind him in all of these endeavors.
These and many others sacrificed for this great project and they did it for the Lord! The Gym was dedicated on February 25, 1982. Almost $60,000.00 was raised through School Walkathons for it's construction. Thousands of dollars were raised through a "500 Club" project that was promoted by the school for the Gym construction.
The Church voted to build the Foyer on July 11, 1979 and Construction began soon after. We had 240 students in the Day School in the 1979-80 school year.
The church has always supported missionaries. The first year, 1971, we began a Faith Promise Missions program and began supporting missionaries at $10.00 per month each. In 1979, we supported 23 missionaries at $30.00 to $35.00 per month each. That was regularly maintained over the years with these amounts steadily increasing.
The church paid off its $125,000.00 Mortgage Bond issue in 1982. A "Together We Share" program had been started in 1979. Almost $70,000.00 had been pledged by church members and that helped tremendously in enabling us to pay off the debt. The debt was finally under control. It had taken eleven years to get to the place where we felt comfortable with this burden. We must always remember that a debt puts you in bondage and should only be entered into after much prayer and consideration. A Mortgage-burning ceremony was held with Mr. Ray Chilton and Mr. Jesse Craig participating with the Pastor.
Mr. Moe Warrington designed and installed a rather sophisticated water system in 1982. It was a big improvement over the Culligan system that we had used for years. Now we didn't have to endure the obnoxious sulphur smell and the water had a much better taste.