The Church in Green Cove Springs-Early Days
Green Cove Springs in the Forties and early Fifties was a beautiful, vibrant, bustling town, due in large part to the presence of Benjamin Lee Field Naval Air Station (later Green Cove Springs Naval Air Station). In earlier days Green Cove had been a tourist mecca thanks to its warm mineral spring locally known as the “Original Fountain of Youth”. Many hotels and beautiful houses were built along the St. Johns River, and lovely church buildings became part of the landscape. These included St. Mary’s Episcopal, the Presbyterian church on Magnolia Avenue, First Baptist on Walnut Street, Hickory Grove Baptist, and Sacred Heart Catholic. Green Cove Springs was a well-churched community.
Then, in 1949, a “new kid on the block” moved in, when a group of Christians, mostly U.S. Navy personnel and their families, began meeting in the Clay Theater building. Thus was the beginning of the Green Cove Springs church of Christ.
We could not find the exact date of the first meeting of the church in the Clay Theater building. Records do show, however, that in November of 1951, trustees of the church of Christ purchased from Jay and Lucille Clothier property in the “north suburbs of Green Cove Springs”. This would come to be designated as 479 Houston Street. There, church members, mostly sailors, working under the supervision of Edward Starling, erected the cement block building which would house the worship services of the church of Christ for the next 58 years. According to financial records as of January 1953, the “total cost of the building, heaters, and drapes was $4779.10”
The ensuing five or six years saw several different preachers’ names on the rolls. The first name found was Gary Fulmer, who preached for the church in 1952. From 1953 to 1958 preaching duties were shared by John F. Beach Jr., William R. Beach, C. L. Gear, and Brothers Breakfield, McGrath, Hayes, and Black. Then in June of 1958, things began to change.
The Church in Green Cove Springs Getting Settled
The years between 1958 and 1966 were a gratifying and productive period for the Green Cove Springs Church of Christ. In June of 1958 we were blessed with the coming of Brother J. G. Malphurs and his sweet wife. The Malphurses were a godly couple well along in years. Before coming to Green Cove, they served the church in Tifton, Georgia. Brother Malphurs was a gifted teacher, and besides his Sunday morning sermons he enjoyed keeping his flock’s attention on Sunday nights with group games such as ” Bible Secret Truth” and “Bible Tic Tac Toe”.
Brother Malphurs loved to interact with the community. His favorite diversion was visiting Penney Farms for an afternoon of shuffleboard with the retired ministers there. Then he would entertain the church with anecdotes from those visits.
In July of 1958 the church acquired a small house being surplussed from Camp Blanding. We procured a loan of $3000.00 from the Bank of Green Cove Springs to hire the LaRue Corporation to move the house to the lot next door to the church building. Brother and Sister Malphurs then took up residence in the cottage. Previously the church had had the services of a compensated song leader, Brother Ragan. In order to help make payments on the bank loan, the church now had to discontinue paying Brother Ragan. But we now had a minister on site, and we had a parsonage!
Before we close this chapter of the church history we must mention and give honor to a faithful and devoted Christian lady, Sister Gladys Norman. Sister Norman took care of the custodial duties of the church from 1956 to October 1969. She was a shining example of constant loving service and support for the Lord’s body until she left to claim her eternal reward.
These were halcyon days for the church in Green Cove Springs, but there would be challenges ahead.
The Church in Green Cove Spring An Era of Change
Last month we wrote at length about Brother Malphurs and his work with the church here. In the mid-sixties Brother Charles Blocker began to assist Brother Malphurs in his preaching duties. The debt on the parsonage was retired, and the church was able to make generous contributions to the Mt. Dora Christian Home, the start-up church in San Jose, and various needs throughout the brotherhood. Brother and Sister Malphurs continued to reside in the parsonage, and he was the minister of record, but Brother Blocker, and later Brother Aaron Pounders, assumed much of the pulpit preaching duties.
In October of 1965, Bro. and Sis. Malphurs left us, and there began a succession of preachers who filled the pulpit on Sundays. Brother Neil Thompson, a scholarly saint, (father of current member Sharon Oaks) preached for several months, followed by a dynamic young novice preacher, Brother Jackie Smith, who was with us from Jan. 1967 to Mar. 1968. Brother Pounders then returned to us as our full-time minister and worked with us until June 1971.
The church’s elders in those days were Brothers Ted Holloway, Bill Ashe, and James Ballinger. We received a terrible shock on May 25, 1969. Bro. Holloway was filling in at the evening service when he suffered a fatal heart attack in the pulpit. Attempts at resuscitation were unsuccessful, and when paramedics arrived, he was deceased. He died proclaiming God’s word!
In June of 1970 we were blessed with the coming of the McDonald family- James, Virginia, and children David and Donna Jo. Brother McDonald was highly intellectual, a teacher at Orange Park High, and he began assisting Brother Pounders with preaching duties until, beginning in July of 1971, he assumed the full preaching assignment. He continued in that capacity for the next seven years. Under his leadership, the church attained State of Florida corporate status in April of 1976.
Unfortunately, during those years a certain amount of discord arose among the congregants, having to do with women’s roles in the church and financial matters. Tensions were high, and some key members decided to worship elsewhere.
However, in the latter years of the ’70s and early ’80s, the church began to regain equilibrium under Brother McDonald’s steadying influence and with the faithful support of Brothers David McDonald, Jess Bailey, Dan McGrath, Don Sohm, Bill Ashe, and Gerald Barnes.
We were further energized by the coming of Don and Marnie Miller, and Les and Pat Michael. God was indeed smiling on us!
The Church in Green Cove Springs Showers of Blessings
In July of 1978 Brother Don Miller became our preacher, and he and his wife Marne moved into the parsonage. They were an energetic and hard-working couple who made many improvements to the house at their own expense. Marne served conscientiously as the custodian of the church building.
Don informed us in Sept. of 1980 that he would be relocating to Ocala for business reasons, and so we were again in need of a replacement. We were blessed with a most capable speaker from the San Jose area, Brother Jack Harrell, who worked with us for almost a year.
On September 1, 1981, David Redman stepped into our pulpit, and our little church received an energizing “shot in the arm”! David, his wife Kathy, and their sons Michael, Jeffrey, and Timothy warmed our hearts and brought much joy to the church. David was an amazing “people person”. He loved to illustrate his sermons with chalk and blackboard (this was before the days of a-v technology, remember}, and his audience was fascinated.
David’s wife Kathy was an administrator at the Greater Jacksonville Christian School. On the faculty there was a young man who had grown up in Jacksonville and had recently returned here following his studies at Abilene Christian University. His name was Claude McEldowney, and he was to become a pivotal figure in the history of the church in Green Cove Springs.
After a year and a half with us David was called to preach for the church at Edgewood Avenue, and once again we were in need of a preacher to fill the vacancy. Kathy’s father had been an elder at the church in St. Augustine, and the Redmans knew the former preacher, Brother Glenn Logston. They found that Brother Logston was now available to accept another preaching assignment and so he came to us in April of 1983. He and David shared preaching duties until April of 1984, when David left us to assume his responsibilities at Edgewood Avenue.
We were joined in 1982 by the McEldowneys, Claude and Bev, both of whom taught school in Jacksonville, but who had visited the Green Cove Springs church at the invitation of the Redman.
Claude was asked to teach a class on Revelation, which he did superbly. The McEldowneys fell in love with the Green Cove church and decided to make their home in Green Cove Springs. Since the parsonage was now unoccupied they rented it and became a treasured part of our church family and history. Bev, a talented primary school teacher, immersed herself in the children’s education program, and Claude continued to teach classes and occasionally substitute for Glenn as our preacher. In October of 1985 he accepted the position of associate minister.
Our church was richly blessed.
The Church in Green Cove Springs
The church in Green Cove Springs experienced great strides during the 1980’s and 90’s. In 1985 Brother Claude McEldowney joined Brother Logston as associate minister, and our fellowship was remarkably blessed with not one, but two, world-class preachers! We were further blessed with a vibrant, talented, dedicated and hard-working group of members. In 1989 an annex was built at the back of the main building to house a fellowship hall, classrooms and office.
Two of our dear sisters, Pauline Lawrence and Maxine Clevenger, began a community outreach which was to last for decades. It was the Clothes Closet, and it began in the church auditorium. Later, when the parsonage house became available, the service was moved there. Once a month, and later weekly, donated clothing items, which the ladies had cleaned and repaired, were offered to those who had need. The service also included a food give-away. When the growth of our youth program required the parsonage house for classroom space, a portable building was installed for the use of the clothes closet, and that outreach continued for many more years.
With the inspiring preaching of our two ministers, and under the loving leadership of our two elders, Burton Copeland and Wayne Qualls, our church was enjoying one of its most productive eras. Our youth groups were flourishing. Our VBS programs averaged over 60 children per night, and once they were visited by a “Shepherd” with a live sheep! One year we fielded 3 Bible Bowl teams. Groups went on such field trips as to lchetucknee Springs, the Stephen Foster Memorial, and MOSH. There were 11 baptisms in 1998 and 1999. There were Wednesday night suppers, fish fries, Teacher Appreciation banquets, Somebody Loves You banquets (hosted by the teens for the over-sixties}, and several gospel meetings and intercongregational sings.
The church had become a place where we loved to come, to share our lives and give thanks to the Lord! Next month: The new millineum !
THE CHURCH IN GREEN COVE SPRINGS LET’S BUILD!
The beginning of the new millennium brought some dramatic developments for the church in Green Cove, but it was not without its problems.
Early in the 2000’s there arose a serious dissension among the members concerning divorce and remarriage, involving one of our families. We were saddened by the departure of a number of our influential members due to that issue.
We were further heartbroken when a most beautiful and cherished young member, Brenna Alexander, died in a car crash as she was coming to join us at the annual fish fry!
But God would not allow us to grieve forever. In the ensuing few years our church was blessed with the arrival of many new families, most of whom had children. Before long our Sunday morning attendance more than doubled! With this great increase in our membership it became apparent that the existing facility was beginning to be inadequate. Growth in Clay County and the resultant Courthouse Annex in our back yard made expansion at the Houston Street location unfeasible.
Thus began the next chapter in our story as plans for a new church home began to form. In January of 2007 the church purchased several acres of land on Russell Road, north of Green Cove Springs. The county bought the Houston Street property, closing the sale in July of 2007. They graciously allowed the church two years to vacate the premises.
A building committee was formed, which included Mike Aston, David Chidester, Stephanie Davis, Bill Ireland, Richard McGough, Leslie Mallard, Don Sohm, and Karen Tennant. A “Capital Campaign” was organized to help raise money for the project. On February 10 of 2008 architectural plans for the new building were submitted. A ceremonial “groundbreaking” took place on August 31, and actual construction began in October 2008.
Completion of the new facility seemed slow, but came to fruition Wednesday evening, Sep. 15, when we met for the first time at 3650 Russell Road. A dedication service was held on October 10, 2010.
We’re In! Halleluyah!
THE CHURCH IN GREEN COVE SPRINGS UP TO NOW
In bringing the history of our church to the present, we should mention other developments which have taken place, in addition to the new church home which we described in last month’s article.
As early as 2004 plans were being made for the beginning of a women’s ministry, which, it was hoped, would involve a majority of our ladies in caring for the needs of the church. In its beginning format, members belonged to one of three “circles”, responsible for three areas of service: hospitality, outreach, and benevolence. The circles would alternate their area of service throughout the year, so everyone could experience all areas. The group decided to adopt the title Christian Women’s Ministry, and it began publishing a newsletter, the first issue of which appeared in November of 2010. The women’s ministry has continued in various formats until the present time.
Early in 2011the process of selecting elders began. We had been without that blessing for a number of years, when we lost our beloved Bro. Copeland and Bro. Qualls. On Mar. 20, 2011 the new elders who were installed were Brothers Don Sohm, Ken White, and Sherrill Wilson. Due to the death of Brother White in 2015 and Brother Wilson’s health problems we are again without that service.
Our church continues to strive to meet the needs of our fellowship with such endeavors as “Lads to Leaders”, (thanks to the Berryhills); Breakfast Club (thanks to Kim Driggers); Vacation Bible School (thanks to Belinda Williams) “Christmas in July”, and hardworking and talented preacher, teachers, ministry leaders, caretakers and faithful members.
May God continue to bless our efforts to nurture the next generation of His family here in Green Cove Springs.
This history was written by Marlyce Sohm