First Church of God to celebrate 40th anniversary
Much like the city of Cape Coral, the First Church of God congregation has experienced growing pains and significant changes through the years.
Forty years later, First Church of God has survived and prospered under the leadership of 15 pastors since the Rev. Lee Lewis, a retired pastor who moved to Lehigh in the early 1970s, founded the church that held its first meetings in Cape Coral in January 1975.
On Sunday, First Church of God will celebrate its 40th anniversary during a special 10:30 a.m. service to be followed by a potluck luncheon at the church at 2213 Country Club Blvd. The Rev. Charles Heater is the announced guest speaker for the service.
“We will have old photos from way back when shown up on the screen before, during and after the service,” said current pastor, the Rev. Don Neace. “We’ve always focused on various things that strengthen and grow our congregation.”
In Neace’s 18 months in Cape Coral, First Church of God has handed out more than 3,000 bottles of water and 1,000 hand fans during the Red, White & Boom celebration last July. They decorated vehicles in their parking lot and handed out candy to children on “Trunk or Treat” night on Halloween.
They reached out to the general community at Christmas when they offered free photos of kids with Santa Claus. The church installed three park benches on Country Club in the shade of a tree at the edge of their property for dog walkers, joggers and children waiting for the school bus to use.
“I joined the church about seven years ago,” said Fran Mahoney, who helped write the church’s history from the beginning to the present. “I used to drive by this little church on my way to and from work, so I decided to go. It turned out I filled a need for a pianist. I played for them and they invited me back. I like the people there and the church is very multicultural.”
Neace accepted the pastorship in 2013, taking over from a succession of three transitional pastors serving since 2010.
Letters were sent out to former members and pastors inviting them back for the anniversary celebration this weekend, according to Mahoney.
“I’ve heard from some that are coming for sure,” said Neace.
Lewis recognized the need to plant a Church of God in the new, fast-growing city of Cape Coral. He approached Ron and Karen Wamer for help forming the group. Earl and Eugenia Woodhouse opened the doors to their home on Southeast 1st Place for the first meetings of the new church.
The congregation outgrew the private residence and moved to a meeting room at the Nautilus Hotel on Cape Coral Parkway. A Boy Scout convention displaced the group to the Pompeii Room (hotel bar) and they began to search for a better place to worship.
The Bridge Center on Del Prado, a place where people met to play cards, became home to the congregation. When Lewis fell ill, the Rev. John Winters was sent in 1977 as interim pastor. There were 28 worshipers at the Bridge Center, many of whom had roots in Ohio. The Rev. Homer Sauls came out of retirement in 1978 to lead the building of the current church building.
First Church of God was incorporated in 1978 under Sauls. The first property was purchased on Country Club and ground was broken in March 1980. Church member Dan Woodhouse, of Springfield, Ohio, was a builder and acted as contractor, managing thousands of hours of donated labor and monetary contributions that purchased permits, pews, windows and the parking lot.
The new church was dedicated on Jan. 18, 1981. In the spring, the Rev. Wayne Edie became pastor and started the first Bible school with 30 children attending. A young adult Sunday school class was started and the newly formed Women of the Church of God chapter earned a certificate of achievement for outstanding work.
The congregation’s multicultural nature was spawned in 1981 when Etta Morgan of Honduras joined the church. She instituted the future relationship of other members joining from the Caribbean Islands of Jamaica, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Honduras and Ghana.
There were about 60 members in the spring of 1982 when the Rev. Chester Riley became the fifth pastor in the congregation’s history. Many younger people began attending the church.
“A couple of years ago when we started writing the history, the mean age of our members was 68,” said Mahoney. “That has changed because there are a number of younger ones now. We know of only one person remaining who was a member from the Nautilus days, Dorothy Procell who is 86 now.”
The addition of a fellowship hall and education building became reality in 1991 under pastor the Rev. Kimberly Clark, who served from 1987 through 1993.
The Rev. Trevor Belcher became the eighth pastor in 2001 and led the church through a remodeling program as the congregation peaked at 102 members. In 2001, the church survived three hurricanes and four break-ins.
Since then, there have been seven pastors, five of them interim, covering nine years.
“The purpose of our church is to teach God’s word to change lives and build the Kingdom,” said Neace. “This is rooted in the core values of our church. This year we are focusing on growing the small clusters of adults and children who meet in homes to study and learn together.”