October 22, 2008
Another downtown Daytona church faces hard choices By ANNE GEGGIS Staff Writer
DAYTONA BEACH -- Its founders are the same people who started the city.
Its history is a tale of triumph over adversity -- such as when the church building was lost in a deed dispute -- and a testament to certain progressive ideals, such as the election of a female church leader soon after women won the right to vote.
But the future of the Seventh Day Baptist Church of Daytona Beach is not so clear.
The majority of the church members are over 70. And except for a set of 15-month-old triplets, who are grandchildren of the former pastor and direct descendants of the church's founders, the church nursery is empty.
So the third baptism at the church in three years last Saturday was a reason for rejoicing within its white walls trimmed with gleaming dark wood. "I think one of the joys of a pastor's life is when there are those who want to surrender their lives to Christ and become part of the church community," the Rev. Wray Winborne declared just before immersing Tom Henderson, 59, into baptismal waters Saturday.
Unless the roster of supporters fattens in the coming months, this downtown church will be facing some stark choices. With about 40 to 60 people -- about half of its peak membership -- in its weekly core to support a $107,000 annual budget, the church, in the short term, could face having to decide whether it can afford a full-time pastor or the church building's upkeep.
"We are down to that critical mass," Winborne said.
In the long term, church members are hoping next month's membership drive -- a Bible study on its beliefs -- will draw in new members to stave off the fate that befell First United Methodist Church of Daytona Beach, another downtown church. In 2001, that once-thriving church held its final service.
Caroline Snyder, 49, who works as a concierge at Ocean Walk Resort, said she would do anything to help her 14-year church home thrive. She grew up attending church at The Basilica of Saint Paul -- located almost across the street -- but felt "convicted" to worship on Saturday, which was the original Sabbath until circa 364 A.D. "It's a wonderful church," she said. "The church is based on a covenant of love and spiritual support."
Seventh Day Baptist Church services -- first held in North America 27 years after the Mayflower landed -- feature Old and New Testament readings, along with hymns with piano accompaniment. Therein lies the reason the Rev. Donald Musser said he believes many mainline churches have seen their numbers dwindling while the more evangelical and charismatic churches have been enjoying a boost in their numbers.
"Many of the traditional churches do have a difficulty attracting young people and young families -- there's no doubt about that," said Musser, a Stetson University professor of religious studies and ordained Baptist minister. "The way that a lot of traditional churches have tried to negotiate that is to have different types of services, one with the pipe organ and the hymns, another with the band, the drums and the guitar."
Ironically, part of the budget crunch at the Seventh Day Baptist Church of Daytona Beach stems from its success. A group of Seventh Day Baptists in the New Smyrna Beach area decided to establish a church home in Edgewater, taking their support with them, said Al Hill, president of the Daytona Beach church. In fact, this church was the first of its kind in Florida, he said.
"Every single (Seventh Day Baptist church) in the state of Florida is seeded from this church," Hill said.
Daytona Beach's Seventh Day Baptist Church can boast that one of its founders, D.D. Rogers, is also credited as a founder of Daytona Beach. His daughter, Josie Rogers, also a member of the church, was the city's first woman doctor and became its first woman mayor in 1922.
At Saturday's service, Winbourne spoke of cultivating a trust that the world is unfolding as it should. "We must trust that God will direct our paths," he said. "He will give us grace to walk in his direction."