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Historic church celebrates its 100-year anniversary

May 7, 2014
By CRAIG GARRETT ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

A small notice in a May 1914 issue of a Fort Myers newspaper had this information: "For the last week or ten days Rev. Mr. Day and his wife and Rev. Hobson and wife have conducted a revival which closed last night. Every night the school house was crowded and while there was comparatively little excitement, a deep impression seems to have been made and several have joined or will join the church as a result of the interest aroused."

And so began the first page in the thickening history book of the Sanibel Community Church, which this month celebrates its hundred-year anniversary, the same year Woodrow Wilson was running the country, the same time Henry Ford announced that his popular Model T cars could be any color so long as it was black. It was also when a quart of milk was 8 cents, a 16-ounce loaf of bread 6 cents.

The church has endured huge storms and economic calamity in the last ten decades, rising from a small wood parish to its current sprawling complex on Periwinkle. At one point during the Great Depression the church operated only during Thanksgiving festivities. The church today, which over the years became non-denominational, is a beehive of outreach and social activities with some 28,000 annual visitors and regulars. The original pine church remains on the grounds in pristine condition.

Article Photos

Church members celebrating the May 2014 centennial. PHOTO PROVIDED.

"I guess we've been doing something right," said Jay Halverson, a Sanibel Community Church parishioner, father and grandfather at the Sunday service on April 27 recognizing the historic centennial. "It's just so friendly, so caring here."

Only in a place of worship or a school are so many community and family memories held so deeply. A video played after morning services at the Sanibel Community Church anniversary spooled out dozens of such picture treasures: teens in bellbottom pants, funny hats and face paint, global guests, celebrations, sepia recollections smiling for the camera, the church leaning sadly after enduring a powerful hurricane, church-goers nestled in pews donated in 1914 by the island's first house of worship, the Church of the Four Gospels. A hurricane a century ago destroyed the Four Gospels, which stood near the lighthouse.

Even more powerful than the 38-minute video was the reaction from parishioners assembled for the centennial, laughing at pictures on the flashing screen as small children darted between the pews, adults cooling themselves with a hand fan given out that listed the eight pastors having led the church over the decades. To the outsider, there is overwhelming sense of a shared history, of enduring and embracing generations of time, that we are forever remembered by our friends and their children. The Sanibel Community Church, said long-serving parishioner Charles Nave, "is a very solid part of living on Sanibel."

Fact Box


* Locals in May 1914 form what would later become the Sanibel Community Church.

* Hurricanes in 1929 destroy Sanibel farms, most residents leave.

* Rev. Charles Millican in 1950 becomes the first every Sunday pastor. Circuit pastors had filled the role in previous decades.

* The historical sanctuary in 1978 is expanded to seat 160.

* Dr. Daryl Donovan begins his ministry. He remains the church pastor.

* The church in 2012 completes a $5 million development and renovation.

* Sanibel Community Church in May 2014 celebrates its centennial.

It's hard to imagine how quickly the last century sped by, especially in today's hyper-aware world. But time, especially on Sanibel, moved at a much more sedate pace in the church's formative years, said Charles Nave, who was raised on the island. School kids, for instance, trekked by bus from the tip of Captiva's dirt road through the island to the Sanibel ferry, mostly in the wee hours of the morning, he said. Many of the students in athletics or after-school functions often stayed on the mainland because of ferry travel schedules. The island began serious change when a bridge linking the mainland in the 1960s was completed. It was during this period, too, that the church really started to progress, growing from a small clutch of islanders and seasonals, to the last spurt, which included $5 million expansion and renovation. And quietly through this amazing period of American history sat the Sanibel Community Church.

"And it will be in our hearts for the next 100 years," said Daryl Donovan, the church's long-serving pastor. "It's a great place to be."

Sitting in one of the original pews in the old pine church, it's hard to think the huge Sanibel Community Church complex next door would come this far, especially considering this May 28, 1914 newspaper article: "The Rev. G.L. Day has just organized a branch Methodist Episcopal Church at Sanibel. The organization took place last Sunday in the Sanibel School House, following a sermon which Mr. Day preached to a large congregation. The new church starts out with seventeen members." The Rev. Day served until 1917.



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