Forward, Ever Forward! Florida Church Fervent and Faithful at Fifty
By Carl Stagner
Ministry milestones ought to be celebrated. According to Kenny Howard, they serve as a “reminder of our history and inspire us to be faithful until Jesus returns for his church.” While many Church of God congregations celebrated their centennials in recent years, the Florida church Kenny serves as pastor appropriately insisted on marking fifty years with flair and festivities. First Church of God in Winter Haven had plans for March 2020, but few can forget what happened that month. Though the pandemic postponed the special occasion, last November’s thrice-delayed date reflected the tenacity of a local church fervent and faithful in the face of adversity—not only in the last two years, but also in the last fifty-plus.
Kenny Howard and his wife Sorina came to the congregation in the summer of 2017 from Saltville, Virginia. There he’d pastored the Allison Gap First Church of God for over eleven-and-a-half years. Kenny had big shoes to fill in Florida; the previous pastor, Alan Thomas, had led the congregation for more than two decades. The history of the church could be recounted in several volumes, but the simple evidence of God’s hand upon these brothers and sisters couldn’t be clearer. Like so many other churches, the most recent test they faced was the COVID-19 crisis. Thanks to the work of the Spirit through the ministries of the local church, they’ve weathered the storm remarkably well. That’s a big deal for the congregational demographics, which largely reflect a snowbird population.
Every winter, attendance booms with those trading snow for sunshine and sand. Except for the summer season, the stellar praise team morphs into a superb choir of voices eager to sing praises to the Lord. Additionally, a concert series of southern gospel artists fills the calendar from start of the new year until Easter, attracting not only their own congregation, but also guests from churches all across the community. These musical features of First Church of God stand out distinctly in the present generation, but have led to growth, all while exemplifying the unifying message of “Jesus is the subject.”
Kenny reflects, “Jesus is the subject during our winter concert series, as believers who come to the concerts seek to glorify our common Lord in worship and song.”
But it’s not just the musical excellence that fuels the church’s fervor. Their ministry outside the four walls is consistent, and not without measurable impact. Besides their community-focused youth ministry (and plans to construct a community playground), the church is engaged in a partnership with Meals on Wheels, faithfully providing weekday morning opportunities for the hungry to be filled.
With an influential record like that, in addition to various ministries spanning a half-century back, it’s no wonder the November 2021 celebration was an event to remember. “We celebrated the occasion with a former pastor giving a testimony, and with testimonies of pastors who are currently serving in the ministry who grew up in our church,” Kenny recalls. “We had testimonies from members that have attended our church toward the beginning. We had special songs, a church meal, and a church birthday cake. It was very special.”
In the days, weeks, months, and years to come, Pastor Kenny Howard’s prayer is for the community to know they are loved and come to Christ. By making a difference locally and globally, he envisions a bright future for the congregation. In spite of cancellations, postponements, and related pandemic problems, First Church of God proceeds by faith. “We are thankful that our church is doing its part to move forward with programs and activities for all ages. God has blessed our church for fifty years, and we’re looking forward to what he has planned.”
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.