HISTORY OF FIRST FREE WILL BAPTIST CHURCH OF FLORENCE, S.C
In June of 1951 a tent revival began. The tent was located on the Charleston Highway near Mt. Hope Cemetery. Rev. Charles Thigpen was the evangelist for the meeting. God blessed mightily during this revival. A cloudburst late one afternoon brought the tent down, and it seemed that the service would have to be canceled that evening. However, the determination of a few made it possible to go on with the meeting. Many were saved and many lives rededicated.
On June 17, 1951 the charter members met at the Gospel Tent for the purpose of formerly organizing a church in the city of Florence. The following are some notes from the minutes at the very first meeting of the church. "After a short song service led by Bro. Reedy Severance, Rev. E.C. Williams led the congregation in prayer. Bro. Charles Thigpen read the Scripture, taken from Matthew 16: 13-18. Prayer was offered by Rev. L. A. Holiday, President of the State Association. Rev. Seldon Bullard called the roll of 51 members. The church covenant was read and adopted after which a prayer of consecration was offered by Rev. Paul Ketteman. The right hand of fellowship was extended by all ministers present to the members of the church."
A special offering of $163.48 was received for the building of a future church. On September 29,1951 the members of the church met at the Little Theatre, located near the airport, where services had been held until a building could be erected, to formally elect church officers. It was at this meeting that the first Pastor, Rev. R. Luther Sanders was elected.
Two years later, on September 19, 1953, the members, with a heart full of thanksgiving and praise, met at the new educational building for the annual church conference and election of new officers. It was at this conference that the church voted to tithe our income to the different phases of our denomination work.
On November 15, 1954 the new educational building was dedicated with Dr. L. C. Johnson preaching the dedicatory sermon.
During the month of June, 1954, Bro. Sanders felt led of the Lord to resign the church to become effective as soon as the church could secure another pastor.
On August 1,1954 the members of the church met for the purpose of electing a new Pastor. Rev. W.A. Hales was elected. It was during Bro. Hales' pastorate that the church voted to change its name from Haven Original Free Will Baptist Church to First Free Will Baptist Church. The motion to this effect was made November 8, 1954. Bro. Hales pastured the church nine months.
Rev. Ronald Creech was called as the next pastor in 1955. It was during his pastorate that we adopted the present finance system; that the last Sunday in October be designated as our annual homecoming day; and that the property where the former sanctuary is located be purchased. Bro. Creech read his resignation to the church on July 31, 1957. It was to become effective on October 20th or whenever his successor could be secured.
The next pastor was Rev. Rufus Coffey in October of 1957. Some of the accomplishments of the church during his pastorate were: a part time church secretary; a parsonage at 1413 King Avenue was purchased; the old parsonage at 158 Queens Road was sold; full time support for Eula Mae Martin, who was leaving for Brazil to serve as missionary, was given; $150.00 support started for Jimmy and Janie Aldridge who were leaving for Africa; a bond issue was floated in the amount of $50,000.00 to finance our previous church building's erection; the house on the lot was relocated to the back of the lot and the main sanctuary was erected. Bro. Coffey resigned October of 1962 to serve as our National Foreign Missions Board Director of Conference Ministries.
On the first Sunday of January 1963, Rev. Daniel J. Merkh preached his first sermon as our new pastor. Many accomplishments are to be noted during his tenure. Some of them are: a mission church was started in East Florence (The Bible Church, which was later changed to South Oak. Its first service was held on May24, 1964 with Rev. Norwood Gibson preaching and Bro. Dan Eaddy assisting in the overall work); new cabinets for the Pastor's and church offices as well as for the Sunday School classrooms were secured; many partitions added to form new classrooms; major repairs such as a new roof on parsonage, painting of the educational building as well as extensive repairs on the Sunday School annex; the Bond program was liquidated by securing a loan from the Durham Life Insurance Company to be repaid at the rate of $500.00 monthly; when Eula Mae Martin needed more support in the amount of $50.00 monthly the church voted to do so; and many times the church had a financial deficit but we were challenged to take care of this. On November 7, 1965, Bro. Merkh read his resignation letter to the church to become effective in March of whenever his successor can be secured. The Merkhs felt that the Lord would have them back on foreign soil as missionaries.
On November 28, 1965 Rev. Guy Owens was called as pastor. He preached his first message as pastor in January of 1966. Our accomplishments during his pastorate were: A daily radio ministry over 4 stations (two in Florence, one in Kingstree, and one in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.) This brought in many to our church to hear him preach in person. New office machines have replaced the old obsolete typewriter and mimeograph machine; property has been purchased facing W. Evans Street for a new sanctuary; the church is the meeting place for the Florence Bible Institute that began in January 1969 of which Bro. Owens is president; our youth work is flourishing and a projector had been purchased to aid in this phase of our church work; Kingstree Mission was established; the auditorium and fellowship hall floors tiled, rostrum carpeted, nurseries carpeted; Christmas Missionary Offering initiated; cement walks were laid; a neon sign installed in the church yard; the parking lot was paved; and the contemplation a Christian School using Accelerated Christian School curriculum was in progress. Bro. Owens resigned in June of 1972.
Rev. Willie Justice came to us in August of 1972 as pastor. Our accomplishments during his tenure: Maranatha Christian School and Daycare began in 1972; bus ministry began in 1973; purchased 1501 King Avenue and 111 Homestead properties; began Children's churches; a bond issue in 1974 floated in the amount of $300.000.00 and one and one-half (1½) acres of property was purchased on Highway 76 West as the site of our new church and school; a house on 1506 W. Evans Street was purchased in 1975 to use as our Day Care Center; a 1974 Ford Van was purchased; an organ was bought in 1977 for the sanctuary; the 112 Homestead property was sold; ground breaking ceremonies were held on our new site at 6:00pm on August 13, 1978 and work began shortly thereafter with completion reached on September 7, 1980 (Our first service in the new auditorium); MCS began its first week in the new facility on the prior Tuesday; we erased the indebtedness on our pews in October of 1981 and our parking lot was paid for in January 1982; more space for our growing church and school was needed so an architect was secured and plans were drawn for Building "B"; a loan was secured from Peoples Federal Savings and Loan in the amount of $95,000.00 (we had access to $200,000.00), and dedication of Building " B" was held on January 6, 1985; a computer was purchased and office equipment updated. Pastor Justice resigned effective September 30, 1987.
Rev. Danny Howell was elected as our new pastor on November 15, 1987, and preached his first sermon as our pastor on January 3, 1988. Accomplishments during his tenure were: fence was erected between our property and Habitat 2000 Apartment Complex; glass vestibule built onto the front of Building "A"; glass doors put in the halls of Building "A"; shelter between Building "A" and "B"; sealer over entire parking lot; dropped ceiling in auditorium with a new dimmer light system; new sound equipment; diesel bus purchased; storage building for tractor and other equipment built; and a gym was built. It was in this gym that Pastor Howell fell several feet from a ladder and was badly injured. Complications from surgery resulted in his passing away on September 4, 1993 around 12:30am. His funeral was held in our church auditorium filled with his friends and fellow ministers on September 6th with Rev. Paul Ange and Rev. Henry Potter presiding. The burial was in LaGrange, NC, with many of his friends from his former pastorates at the graveside service. His wife and family moved to a trailer on the back -side of the church property in December of 1993.
Rev. Mike Creech was elected as our new pastor on January 2, 1994, and his first sermon as our pastor was the first Sunday in February. Our accomplishments under his ministry were: Dr. D. H. Howell Family Life Center (gym) was completed and a dedication service was held on March 13, 1994; the exit lane in the front of Building "A" was widened; Howell Lane was surfaced with slag; paneling on back and side walls of stage was painted white; choir modesty curtains were replaced with wood; and steep front steps leading to platform replaced with circular typed steps around the stage. While away at the SC State Meeting, Bro. Creech had a massive heart attack. He passed away the next day, February 22, 2002. His funeral was held on February 24th and the burial was in Jasper, Alabama on February 26th.
Rev. Lee Patrick, Bro. Mike's associate, became interim pastor and was elected as our new pastor on May 29, 2002.