HUDSON — As members of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church celebrate Easter, beginning with a sunrise service Sunday, some of the founding members will be recalling a similar service from 20 years ago.
"Our first service was at sunrise on Easter, and now we're having another Easter service for our anniversary," said Eugene Brown, a deacon at the church since its inception on April 8, 1992. "That was the beginning for us."
Brown, 88, said the service Sunday will be special to him.
"Easter has a dual meaning for us with the resurrection of our Savior and our anniversary at the same time," he said.
The church kicked off a monthlong celebration of its anniversary with a cake and ice cream social for members April 1.
At 11 a.m. today, the celebration will continue with a commemorative celebration service. The church will install a commemorative plaque with the 32 founding members' names engraved on it. A fellowship meal will follow the service.
Ten of the founders are expected to attend, among them Ruth Porter, Janie Jennings, Julius Finley, John Wade, Eula Wade, Inez Gross and Latreetha Sharpley. Brown and his wife of nearly 65 years, Sadie B. Brown, are included in the number.
"Our founding pastor, the Rev. Wilbur Bush, has been invited, and invitations have been sent to sister churches in the area as well as city and county officials," said Marilyn Guess-Reed, who helped organize the events.
The celebration will continue with a recreational event for youth on April 22. The church will also host its annual Family and Friends Day on April 29. The latter event will follow the 11 a.m. church service that day and includes food, inflatable bouncers, games, music and fellowship.
"This day will include the 'Taste of New Hope,' which includes tasty covered dishes lovingly prepared by our members," Guess-Reed said. "It's our way of saying thank-you to the community for all the support that it has given over the years."
The theme for the commemorative events is "Branching Out for the Future."
Brown recalled when he, his wife and 30 others founded the church. They were mostly all seniors who had moved to Florida from the North, he said.
"We were more or less like interlopers, and they resented us," Brown said about their experience with some of the established churches in the area that they had visited. "So we ended up starting our own church."
The small church building the group rented with an option to buy on the south side of County Line Road had been a day care.
"We started as New Hope Mission Baptist Church and Daycare," he said. "We didn't have any children in the congregation when we first opened up, so we had to bus children into the day care center."
Eventually, the day care business was abandoned, and in 1998, after the current pastor, the Rev. Freddie Hinson Jr., took over the pastorate, the name of the church was changed to New Hope Missionary Baptist Church of Hudson.
Today, the church has approximately 300 members and 100 children. A new sanctuary was added in 2002, and in 2010 the church purchased three adjoining acres for future expansion.
Ministries supported by the congregation include a food pantry that serves north Pasco and Hernando County, a summer camp for children and Hopeville Community Development Corp., which ministered for several years to people with substance abuse problems.
With its emphasis now on youth and seniors, Brown recently began the Senior Center, which meets weekly to encourage seniors who have become less social and active. Currently, the church is creating a mentoring program for youth.
"We are in the planning phases for the property on our east," Hinson said. "We have discussed building expansion for a multiuse facility, which may be used for a new sanctuary and youth education facilities."
Brown said the church membership is predominately African-American, but he notes that a Caucasian person joined the church one month after its inception.
"We're not a black church," Brown said. "It just happens that the founders were black, but we've always had (other races). I'd like people to know that we're open to everyone. We welcome all comers."
Hinson said God has added to the church both spiritually and numerically over the years.
"God has also really blessed us with a rich assortment of gifted people to carry out the vision of the ministry," he said. "New Hope is often called a very friendly, warm and welcoming church."
Hinson said he hopes the church will grow in its impact on the community and, in keeping with its name, become an even "brighter beacon of hope."
"It is my hope that the church will rise up and be what it has been called to be," he said, "that we can share the eternal message of God's love through Christ and his kingdom rule here on earth and in heaven."