Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

First Baptist Church in Brooksville is celebrating 160 years

A 1908 photo of First Baptist Church in Brooksville is on display in its main office. The church says the “best is yet to come.”


A 1908 photo of First Baptist Church in Brooksville is on display in its main office. The church says the “best is yet to come.”

BROOKSVILLE — Not long after Hernando County came into existence in 1843, First Baptist Church of Brooksville was forming as well.

While the official date on the marker outside the church on Howell Avenue says the congregation was established in 1852, about 10 years ago the church's historical committee determined that it may have begun as early as 1847.

According to a book put together by the committee in 2002, the church — initially called Union Baptist Church — may have been given that name because it had brought together two congregations: Bethlehem Baptist and Bethesda Baptist.

Church historian Betty DeBusk provided additional information about the church's early days.

"Our church was named Union Baptist Church until Feb. 2, 1889, and after that was known as the First Baptist Church of Brooksville," said DeBusk. "The first service was held at Pierceville. Our minutes only go back to 1856, when Rev. James Henry Breaker joined the church. If the church started in 1852, there possibly was a pastor before Rev. Breaker."

Whether 1847 or 1852, the church has officially accepted the later date and therefore will celebrate its 160th anniversary this month. There will be a special social gathering for church members on Oct. 20 and a service to which the public is invited Oct. 21.

Tracing the church's history was a five-year project for DeBusk, who initially intended only to compile information about the church's pastors. By the time she had finished visiting former pastors and reading numerous historical documents, the project had evolved into a complete church history and included information and photos about the county's history from 1847 through 2002.

"I went through every newspaper I could find for Hernando County, and then I went through the Florida Baptist state paper," DeBusk said about some of her sources for the 561-page history, noting that her friend, Marie Cassini, who is now deceased, and the historical committee helped compile the tome.

While there are some years for which church minutes are missing, the minutes that exist indicate that First Baptist has had at least 36 pastors, including the Rev. Matthew Ellis, who has been the senior pastor since 2006.

The oldest living members include Katherine Hardy, born in 1920, and June Subka and Bob Smith, both born in 1921. Notable positions held by members through the years include a newspaper editor, a professor, a county school superintendent, college principals, mayors, lawyers, county commissioners, a judge and the 18th governor of Florida, William Sherman Jennings.

While the congregation may have initially met in a wooden building that doubled as a public school, there have been at least four dedicated church buildings. Two were on Jefferson Street, including a brick structure that was rebuilt in 1900 after a fire, and two at the current site on Howell Avenue. The current sanctuary, which seats 500 people, was dedicated in 1974. Since then, a fellowship hall, an educational building and an office building with a library have been added.

DeBusk said that throughout its history, the church has placed an emphasis on missions.

Ellis said his congregation is still mission-minded.

"We've taken several international missions trips, all of which assisted in orphanages," Ellis said, referring to trips taken to Ecuador, Haiti and Guatemala since he became pastor.

Northcliffe Baptist Church in Spring Hill and Masaryktown Baptist Church were begun as missions of the Brooksville church.

"We have a very compassionate congregation," Ellis said. "For instance, our deacons lead a ministry in which they and other members regularly visit widows from the church who need assistance with maintenance like house painting, mowing lawns or cutting overgrown trees, all free of charge."

Another compassion ministry is the church's clothes closet, which operates from 9 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays, distributing clothing at no cost to those in need.

A seasonal project that Ellis especially likes is Operation Christmas Child, where members pack shoe boxes with items to be given to children in Third World countries at Christmastime. That effort will begin Sunday.

"We'll show videos each Sunday of how to pack a box and how these boxes help children," Ellis said, noting that First Baptist also serves as the collection hub for other area churches. "We hide the boxes in a closet so nobody knows how many we've collected. On Nov. 18, the children from our Children's Church will go to the closet … and bring all the boxes up the center aisle while Jesus Love Me is being played on the piano. Everyone is always surprised to see how many we actually collected. People in our church love it."

Despite its long history, the "best is yet to come" at First Baptist, the church's website declares.

"Ultimately, First Baptist should be a place where the Lord is glorified and where we are absolutely committed to his word," Ellis said.

The church should also be a place with a healthy sense of family, the minister said.

"We should enjoy each other, realizing that our common denominator is our love for Jesus," he said. "We're there for each other and hold each other accountable and encourage each other in our individual pursuit of holiness. But we're also here to minister to the community through sharing the Gospel and meeting tangible needs. That's pretty much why we are here and what we see as our purpose."

.If you go

Come celebrate

The public is invited to a service marking the 160th anniversary of First Baptist Church of Brooksville, 420 Howell Ave., at 10:45 a.m. Oct. 21. Bible study begins at 9:30 a.m. each Sunday. Other services offered at the church include a prayer service at 6 p.m. Sundays and a Bible study and youth and children's ministries at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays. Visit the church website at and the senior pastor's blog at For information about participating in Operation Christmas Child, visit or call (352) 796-6791.

First Baptist Church in Brooksville is celebrating 160 years 10/12/12 [Last modified: Friday, October 12, 2012 7:06pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Will new laws protect condo owners from apartment conversions and rogue associations?

    Real Estate

    Danny Di Nicolantonio has lived in St. Petersburg's Calais Village Condominums for 33 years. Annoyed at times by the actions, or inaction, of the condo board and property managers, he has complained to the state agency that is supposed to investigate.

    That has left him even more annoyed.

    A bill passed by the Florida Legislature would affect places like The Slade in Tampa's Channelside district, where cCondominium owners have battled a plan to convert homes into apartments.
[Times file photo]
  2. Walmart opens first Pinellas County in-house training academy


    Seminole — It had all the hallmarks of a typical graduation: robe-clad graduates marching in to Pomp and Circumstance, friends and family packed together under a sweltering tent and a lineup of speakers encouraging the graduates to take charge of their future.

    New Walmart Academy graduates are congratulated Thursday morning by associates during a graduation ceremony at the Walmart store, 10237 Bay Pines Boulevard, St. Petersburg. The Walmart location is one of the company's training academies where managers complete a one week retail course. David Shultz and Richard Sheehan, both from St. Petersburg, get high fives from the crowd.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  3. Four questions with Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith before he helps lead the St. Pete Pride parade

    Human Interest

    A decade ago, Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith was afraid to tell his friends and family he was gay.

    Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith will serve as a grand marshal at the St. Pete Pride parade on Saturday. [City of Largo]
  4. Lawsuit: Florida contractor fakes death to dodge angry homeowners

    Human Interest

    SEMINOLE — For weeks, Glenn Holland, 67, crawled out of bed before the sun rose to look for a dead man.

    Last year Glenn and Judith Holland said they paid a contractor thousands of dollars to renovate their future retirement home in Seminole. But when they tried to move in on Dec. 14, they said the home was in shambles and uninhabitable. They sent a text message to contractor Marc Anthony Perez at 12:36 p.m. looking for answers. Fourteen minutes later, they got back this text: "This is Marc's daughter, dad passed away on the 7th of December in a car accident. Sorry." Turns out Perez was still alive. Now the Hollands are suing him in Pinellas-Pasco circuit court. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  5. What you need to know for Friday, June 23


    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    Graffiti butts are everywhere in downtown St. Pete. What's going on? [CHRISTOPHER SPATA | Times]