SPRING HILL — Though he's been the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church for only three of its 40 years, the Rev. Tim Orrell has no hesitation in stating what makes the church special.
"That's easy," Orrell said. "Our heart for Jesus and our passion for the community in which we live. We strive to know, live and share the love of Christ."
On Tuesday, the County Commission presented the church with a resolution congratulating the congregation on the occasion of its 40th anniversary.
"We were just thrilled by that," Orrell said.
The church — one of Spring Hill's earliest — is celebrating its anniversary this weekend by inviting the community to a free Family and Community Fun Fest. The event will be from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and will include free food, bounce houses, games, a live tiger — chained and behind plexiglass — and live music. Organizations in attendance will include Spring Hill Fire Rescue, the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, the Boys and Girls Club and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
"We want to open our facility and our hearts to the community," Orrell said of the event. "We try to do a fun fest once a year. It's a way to let the community have a good time, and this year it will thank them for supporting us for 40 years and let them know we appreciate the community that we live in."
There will also be a special service at 10 a.m. Sunday that will recall the church's roots, including its naming and groundbreaking in 1969, the first worship service with about 100 people attending and its dedication service in 1970, and the installation of a 7-foot cedar cross that still adorns the nave, created by one of the members that year.
The guest preacher will be Edward Benoway, the bishop of the Florida Bahamas Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
None of the church's charter members are still living, but May Klock remembers when she and her husband came to the church in 1975, when they were in their late 50s.
"I was looking at the directory, and so many (people) are gone," Mrs. Klock said.
There was just one building at the start, the present sanctuary.
"We had no day care; they put a wing on for that, and it wasn't many years after that where we needed a fellowship hall, so the church grew," she said. "It's really expanded since the beginning."
Holy Cross also added buildings for offices, she said.
Mrs. Klock said the church is noted for its friendly congregation. She once served as a church greeter.
"I did my share of greeting at the doors and got to know new faces," she said. "I think we all bend over backward when we see a new face. I try to."
Orrell, 51, who moved with his wife, Charlotte, an office manager, and their two children from Virginia in 2007 to pastor the church, said the church today differs from when it began.
"There are a lot of things that are different today socially, culturally and demographically," he said. "Our location was a growing retirement community 40 years ago. I love hearing the stories about how the intersection of Mariner and Spring Hill was considered to be out in the country."
That, said Orrell, is clearly no longer the case.
The culture has changed as well.
"While Spring Hill continues to be a retirement community, many of the homes that surround Holy Cross are transitioning from retirement to younger families," he said. "This is also evident in the children who attend our day care."
The church offers ministries to all ages, with the Holy Cross Lutheran Day Care Center, begun in 1986, among them. It operates weekdays, except holidays, for children at least 2 1/2 years old (and toilet-trained) through age 10.
Beginning the first Sunday in November, there will be a monthly "Stepping Stones with Jesus" activity for children ages 3 to third grade in conjunction with the day care during the church Sunday school hour at 10 a.m.
Church services include a "blended service" at 5 p.m. Saturdays, and a contemporary service with the praise band at 8:50 a.m. and a traditional service at 11 Sundays.
"The Saturday service is in the nave of the sanctuary and is about 45 minutes long," Orrell said. "It uses the same hymns we use in our traditional service, but it's much less formal. We don't use the traditional liturgy that you would see in the traditional service."
About 50 people regularly attend that service, including nonmembers.
"A lot of times we'll have people from other congregations in the community who will attend," Orrell said. "We have communion at every service with both wine and grape juice. All are welcome to take communion who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
There is also Bible study at 6 p.m. Mondays and Jolly Friends, which is open to the community for seniors to enjoy an activity and meal together, from 10 a.m. to noon Wednesdays. The youth group meets at 6 p.m. Sundays.
A food pantry is open from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays to residents of Hernando County, and there is community-supported bread distribution in the church parking lot by Behind the Stone Ministries from 9 to 11 a.m. Thursdays.
There is also a ministry that makes quilts for those who need them and another that knits prayer shawls to give to people throughout the world.
Plans are being made to feed about 300 people at Thanksgiving.
"This congregation is amazing," Orrell said of its 350 active members. "They are not inwardly focused. They are very much connected to the needs of the world around them. I know that's what we're supposed to do, but it's refreshing to see how naturally and spontaneously they do that."
The church also offers the use of its facilities to numerous community organizations.
Orrell said the church today tries to respond to the economic changes in the community.
"Given the enormous need for assistance, Holy Cross has dedicated itself to helping our neighbors," he said. "We like to think of it as God's work done with our hands."
The food pantry has grown from assisting 93 families in 2007 to more than 600 families last year and more than 500 so far this year.
"So we are a faith community turned outward and see this as the direction God has led us, and we think is leading us for the future," Orrell said. "Obviously, we can't say for sure where we're headed except to say we know it will be to convey a message of hope to all people."