SPRING HILL — People looking for a musical church with a laid-back approach might find First Baptist Church of Spring Hill a good fit.
"We just try to be ourselves and love everybody that comes through the door," Pastor Gary Coddington said. "We're trying to make people understand that it's a down to earth church; it's not rigid. Yes, we're Baptist, and we do have a doctrine. But it's all about love, and that's the main thing we need to get through to people."
Coddington, 49, took over as senior pastor of the Southern Baptist church last September, filling the pulpit after Pastor Chuck Fightmaster retired in July. Formerly Fightmaster's assistant pastor and a decon before that, Coddington has been ministering at the church for seven years.
He and his wife of 28 years, Valerie, are from Killeen, Texas. Their son, Gage, is a local high school student.
"I am what you would call a blue-collar pastor because I also work a full-time job with the Hernando County School Board as a school bus mechanic," Coddington said.
One member had words of praise for her new pastor.
"He is a very hard-working pastor in every phase of the teaching ministries and is not afraid to get his hands dirty to assist in cleaning up in and around the church," said Dottie Soleau, who also serves as the church publicist.
Coddington is also a large part of the church's music ministry.
"He is a guitar-playing man of the cloth, who is an active member in the church's contemporary band," Soleau said.
Started by church member John Lain, the praise team has seven members, including Lain on guitar and Coddington on bass guitar. The team plays and sings at the Sunday service, at the monthly coffeehouse and on Wednesday evenings. It also participates at other area churches' praise events.
Coddington said he hasn't attempted to make a lot of changes in the church, but members recently decided to revert to the church's original name of 30 years, dropping the title of Bridge Christian Life Center that was added in 2007.
The new pastor said he hopes to build the membership, now at about 70 people, by getting the word out about what the church has to offer.
Soleau hopes the church will grow as well.
"Because the church is located off the beaten track, so to speak, we do need all the help we can get to welcome new people in and give them a home church that can change lives," she said.
Sunday's schedule begins with Sunday school classes between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m.; morning worship follows from 10:45 a.m. until about noon.
There is additional Bible study at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays.
"It's a regular service with an interactive Bible study," Coddington said. "I like them to ask questions, and I like to interact with them."
The first Saturday of each month is Movie Night from 6 to 8 p.m. Movies are offered free of charge and people bring potluck food dishes to share.
On the third Saturday, the church offers an open mic coffeehouse from 6 to 8 p.m. with free coffee and snacks. Christian musicians and singers are welcome. The church's praise team is sometimes joined by other church praise groups, such as the one from Springs of Life Family Church, to provide musical entertainment.
TeamKids, a ministry for kids from K5 to seventh grade, began earlier this year. The program runs from 6:15 to 7:45 p.m. Wednesdays and offers Bible study, games, crafts and snacks.
"Children learn about discipleship and at the same time make friends and have fun," Soleau said.
Also for youngsters, the church will host the vacation Bible school program "Colossal Coaster World" for children ages 4 to 12 from 6 to 8 p.m. July 22 to 26. The free program will include crafts, games and a Bible lesson along with snacks.
Community outreach is an important part of the ministry at First Baptist.
"We've always cared about the community around us," Coddington said. "So we've tried to do a lot with things like barbecues and bonfires to invite people in. We've had a carnival here. We just keep trying to do that kind of stuff where people can sing and have a good time. We've always been a very loving and friendly church."