SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — Jimmy Dunn has taken a pro sports idea and turned it into an annual celebration at his church, drawing members, guests and local dignitaries dressed in their "Sunday best."
This week, St. Paul Lutheran Church celebrated its fifth annual Throwback Sunday — focusing on the 1950s — with worshipers wearing coats and ties and dresses and hats while singing traditional hymns along with a well-known Elvis tribute artist.
Afterwards, everyone gathered on the church lawn for an ice cream social.
Dunn, a longtime leader in the Seminole Heights church, said Throwback Sunday was created to attract visitors to the church and was inspired by National Football League and Major League Baseball Throwback Games, where players wear uniforms of times past.
"The idea also came from looking through our wedding album from 1957 and appreciating the genteel way people were dressed," Dunn said. "The ladies wore dresses, hats and gloves and the men wore coats and ties."
For Sunday's service at the church at 5103 N Central Ave., the congregation heard Elvis tribute artist Bill Lindsey, singing solo verses with the choir for traditional hymns and presenting two more recent gospel solos, If That Isn't Love and He Touched Me.
His voice boomed and glided smoothly over the softness of the choir on How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and more.
"Friends go to church here and this is a way to give back," Lindsey said after the hour-long service.
The congregation heard the Rev. Russell L Meyer's sermon focusing on Jesus as a servant of God and a servant to the people. He also quoted former Beatle John Lennon for Lennon's stance on anti-violence.
"This was the music of a great generation that many of you are from," Meyer said about the songs presented. But the 60-year-old pastor added that Lennon reflected his era.
Dunn, who graduated in 1955 from Hillsborough High School, which is across the street from the church said, "This is the class that was the nucleus of the first one."
He added: "We have now expanded to classes from 1949-1970. Now we are trying to expand to anyone who is interested in seeing what a church service looked like in the '50s."
Meyer, who has been pastor since January 2015, said he likes how the history of the church, built in 1927, is connected with the school as it offered many programs for the students.
"It is great seeing people who grew up together and how they recall the foundation of their lives and friendships," Meyer said.
About 200 worshippers attended this year's celebration, including newly elected Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp of Seminole Heights. Other years, former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco and Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller have attended with up to 400 worshippers.
Charlie and Christine Bean, both 76, were among the guests Sunday and attend each year. Charlie Bean went to Hillsborough and University of Florida with Dunn. He wore a suit and tie while she had a dress, wrap and black hat.
"I like everything about it, the service, the ice cream social," he said.
Jim and Bonnie Parr came wearing Elvis Presley shirts and cross necklaces. They had heard about it through the Hillsborough High School Alumni Association newsletter.
Bonnie Parr, who graduated from HHS in 1963 as Bonnie Cheney, said they were big Elvis fans.
"I love the gospel music," Parr said. "We go on a lot of trips to see (Elvis) tribute artists contests."
Bill and Virginia Fuller, Jimmy Dunn's sister and brother-in-law, came from Sun City Center, her sporting a black hat with a large brim and him wearing a stylish brown suede cowboy-style hat.
"It's nice to go back in time when women dressed up," she said. "We lived in the best of times."
Contact Lenora Lake at [email protected]