SPRING HILL — Spring Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church was officially founded 25 years ago this month, but its roots go back further.
Church clerk Illona Fields Sullivan recalled those early days.
"Outsiders were we all; we came from different places and backgrounds," Sullivan said. "The single cohesive factor was that we wanted to worship God on the seventh-day Sabbath."
That first gathering was in 1986 and involved four families that had moved to Spring Hill from New York: Anderson, DeGuzman, Fields and Flowers. Seven more families soon joined them.
"We tried other churches and felt uncomfortable or unwanted," Sullivan said. "We met one another (at a Brooksville church) and agreed that we were being led to form our own church."
At first, the group began meeting in each other's homes. Soon, and under the leadership of Pastor A.R. Friedrich, they decided to form their own church in Spring Hill. The first service was at Turner Funeral Home on Spring Hill Drive. Later, the small congregation rented a hall on the premises of the United Church of Christ on Mariner Boulevard.
On May 14, 1988, the church became part of the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and adopted that date as its official beginning. Pastor Marc Genton became the pastor, serving for 3 1/2 years.
"Many new souls were baptized into the Adventist faith and the Spring Hill church," Sullivan said, noting that the church was established as, and remains, multiracial and multicultural.
From its onset, the church sought property to erect its own building and continued to do so under the leadership of Pastor Hershel Mercer, who became pastor in 1990.
In 1992, the church purchased 12 acres on Osowaw Boulevard. In 1997, construction of the current building began.
Charter member and local elder Jerry F. Harris said the congregation delayed construction for a reason.
"We had to grow a little bit," Harris said. "We borrowed money to build the church and had a loan for 13 years that we paid off in seven years. So we're debt-free."
Last year, the church acquired three modular units that form its Community Services Center.
"One is a food bank; one is used for youth; a third is a multipurpose facility," Sullivan said.
At a recent County Commission meeting, a resolution was read congratulating the 130-member church on its anniversary and recognizing it for its "love and concern for our community," specifically mentioning the expansion of its food bank and youth ministries.
The church has an active Pathfinder Club for youth and teens, with activities that include community service, camping, crafts, class work, marching, Bible study, Seventh-day Adventist Church history and leadership training.
The food bank is open at 10 a.m. every second and fourth Sunday for those in need.
Other community events include concerts and seminars.
One of Sullivan's happiest memories about the growth of the church is how closely members worked toward common goals over the years.
"We were very supportive of each other, and everyone worked very hard for the same cause of getting property to build the church," she said. "We would have auctions that were absolutely fabulous and yard sales and flea markets — just so many things that were highly successful in raising money to purchase the land."
It was the camaraderie that made it special, she said.
"All these events were like entertainment for our group," Sullivan said. "We prayed for one another all the time. We knew each other's problems. We were very much of one mind, and it was great. We became the caring church, caring for one another."
Harris echoed Sullivan's sentiments.
"We claim to be the loving church," he said. "We built a nice facility and have continued to grow and are pleased. We feel well blessed."