Eight decades ago, two neighbor babies shared a crib in the nursery at Keystone Methodist Church in Odessa.
A boy and a girl, Terry and Virgie. As children, they played. As teens, they fell in love.
“We used to park behind the church and smooch,” Virgie Schoenborn said, giggling at the memory.
“Maybe don’t put that in the paper,” Terry said.
The Schoenborn’s, whose grandparents helped construct one of Keystone Methodist’s earlier buildings on Racetrack Road in 1914, married there. Their children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren received baptism at the church.
“The church has always been a part of my life,” Virgie says. “It would be like cutting an arm off if I didn’t go.”
The Schoenborns, both 82, represent part of the church’s community lineage that extends all the way back to 19th century. This month, the now Keystone United Methodist Church, celebrates its 150th anniversary.
Founded as Rocky Creek in 1868 by V.J. Mobley and renamed in 1885, the church has seen the area around it grow and change. What started as a log-cabin sanctuary has evolved into a country-style church with multiple ministries. In 1968, United was added to the name following the merger of the Methodist Church with the Evangelical United Brethren Church.
In 1993, the church added on new facilities and worked to bring in more young families. New faces came and went.
Still, a few legacy members remain.
The church will host an anniversary service and celebration at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 18. Oldcomers will attend, including descendants of the Mobley family. Candace Lewis of the United Methodist Conference will speak.
The church will also introduce its new pastor, Drew Dancey, who comes to the church from Pinellas County.
Marti Mattner, a retired United Methodist minister affiliated with the church, has served as interim pastor since August when its former pastor retired following a medical leave.
“This is a church with a real sense of community and a heart for reaching out,” Mattner said.
Church outreach efforts include a food pantry, a relationship with Citrus Park Elementary School and a church emergency fund to help members in need, she said.
In recent years, Keystone United Methodist has seen a decline in membership, Mattner said.
Many long-term members have passed away. Families often move. Bringing in new faces is more difficult.
But the church remains active. Of it’s 354 members, most participate in groups and outreach efforts. Keystone United Methodist offers a variety of ministries including children and youth activity, monthly men and women’s meet ups, music and craft ministries.
Longtime members such as the Schoenborn’s consider the church an extension of themselves.
“It’s never been a thought to leave,” Terry Schoenborn said. “We’ve had our ups and downs with the church, but you know, it’s your church and that means you stay.”
Schoenborn, who served as a Hillsborough County Deputy Sheriff for 35 years before retiring in 1996, attributes the church’s lasting power to its members. He hasn’t yet met the incoming pastor. He has high hopes for the new leadership but says, however things go, the church will do just fine.
“It’s the people that make the church not the pastor,” he said.
Virgie Schoenborn remembers working as a custodian at the church to earn five dollars. Things change, but the Keystone United Methodist’s heart for people doesn’t, she said.
“My cousin and I used to ride our bicycles there,” she said. “I think the church will last but it will never be a big mega-church. That’s never been what it is and it’s not what it’s going to be.”
For the Schoenborns, the church remains in the center of their lives. Two of their’s children attend church with them each Sunday. The others go whenever able and in town.
Several of the Schoenborn’s relatives lay buried in the church property cemetery.
“Keystone United Methodist Church is my church no matter what, whichever side of the church I’m on, whether it’s inside on Sundays or in the cemetery,” Virgie Schoenborn said.
Located at 16301 Race Track Road, the church holds traditional services at 8:30 and 11 a.m. Sundays, with a contemporary service at 9:45 a.m. There will be only a 10:30 a.m. service Nov. 18. For more information visit keystoneunitedmethodistchurch.com.
Contact Sarah Whitman at [email protected]