Nora Davis, a member of St. John Primitive Baptist Church, received a spiritual boost this week.
Davis was one of hundreds of Primitive Baptists from throughout the state who waved hands, sang praises and gave glory to God. They gathered for five days at Harborview Center in Clearwater for their 97th annual session, which ends today with a youth-led worship service.
St. John may be the only church of its denomination in Clearwater, but it was joined by 230 other Primitive Baptist churches across the state for the annual conference.
"We need to save souls," said Davis, who was moved by an inspirational speech Tuesday by Elder Ernest Ferrell, general president of the Florida State Primitive Baptist Convention.
Ferrell told the delegates that the Lord provides them with spiritual food. "It does not come in a loaf of bread. It does not come in canned goods. It comes from the divine inspiration of God," he preached.
Yet Christians aren't using God's nourishment to its full potential, Ferrell said. "We're operating with a low-grade fever," he told the delegates. "We need a spiritual tune-up . . . so we can make a difference in our homes, our churches, our schools and our communities."
Ferrell urged the members of his flock to support their young preachers. Elders, as they are called, are chosen by individual congregations from among male members who have proven to be faithful to the church and its principles.
"If you have a good foundation, you can build upon it," he said, stressing the church's role in society.
Bernard Yates, pastor of Zion Hope Primitive Baptist Church in Pensacola, said the convention is a good opportunity "to get together periodically to fellowship and to encourage each other."
"It's a chance to enhance ourselves so we can be more effective on the local level," said Yates, who also is the convention's Bible expositor.
And it's an opportunity for members of the denomination's 230 churches to update one another on statewide projects, mainly its campaign for a new headquarters in Tallahassee, the site of the largest concentration of Primitive Baptists in Florida.
During his keynote address on Tuesday, Ferrell recommended that all of the 40,000 Primitive Baptists in the state make a contribution within the next three years toward a $1-million fund-raising drive.
Ferrell also suggested having a separate conference for the young people in the church.
His last request excited his listeners. He asked them to open the convention next year on a Sunday night. Then at midnight, he said, they could sweep the community with the message of God's love.
"We must attack sin and Satan wherever he is," Ferrell shouted. "We cannot stand still. We've got to move."
Bessie Johnson, of Midway, a town near Tallahassee, agreed with Ferrell. Though the annual conferences are open to everyone, she said, most people don't walk in off the streets. It's up to convention members to bring Jesus to them, she said.
"This is what the Lord expects us to do, to go out in the fields and save souls," Johnson said. "It's about saving souls."