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Small church will celebrate big milestone

Dade City Free Methodist Church will mark its 50th year Sunday. A large family steeped in its history will be there.

Hope Pennington wanted her children to have the opportunity to experience the faith that she has.

So, in 1956, she and her family began searching for a church.

When she and her husband, Albert, moved to Dade City from Virginia, a neighbor invited them to a Baptist church. But when the neighbor told Hope that she and her family would not be able to take Holy Communion unless they were members, she looked elsewhere.

Mrs. Pennington and six of her children went to the Dade City Free Methodist Church one Sunday morning, and their search was over.

"We were hunting for a small church," said Mrs. Pennington, 79, who was raised attending a Methodist church. "It felt like I had come home."

The Dade City Free Methodist Church was formed in 1951 with five charter members, Millard and Nina Eldred, Alice Hockaday, Bertha Knappins and Anna Loree.

On Sunday, Hope Pennington will join in the celebration of the church's 50th anniversary. A special service will be held from 10 a.m. to noon, followed by a lunch and concert by the Campbells at 2 p.m.

Mrs. Pennington and her eight children began attending the church when Ira Hindman Sr. was the pastor. He pastored the Pennington family and two other families while the congregation slowly grew.

Lindy C. Smith, who worked in Dade City government from 1956 until his retirement in 1993, and his wife, Marguerita, began attending the church in 1957, and still do. They are out of town, however, and will miss Sunday's celebration.

The church has shared many memorable moments with the Penningtons. The couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary there and renewed their vows. Two of their daughters, Rhonda and Beverly, had their weddings at the church. Another memory of which Mrs. Pennington seems proud is that after attending the church for more than 12 years, she and the children were presented with a perfect attendance award.

"Mama always made sure we got to church," said Rhonda Duncan, who remembers that it was "fun" to go. The Penningtons went to church for Sunday school, morning and evening services on Sunday, and again for the Wednesday night service.

"We didn't have so many distractions to keep us busy like the kids do today, so we looked forward to going," said Duncan, who still attends the church.

Duncan has played many roles in the church. She has been a Sunday school teacher, taught youth and adult Bible study, sung in the choir and served on the church board of directors, and currently is the youth director. The Duncans' son Jaye, his wife and their three children attend Free Methodist as well.

Theresa Fudge, 36, one of Mrs. Pennington's granddaughters, also "grew up in the church" because of her grandmother's diligence in bringing her. Theresa attends the church with her husband of 17 years, James, and their two children.

Another Pennington daughter, Beverly Fullington, attends the church, and two of her brothers visit Free Methodist occasionally.

One of the Duncans' nephews, Colt Pennington, 14, comes to services when he can, and said he enjoys the youth group events. Colt, who is a freshman at Pasco High School, said he can feel a sense of caring and truth at the church.

Though the Dade City Free Methodist Church has grown, it still is small by most standards. The congregation now numbers between 50 and 60.

Pastor Harold Fisher has led the church for six years. His wife, Nancy, is the church's secretary and the pianist; she also is part of the women's missionary society, sings and helps with the music during youth fellowship.

Fisher has ministered in Free Methodist churches for 40 years.

He said the difference between Free Methodist and United Methodist is basically the liturgy.

"We endeavor to stay more to the original doctrine of the Methodist conservative," he said.

Working with the congregation is a "delight," he said, and he described them as caring, compassionate individuals.

Leona and Chuck Shearer visited several churches when they moved to the area. They chose the Dade City Free Methodist Church and have been members for five years. Mrs. Shearer said the pastor's sermons are "tremendous" and that "he explains the word of God in depth." She teaches the adult Bible study at 7 p.m. Wednesdays at the church.

Melly and Terry Martin attended Spring Lake United Methodist Church in Brooksville for 15 years. They began looking for a new church when they moved to the Dade City area. Melly Martin said they could really "see the spirit of God in the people" at Free Methodist. They have attended regularly for more than a year and plan on transferring their membership.

"Everybody is in togetherness and one accord," Melly Martin said. "You feel like you belong here."

_ Angela Miller covers religion news in Pasco County. She can be reached in Dade City at (352) 521-5757, ext. 29, or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6108, then 29. Her e-mail address is