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On-the-move church plants some roots

For awhile, the Sea Breeze Community Church was a church without a home.

Tuesday night services were held at the nearby First Church of the Nazarene. The men of the church had to call the pastor to find the changing location of Monday's men's Bible study.

Sunday services were held in the gymnasium of the Boys and Girls Club of Pinellas Park.

The runaround became a normal part of worship for parishioners and church organizers.

"Most associate a church with a building," said Donnie Holley, founding pastor of Sea Breeze. "It takes people a while to associate Sea Breeze with a group of people and not a building."

Holley, 54, started the church in June 2005, when he grew tired of the confines of the traditional theology and left his position as pastor in a local Baptist church. More than 50 people left with him.

Holley cased the city, poised to find a home for the newly formed congregation, which is made up of men and women, old and young, "the whole bit," he said.

He ended up making arrangements with other local churches and clubs.

The challenge was coordinating Sea Breeze's mission as a full-service church, complete with teen nights, Bible studies, group dinners, along with the schedules of the temporary homes.

"It was a constant challenge to be able to arrange our schedules," said Melvin Mitchell, 45, on board with Sea Breeze since the beginning.

After a year of back and forth, the Boys and Girls Club in Pinellas Park, 7790 61st St., which first served as a quick-fix solution, offered space in exchange for monthly rent.

On 7:45 a.m. every Sunday morning, when the Boys and Girls club is closed for the day, tables and chairs are rummaged out of a gym closet.

Clean drop cloths are hung as makeshift walls. Volunteers unravel hundreds of feet of cables and extension cords to be used for speakers and stage lights.

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By 12:30 p.m., the "sanctinasium" is returned to a gymnasium.

Holley hopes Sea Breeze's unconventional structure will draw people intimidated or disgruntled by religious decorum.

The Southern Baptist tradition is alive in the sermons he delivers, but Holley believes the church's message - unity, liberty, charity - is better received in a casual, nontraditional atmosphere.

"We're meeting in a gymnasium," he said. "There's no stained glass."

More specifically, Holley said, "the freedom not to be bound by traditions of the past and to do what's necessary to reach this generation."

And what's necessary for this generation includes a relaxed dress code and contemporary Christian music played live by a four-piece band, Holley said.

"It's in their language," Holley said of the music played for the Sea Breeze faithful.

Holley said that the church is looking to expand into a bigger facility, but said for now the Boys and Girls Club suits the congregation just fine.

In fact, church members have invented a word for the scheduling conflicts, he said. They call it "flexiate."


"We just go with the flow."

Casey Cora can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or at