Myakka City United Methodist Church celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Hurricane Donna had hit the area in 1960 and Myakka City's Marilyn Coker remembered the destruction.
Besides taking their frozen goods to a Bradenton Publix grocery store due to a lack of electricity in the area, Myakka City residents were going to a pool of water on a flooded Wauchula Road bridge to wash up.
Worse yet, at a time when their faith was being tested, the Myakka City Methodist Episcopal Church had suffered severe damage. It had been knocked "cockeyed" by the storm.
"The (100 mph) winds had been coming from the south," said Coker, a longtime member of the church and the Myakka City Historical Society. "The church was leaning to the north. It was not safe for people to go in."
The residents had to do something in a hurry. The church had been an important part of the little community since it was established in 1921.
Coker's husband, Joe, was a carpenter. He got together with Brian Carlton, who was a mechanic, to devise a plan. Carlton made a brace to pull the church back to an upright position. Joe Coker provided the much-needed carpentry. Other members of the community helped as well. Once the church was brought to an upright position, cables with turnbuckles were attached to steady it.
It wasn't perfect, but the doors were open for business, and it would be another seven years before local residents raised enough money to build a new church and sanctuary next to the original one.
As Myakka City United Methodist celebrated its 100-year anniversary Oct. 10, stories circulated among longtime parishioners about some of the toughest challenges the church has faced. It should be noted that in 1968, the Methodist Church merged nationally with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to form the United Methodist Church, thus the name change.
Sue Stoliker, who first attended the church in 1963, said the church would have prevailed even if the physical building wasn't able to be saved.
"It's the people," she said of the church's actual foundation. "It's the love from everybody. I feel the spirit of God here."
The original church opened in 1922, a year after a group of worshipers from the Sandy community of Manatee County had moved their congregation to Myakka City. The founders were James Hancock, Marion Carlton and Marsh Tatum.
At first, they shared a space with the Myakka City Baptist Church, but that had its difficulties and the congregation quickly switched to the Myakka City School auditorium.
The little church on Lebanon Street was built in 1922, and that church's first pastor, T.W. Carlton, was in business.
A huge storm blew the church off its foundation in 1926, but residents repaired it and services continued. In 2004, Hurricane Charley blew the church's steeple over, but again, the church was repaired.
Throughout the years, the church has had a congregation that numbered between 50 and 150 parishioners.
A week before their 100th anniversary celebration, a dozen cars were parked in various spots around the church. The neighborhood was quiet, with the only sound being the cicadas chirping along with a strong breeze. Suddenly, the sound of music filled the inside of the church as a small choir was joined by virtually everyone in attendance to sing a closing hymn.
The booming voice of current Pastor Mathew Curley told the parishioners to go in peace with love.
Ouida Carter had finished another service, as she was done since she was 7 years old. She is 87 now, and she still loves the church, even if she says, "I've paid my dues."
She attended the older church and her brothers, Recie, Bud and Russ, helped build the new one in 1967.
Never has she considered going anywhere else.
"The accuracy of the Word," she said has kept her at this second home. "It's the honesty ... it's forceful, but not in a bad way."
She said the church has been "fuller" but she expects it to continue into another century.
"I pray they will," she said.
Nancy Ness has attended the church since she was 8, and she is now 60. In her early days at the church, her grandmother, Orilla Gannon, was the organist.
"We've been bigger," she said in terms of parishioners. "But we've been way smaller. I look forward to homecoming each year. There have been times when we had to set up chairs in the aisles."
Curley said the church, which seats 120 in the sanctuary, currently has a membership of about 50, which fell significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. He expects membership to increase once fear of the pandemic subsides.
Financially, the church survives despite its small numbers.
"Mainly, the people always have been generous with their wealth," he said. "It keeps this church on solid financial foundation."
Curley, who has been pastor the past seven years, kept the church's Wee Care day care facility open during the pandemic for essential workers and a Myakka City resident was so impressed a $100,000 donation was made to the church. The facility normally cares for 80 children from the community.
Curley said the donation was just one example of the generosity shown by the community. The campus includes seven buildings which include the fellowship hall, the sanctuary, the Treasure Chest building (which provides food and clothing for those in need), the Sunday school and three preschool buildings.
"This congregation loves its neighbors by serving its neighbors," he said. "It's God's grace to sustain us. Some things you can't explain."
Coker has attended the church 53 years, originally coming because she was invited to play the piano with the youth choir. She felt so at home with the young people in the choir, she switched from the Baptist church.
She said the choir currently has 12 members and she is confident the membership will increase.
"Through the years, the congregation has gone down at times, but it builds back up," she said. "We have given this church our time, and our treasure."
Stoliker said she hasn't missed a Sunday since 1985 and she isn't about to now.
"I love coming here," she said. "It is my family."
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