There was just a smattering of businesses along U.S. 41, when the Rev. Heard T. Burnette began the First Baptist Church of Lutz, in the community north of Tampa.
The first meeting was in the home of J. B. and Maude Laurence, which was on the ground where Lutz Elementary School now sits.
Joan Fletcher recalls the church’s first meeting, held in the living room of her grandparents’ home.
“I was a little kid. We were excited,” Fletcher said. “We all spent the night at grandma’s house, so we’d be sure to be there.”
Most of the people at that first service were members of the family, Fletcher recalled.
The church met at Fletcher’s grandparents’ home until its first wooden building was erected.
That church was later expanded, and over the years, a larger church and a Fellowship Hall were built on the grounds, and an office and student building were constructed across the street.
Now, as the church prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary, it’s inviting anyone who has ever been a part of the church to come to the celebrations.
It will be a time to see old friends and to reminisce, members of the anniversary committee said.
Hazel Nalls has accumulated scores of memories since she joined the church around 1941.
Back then, Fletcher Avenue was still a dirt road, she said.
“I accepted Christ here, in ’42. I was baptized in Lake Keen,” Nalls said.
She was married at the church in 1954, and since then, her son has been married there, too. The third generation of her family — her grandson — is planning to be married at the church in August.
Fletcher keeps a scrapbook containing photographs and other memorabilia from the church through the years.
Many of the photos have burnt edges. They are the photos she was able to retrieve after her house burned down.
They help tell the story of the church.
There are images of the old wooden church, of church picnics, of the church choir, of baptisms in Lake Keen, of weddings and other celebrations.
“This church was built on prayer,” Nalls said.
“The men went back here behind the church in the woods and had prayer meetings on Tuesday night and the women met in the church,” she said.
The current church building was financed through the purchase of blocks, with church members purchasing what they could every fifth Sunday, Nalls and Fletcher recalled.
Newspaper clippings and church memorabilia also help detail the church’s history.
The church was built out of a mission of the Calvary Baptist Church of Tampa at 10th Street and 36th Avenue, according to a church document.
“On the second Sunday of May 1940, with a small building 30 by 30 feet and only half of this floored, no windows or doors, we held our first service here in the church,” according to one account. The church had 45 charter members.
Other missions sprang out the church, one in Odessa in 1942, which became a church in 1943. And, another at Amelia began near Darby in 1943, which became a church in 1944.
Senior Pastor Charles White has led the church since 1990.
It now has about 400 regular worshipers who come primarily from Lutz and Land O’ Lakes. But, its scores of ministries reach across the region, the country and the world, current church members said.
It has more than 30 people trained to respond to natural disasters, hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms and flooding.
Its other ministries have helped to build churches in Oklahoma, North Dakota and South Dakota, to start schools in Haiti and to help launch a seminary in Haiti, too.
Closer to home, church ministries feed the homeless, make car repairs, do home repairs and visit prisoners.
Church member Ron Waters said he thinks people are drawn to First Baptist Church of Lutz by its “disorganized chaos” at the start of each service. “Everybody gets up and hugs everybody, and greets everybody and shakes hands with visitors,” he said, adding that visitors seem to find that warmth inviting.
Jim Hall, chairman of the 75th anniversary committee, said he believes “the presence of the Holy Spirit” attracts people to the church.
“People can feel it,” he said.
Fletcher said the church has a welcoming atmosphere: “It doesn’t matter who you are, you’re welcome at First Baptist Church of Lutz.”
Paul Vahue, who joined the church’s staff five years ago, said he felt drawn by the church’s warmth when he arrived from Atlanta 20 years ago.
“It’s that feeling of love and generosity, and kindness,” said Vahue, associate pastor of administration for the church.
And now, three-quarters of a century since the church’s inception, members said they’re delighted to play a role in connecting people to God.
“We’re very mission-minded, in terms of what we do as a church here,” Hall said.
“There’s over 30 lay-led ministries at the church that minister to folks, locally and globally,” Vahue said.
Where: First Baptist Church of Lutz, 18116 U.S. 41 in Lutz
When: Jan. 16 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., ice cream social and memorabilia in the student building at the First Baptist Church of Lutz. And, Jan. 17, church services at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., followed by an old-fashioned dinner on church grounds.
Please RSVP as soon as possible via the church’s website, LutzFBC.com, or by calling the church office at (813) 949-7495. (The church is supplying the fried chicken, soft drinks and cake, and participants will bring a dish to share).
Published January 6, 2016