By PENNY FLETCHER
WIMAUMA- Donnie Newberry remembers climbing trees and fishing in the creek on land he has now purchased and is dedicating to God as the new home of Friends and Family Assembly, which he describes as soon becoming a Full Gospel Christian church.
“My dad worked for Hugh Green, one of the first settlers in the area,” Donnie told me as we stood on the 10-acre site, which is now cleared and sod with grass that somehow has stayed green despite recent freezing temperatures. “When I was a boy I played all over these fields while my dad and others cleared the land.”
While once no more than brush, palmetto scrub and rattlesnake country, the spot is across State Road 674 from an “old-Florida-style” wooded area replete with tall oaks strung with lacey Spanish moss and clumps of native palms.
The Newberry’s 10-acres, however, are level and ready for the 4,000-square-foot commercial modular sanctuary that will seat about 200. It will be the first of many buildings on an already-blueprinted plan with 6,000 additional feet of buildings that include a day care, a Fellowship Hall, a ball field, a gymnasium, and someday, a large new sanctuary fronted by a decorative pond with waterfalls and gardens that will also serve as the county’s mandated retention pond.
Donnie and his wife Kim, both area natives, each come from denominational Christian backgrounds and have served in many positions in churches in the past.
“I’ve been a youth pastor, a music minister and many other things along the way,” Donnie told me as we stood under the shade of a huge oak in the front of the property. “I feel that God has prepared both of us for this for years by the things we’ve done and gone through.”
The nondenominational church is under the umbrella of
The local congregation is called Friends and Family Assembly which they say reflects their focus.
Currently up to 55 people meet weekly on Sundays at the pastor’s home, which adjoins the property and is located at
To get there, go through the State Road 674 and U.S. 301 intersection; through Wimauma about 3 miles into the country (5 miles east of U.S. 301) to Carlton Branch Drive which is on the left, just before the large cleared field where the sign now stands.
It can also be reached by taking State Road 672 into Balm and turning right on Carlton Lake Drive, going through to S.R. 674 and turning west (right).
“People start arriving around 10,” said Kim in a separate interview held at Denny’s restaurant the day before I visited the property. “All age groups are welcome.”
The couple has all the county permits and has obtained financing by Kensington (now Superior) Bank; has its federal non taxable status of 501 C 3, and is only waiting for its state sales tax (exemption) number before purchasing the building, which will save its future congregation money as the loan is repaid.
“I’ve had this on my heart about 10 years,” said Donnie. “We started about 9 years ago, very small, in our home. In any given week, we could have 6 or 55 people.”
The huge growth of nondenominational Full Gospel Christian churches like Harvest Time has given Donnie the vision he has on his blueprints. “We’re putting the (first) building on the back of the property, and working our way forward,” he said, showing me the next two buildings on the blueprint; the day care and K through 5th Grade buildings. These are followed by the gym- all moving forward toward S.R. 674, and then a ball field in the rear and finally the large sanctuary and gardens in front. “Then we will open a second entrance on S.R. 674,” he said.
Some of the programs will mirror those at
One thing they wanted to make clear was that they do not want to take any members from existing congregations. “We want to be on their prayer lists,” Donnie said. “I’ve driven on a lot of back roads and you wouldn’t believe how many houses there are or how many people are back there that don’t go to any church.” That’s who they envision serving. They also plan to work with other churches in the area to help promote unity.
They’ve held many fundraisers already, selling Cuban sandwiches and having bake sales and joining with the South Tampa Fellowship (that has a Haitian and Dominican ministry already) they’ve been able to collect send 10,000 pounds of clothes, food and household items to
“We had the pews stored but we shipped them to a church there,” Donnie said. “The pastors at
Kim is going with
Both have lived in the area all their lives and have “day jobs” as well as ministry; Kim as a law firm administrator and Donnie as a supervisor for
People who wish to inquire about the church may call (813) 642-8228 or simply show up at a service on Sunday morning between 10 and