In spite of the severe hardships Providence still needed to complete work on its building. According to the June 6, 1894 edition of the Bartow Courier-Informant Newspaper, the Pastor of Providence, Reverend W. B. Mills, wrote a letter asking “The white citizens of Bartow for help to finish our meeting house.” Reverend Mills’ wrote that the church had “staggered long and hard” but the lack of sufficient funds “forces us to make this earnest appeal to you for help.”
The white philanthropists apparently responded because work on the church was completed.
Providence continued to serve as an incubator for new Christian Ministries. For example, in the mid-1890s, even while soliciting funds for the building, the District Sunday School Ministry and the District’s Women’s Ministry were organized at Providence Baptist Church. The Florida Theological Seminary was also started at Providence in 1901. District Association leaders described Providence’s building as being “in every way suitable for first class schoolwork. The rooms are large, airy and well ventilated.” Church membership had risen to 119.
Spiritual Warfare: During the following decades, the membership of Providence steadily climbed. But numerical growth did not necessarily translate into spiritual growth. During the World War-2 years, in the early 1940s, a dispute developed among Providence members resulting in the departure of Providence’s pastor and some members. The departed pastor and members started a new church nearby and named it “Greater Providence.”
In order to distinguish between the two churches - and perhaps as an indication of boastful pride, members of the original “Providence” changed its name to “First” Providence Missionary Baptist Church. It was also during that 1940s split when records such as church minutes, funeral programs, anniversaries, and other occasions pertaining to the early years were lost.
New Growth Leads to Building Program: In spite of the departure of discontented members, the renamed “First” Providence continued to grow. In fact, it eventually outgrew the 250 seat 1890s building causing the new Pastor, Reverend I. Anderson, to set up a building fund. By 1956, $9,000 had been raised thus enabling the Trustees to put a building plan into action. The old church was demolished in 1957, and salvaged lumber from that old building was used in the new (current) sanctuary.
During that period of construction services were held in the small adjacent annex. Cost of the new building was approximately $35,000. The congregation marched into the new church building on the second Sunday in June 1957.
In the 1980s a new parsonage was constructed, and under the leadership of Reverend Deryl A. Jones, a larger church annex was constructed in 2006.
Commenting on the lack of documentation detailing the long history of First Providence, Pastor W. R. Lovelace commented to a newspaper reporter: “it’s like a baby is born and now it’s a grandfather and nobody knows about it.”
“Not of works, lest any man may boast.” All glory belongs to Jesus Christ.
Pastors of First Providence Missionary Baptist Church: Rev. J.W. Larry, Rev. F.A. Wright, Rev. G.W. McClinton, Rev. A.R. Starling, Rev. W.B. Mills, Rev. K.D. Britt, Rev. G.H. Dukes, Rev. A.H. Starling, Rev. A. Laster (Lasiter), Rev. S.A. Thomas, Rev. Rolling, Rev. R.J. Clinton, Rev. H.W., Rev. Williams, Rev. I. H. Green, Rev. H. H. Eady, Rev. I. Anderson, Rev. Thomas, Rev. R.L. Whittaker, Rev. Thompson, Rev. W.R. Lovelace, Rev. Brown, Rev. Houston, Rev. J. W. Frison, Rev. Earl Brown Williams, and Rev. Deryl A. Jones.
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