Our History


by William McKee

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Early History of Lakeview            to top of page

Founded in 1948            to top of page

Lakeview Presbyterian Church was founded in 1948 as a mission outreach of First Presbyterian Church of St. Petersburg. Rev. Donald Kramer, who served as assistant pastor of First Church, was the organizing pastor. The church was formally organized in 1949, and the first chapel was constructed. Virginia Montgomery, a charter member,  loved to retell the history of these early years. Her husband, G. J. Montgomery, was a founding member of the Session and was the first Sunday School superintendent.

At that time the Lakeview Avenue community was a white middle-class community made up of primarily single- family homes, with a sprinkling of expensive houses along Lakeview Avenue. The city was racially segregated at that time, and the black community was located some seven blocks and more north, between 15th avenue and Central Avenue. 15th Avenue marked the boundary between the black and white communities. Lakeview was the first Presbyterian Church located in south St. Petersburg.

The church grew rapidly in the early years. It reported an average attendance of 368 at worship the year the chapel was built. Rev. Sam Milton came as pastor in 1953, and served for the next dozen years. Members describe the church as a traditional family-oriented church, with a growing congregation. A new sanctuary was built in 1959, along with two wings of the educational plant. In 1961 the church reported a peak membership of 632 with a Sunday School membership of over 400. The church boasted the full array of active church programs: Women of the Church, Women's Sewing Circle, Men of the Church, Wednesday night prayer meeting, Kindergarten, nursery, Westminster Fellowship, Senior High and Junior High Fellowship, senior and youth choirs. The church participated in local causes through th United Churches of St. Petersburg, Church Extension Council of Grater St. Petersburg, United Women of St. Petersburg. For several years there were two worship services, and the sanctuary, including the balcony, was frequently full.

Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College) founded            to top of page

In 1960 Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College) was founded in St. Petersburg. It intended to be an innovative, church-related liberal arts college, a pace-setting institution in higher education. A considerable number of the faculty and staff of the college joined Lakeview and some of them moved quickly into positions of leadership in the church., especially Jack Bevan, Clark Bouwman, and Bob and Katharine Meacham. They were eager to place the college and the church in the vanguard in confronting the problems of society. Several members have said that the college people "shook things up" and "got things going" in the church.

Longtime members speak with some affection of those years. They remember Sam Milton with some fondness. Members from those years have been generous with bequests to the church. The church could not have survived through the last three decades without the generosity of members who joined in those years.

Lakeview History since 1965            to top of page

The early 60s            to top of page

One of the "Great Ends of the Church" is to "exhibit the Kingdom of Heaven to the world." Lakeview has tried to do that: in worship, in the life of the church, and in service to the community.

During the early 1960's significant changes took place in the neighborhood around Lakeview. African Americans began moving into the neighborhood, and white people, including many members of the congregation, began to move out. Several white churches left the neighborhood. As the decade moved on, the community was marked by social and racial unrest.

Integration in the mid-60s            to top of page

By the mid-sixties, several African Americans began attending Lakeview. Most of the present members who were here in those days have said that the integration of the membership was "no big deal" and that "it was always expected" that black people would move into the neighborhood and "it was always assumed" that they would be received into the church. This is the recollection of those who stayed; but several hundred members, including several on the Session, left the church. Nevertheless, there does not appear to have been any single event or dramatic decision to integrate the membership. Black people began attending the church and the congregation received them.

Lakeview has the interracial pastorate in the Southern Presbyterian Church            to top of page

Robert Miller came to Lakeview in 1966 from a pastorate in Tuskegee, Alabama. He has received national attention for serving communion to black students from the Institute after the elders had refused to serve them. He challenged the church to respond to the changing conditions in the neighborhood.. He confronted the Session with the question, "What type of Church are we going to be?" Members assert that he preached the same sermon over and over for the first year: "Let the church be the church." In 1966 the church received a grant for an experimental ministry program. This enabled us to bring in Mike Elligan as Associate Pastor. At that time Lakeview had the only interracial pastorate in the Southern Presbyterian Church. Members of the church thought of the Experimental Ministry program in two senses. In one sense it was an experiment in an integrated congregation and an interracial pastorate, to demonstrate the character of the church and its mission. In another sense, it was an experiment in relating the church to the critical social problems in the community.

Lakeview's social justice activism            to top of page

The years between 1966 and 1972 were years of turmoil in the community. There was continued black migration into the neighborhood, and white flight. There was tension in the black community, with increasing demands for desegregation and better services for the black neighborhoods. There was unrest in the community following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and civil disorder in the summers of 1968 and 1969. There was a garbage workers strike in the summer of 1968 and a statewide teachers' strike in the spring of 1968. All this caused intense political controversy in the county for several years in the early 1970s.

Lakeview Church responded to these crises in various ways. The church offered office and meeting space for the sanitation workers. The church provided meeting place for community meetings in support of the teachers. During several periods of civil disorder, Mike Elligan walked the streets to calm tempers. At the time of the school integration, the church provided several programs to support the families of children in the neighborhood who were being bused to distant schools. Several members of the church worked with the schools to make integration successful. Bob Gemmer became the community's leading advocate on school integration.

Lakeview and the first Head Start program in St. Petersburg            to top of page

In April 1966 Lakeview became the site of the first Head Start program in St. Petersburg. Operation Attack was established in the fall of 1968 under the leadership of Carolyn Horton and Colleen Shannon Huss. The experimental Ministry supported an array of activities to relate to the social problems of the community. For a year the church employed Nancy Hilton as a social worker to work with neighborhood families and with students. Then Mose Henry directed a coffee house program called "The Catacombs." A Teen Council representing neighborhood youth met at the church. There were neighborhood dances in Fellowship Hall that attracted both church and neighborhood young people, and many people in the community still remember "The Prez" with affection. The church organized a boy scout troop, which for several years was the only racially integrated troop in Pinellas County. The church sponsored a neighborhood youth basketball team which won the city championship one year. For several summers the church organized summer recreational programs for middle school children in the neighborhood. The most notable of these was a Summer Program on Black Culture directed mainly by black students from Eckerd College in the summer of 1971.

Innovations in our worship            to top of page

It was also at this time that we began innovations in worship. Members remember the frequent dialogue sermons between Bob Miller and Mike Elligan. One Sunday a month was set aside for "experimental worship." It was also at this time that we rearranged the sanctuary, moving the lectern to the floor of the congregation and most of the pews were arranged in a semicircle. Flexibility in worship has become so much a part of our services that we can hardly imagine it otherwise.

Members describe the years of the late Sixties and early Seventies as interesting, stimulating, active, innovative, courageous, turbulent, exciting, controversial, and risk taking. Clearly they determined the character of the church for years to come.

The mid-70s and Lakeview in transition            to top of page

In contrast, the years of the mid-seventies were years of consolidation, continued commitment, some coasting, sometimes controversy. The initial witness of integration had been courageous but by the mid-Seventies other community organizations had been desegregated and Lakeview's witness was no longer unique. The church continued to lose membership gradually and developed serious financial difficulties. Nevertheless, the church's character as a racially-inclusive and socially-actives church was strengthened.

During Larry Corbett's ministry we continued mission outreach programs: Head Start continued to be located at the church. Operation Attack expanded and eventually moved from the small houses behind the church into the basement of Fellowship Hall. The most significant new program was the Community Youth Program, developed by Nancy McIntosh, Jim Oliver, and Pat McKenzie. This was a motivational development program for at-risk middle school children based on the techniques of transactional analysis. For a while Meredith Corbett was the grant administrator. This program existed at the church in several incarnations for about a decade. Eventually it was taken over by Operation PAR and moved to another location.

Innovations in the internal life of the congregation continued. The congregation continued to be open to innovation in worship, and the usual worship style could be described as dignified informality. With the decline in membership the church began to have difficulty in maintaining a choir. Circle 6 continued to be a focus for dealing with modern women's issues. There was a major reform in the Christian Education program. Family retreats at Cedarkirk became a regular part of the congregational life. Members remember the softball team that competed in the city softball league for several years. Black membership increased and there was increasing participation by women and blacks in the leadership of the church.

Lakeview considers its alternatives for the future            to top of page

Throughout his years at Lakeview Larry Corbett was frustrated by what appeared to be a contradiction between the appearance of a vigorous and progressive mission of the church and what he perceived to be very serious internal weaknesses. Membership in the church was decreasing.. By the mid-Seventies the church was in serious financial difficulties. In 1975-76 a Task Force on Lakeview's Future Mission undertook a thorough self-study of the church and the possibilities for its future mission. We employed a church consultant, James Earhart, to assess our future prospects and he concluded that given the present circumstances the church could not survive beyond eighteen to thirty months. During the summer of 1976 the congregation considered its alternatives for the future: continue at the present location, relocate, merge with another congregation, disband. Both the congregation and the Session voted for rededication to stay at the present location. The session immediately appointed a Renewal Committee to make recommendations on revitalizing the church. This work was under way when Larry Corbett resigned to accept a call to Arizona.

During the interim, which lasted for nearly a year, the coordinating committee of the Session, under the leadership of George Lofquist, assumed responsibility for maintaining the work of the church, including continuing the commitment to rededication. Walter Hall assumed pastoral duties as interim minister, sharing the preaching with Alan Carlsten and Joe McClure, both at Eckerd College. During the interim Lakeview entered into serious conversations about a possible merger or joint ministry with Covenant Presbyterian Church.

During the ministry of Tom Beason the church continued the work of internal renewal. Before coming to Lakeview Beason had engaged in a beach ministry and drug ministry in Sarasota county. He was attracted to Lakeview by the challenges for ministry here. Since the Earhart Report had pronounced our impending death, we often regarded this as a time of resurrection. A Spiritual Renewal Task Force was created which sponsored several events for the congregation and served as a spiritual support group for the pastor and a key group of church leaders. There were two major efforts at revitalizing the Christian Education program following the proposals of John Westerhoff. For some years Lakeview maintained an interest in a progressive pre-school child care center, the Circle of Children, located at another church. In 1987 the church organized a Stephen Ministry program under the leadership of Tom Beason and Carolyn Horton.

The Johnnie Ruth Clark Health Center            to top of page

The most extensive new program organized in these years was the Johnnie Ruth Clark Health Center, originally designed as a holistic heath center, but evolving into a primary health care center for low income people after receiving government funding. From the beginning the Health Center had an extensive social service component that dealt with other problems in the lives of its clients. Lloyd Horton played a key role in the development of the Health Center.

Problems of national and international peace and justice became increasingly urgent during the Reagan years. In the early eighties the church sponsored a six-week symposium on economic justice, which brought in nationally-prominent speakers for public forums. The church sponsored a Haitian refugee family. The congregation has consistently supported individuals who have worked for peace and justice: Ruth Uphaus with the farmworkers, Clark and Pat Bouwman for peace in Nicaragua, Bob and Myrna Gemmer with Habitat for Humanity, and more recently Dwight Lawton's witness against the School of the Americas.

Members remember the Beason years as exciting, nurturing, different, introspective, intellectual. They describe them as a time of internal nourishment, spiritual growth, and a deepening awareness of the relationship of spiritual growth with social justice.

But the problems remained, Membership continued to decline. The financial distress was becoming acute. Presbytery was pressing us, for the third time, into unsuccessful merger discussions with Covenant Church.

Congregations United for Community Action, the Stephen Ministry program, and an AIDS ministry            to top of page

When Earl Smith came to Lakeview we were again debating our future. The Session decided to stay in our present location and reaffirm our mission. The Session voted to make major improvements to the property, painting the outside of the church and finally solving the water problem, with the help of a grant to the Health Center. We turned over the entire Fellowship Hall building to the Health Center, and under the direction of Harold Hoff renovated the Sanctuary to recover the lost space. Lakeview took leadership in organizing Congregations United for Community Action, a congregation-based, ecumenical organization for community empowerment. Earl Smith and Kitty Rawson were key people in the development of CUCA. CUCA worked to improve community-police relations, education, economic development, and race relations. The organization played a crucial role in the spring and summer of 1992 when the community became racially divided and close to violence over issues surrounding the police chief. Earl Smith also helped in the organization of the Lake Maggiore Shores Community Association.

The church moved to respond to community needs by developing an HIV-AIDS ministry. Earl Smith helped organize the People of Color AIDS Coalition, and he and Joan McKee worked with an AIDS support group that met weekly at the church. Joan and Bill McKee participated in a number of Light ("Living in God's Hands Today") at Dayspring, the Episcopal conference center. The AIDS support group continued for a decade until the demand for such groups diminished with more hopeful medical care for people with HIV.

The Stephen Ministry program continued under the leadership of Earl Smith and Joan McKee.

The Jubilee program            to top of page

In 1992 Lakeview was chosen as the Jubilee Center in a pilot project sponsored by the Urban Ministry Task Force of the General Assembly. We were chosen because we had developed significant community ministry in a changing neighborhood, were interracial, and had a leadership that could articulate the relation of the faith to community action. We were paired in a mentoring relation with churches in St. Louis and Chicago that faced changing ministries. After the three year program of self-study, deliberation, and action were completed, the Tyler Place Presbyterian Church developed several significant programs for renewal. Lakeview repeated the Jubilee program in our presbytery with the endorsement of the Evangelism and Church Development Committee. We developed a significant relationship with the Forest Hills church in Tampa. The Jubilee program has strengthened our sense of renewal and made us increasingly aware of what it means to live in the resurrection.

One result of the Jubilee program was that Earl Smith used the program as the subject of his doctoral thesis for a D.Min. degree from Columbia Seminary.

A resurgence            to top of page

Also at this time Lakeview began employing summer interns from Columbia Seminary, strengthening our sense of ourselves as a teaching church. The church instituted a summer Read and Swim program. Lakeview also became the site of a St. Pete Reads tutoring program for elementary school students. A Girl Scouts group began meeting at the church.

Late in the Nineties the church received a very large bequest from the Robb estate that helped financially. Once again, we engaged in a reflection process to determine the future of our mission. This resulted in a reflection on the type of leadership the church needed. Earl Smith resigned to accept the pastorate of two inner-city churches in Tampa, where he hoped to use the Jubilee process to produce significant renewal in their missions.

During the interim of about a year and a half, the Coordinating Committee of the Session provided leadership for the ongoing program of the church. Eventually, Al Wells served for a year as interim pastor.

During the interim Lakeview began a Jubilee program with Earl Smith's two churches in Tampa, St.John's Presbyterian Church and John Calvin Presbyterian Church. St. John's, previously a predominately Hispanic church, developed a number of creative new programs to relate to the community. The members of the John Calvin team concluded that the church was too small in membership and too short of resources to survive, and they recommended that the church should close. The John Calvin Session decided to continue to struggle on.

Lakeview 2001 - 2010   to top of page

In 2001 Todd Sutton was called to Lakeview. Under his leadership the internal life of the church was energized. The Session and its committees continued to provide efficient leadership. The outreach programs of the church were continued. Operation Attack expanded its service to the community. Todd worked with the Lake Maggiore Neighborhood Association to strengthen our ties with the neighborhood. Lakeview and the Neighborhood Association sponsored several cookouts and yard sales. When the school district ceased supporting the St. Pete Reads program, Lakeview continued to be the only site for the program. Todd developed a Sunday evening youth program, the first the church had sponsored in several decades.

As a result of a federal grant to build a new facility, the Johnnie Ruth Clark Health Center moved to a new location in Midtown. The church is sought alternative ways to use the space in the Fellowship Hall building to advance our social service ministry.

The finances, always precarious, were strengthened by the lease of space behind the church to Verizon to build a cell tower. Room 10 was also leased to house equipment for the cell tower.

The church continued to be open to innovation through providing a blended worship experience due to the diversity of our congregation, visitors and neighbors.

The Presbytery of Tampa Bay created a new redevelopment initiative called REACH and offered leadership and support to congregations that took part. Lakeview enthusiastically participated in creating a new mission statement, reducing the Session and adding Ministry Leaders, all following the Jethro-Moses model. The prayer was that this would lead to growth in membership, perhaps to a solid 100 members, or so.

Under Pastor Todd's watch, Lakeview enjoyed several years of ministry interns who helped develop youth programs and brought young energy to the congregation. We sponsored Jeannie Hunter as she attended and graduated from seminary at Emory University. Another daughter of the congregation, Shavon Starling-Louis, was also supported in seminary, at Columbia Theological Seminary. Shavon graduated with honors in May 2013 and became an ordained minister!

When the DART sponsored F.A.S.T. (Faith and Action for Strength Together), a congregation-based community organization, which emerged in Tampa Bay, Lakeview was a part of it as a way of doing justice.

Todd also led two mission trips to the Center for the Development of Central America in Nicaragua. Lakeview continues to support the CDCA by hosting a visit and craft sale by CDCA staff member Sarah Junkin Woodard every year or so.

A Gospel Choir sang once a month as the church continued to be open to innovation in worship.

The Rev. Sutton resigned and left Lakeview Presbyterian Church in November 2010 so he and his wife Ceska could return to her hometown of Washington, DC, to be closer to family as they were expecting their first child.

Now            to top of page

Lakeview was without pastor until June 2011. The Session led well during this time but was relieved to turn over interim pastoral duties to the Reverend Laurie Palmer. She guided the congregation through the process of grieving what was lost, looking to the future to what and who Lakeview wants to be and to preparing for a new pastor.

Lakeview applied for and was accepted into the General Assembly’s For Such A Time As This (FSATAT) program matching new seminary graduates with small, struggling congregations with a heart to survive. The PNC interviewed candidates and presented their recommendation, Rev. Lauren Evans, to the Session which extended a call to her.

In October, 2013, Lakeview welcomed Pastor Lauren, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary. She and the Session continue to strengthen prior programs and initiate new ones to reach out to the community, welcome diversity, and strive to do justice and mercy. Some of the programs that Pastor Lauren has introduced include:

  • A worship service centered around the ancient Christian practice of an Agape (love) Feast and held on every 5th Sunday, where we worship as a church and neighborhood over a meal, as the early church so often did.
  • A community garden, "The Garden of Eatin'"
  • A quarterly free movie night for the community
  • Weekday Bible study and prayer meetings

During the Session Meeting on May 4, 2015, Pastor Lauren told the Session that, because of serious health issues and the recent death of her father, she was leaving Lakeview Presbyterian Church and that Sunday, May 24, would be her last Sunday in the Lakeview pulpit. Members of the Session expressed their sorrow about the news. On May 4 we held a farewell gathering after church, celebrated what Lauren had done, and wished her God blessings.

On its session meeting held after church, June 14, 2015, the Session moved to call Rev. Jean Cooley to be our part-time Temporary Stated Supply pastor. We are delighted that she has agreed to serve us through December 31, 2015.

On the evening of June 17, 2015, a mass shooting took place at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, as a white man killed nine people worship in one of the oldest black churches in America. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charleston_church_shooting) The gunman hoped to ignite a race war. Lakeview Presbyterian Church took this opportunity to join with others to express our desire for love, peace, and justice in race relations. At the suggestion of Pastor Jean Cooley, a worship service was held on Saturday morning, June 20, at 10 a.m. with worshipers from many congregations assembling at Lakeview to express our support and sympathy for those lost at Charleston. Part of the service involved the following commitment made by the congregation:

The Lakeview Commitment

  • The love of Christ leads us to do justice and mercy in the world.
  • We condemn all acts of racial violence and hatred.
  • We mourn the loss of lives in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, June 17, 2015.
  •  We extend to the members of family and friends our love, sympathy, and prayers.
  • We commit ourselves to replace hate with love and violence with mercy.
  • God bless us all.
  • And all of God's people say, "Amen!"

On Sunday morning, July 5, 2015, at 9 a.m. (before the Sunday worship service) we followed this up by viewing the eulogy by President Obama at this Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, and then discussing this eulogy and the racism that is present throughout our society.

The church continues to explore different aspects of worship. A Gospel group, the Gospel Apostles, provide the music on the 4th Sundays. Short presentations about African-American leaders are part of the worship services during February. We take the opportunity to pray for and with one another as the Body of Christ very seriously, and so an intentional prayer time is part of every service.

In all these ways we have endeavored to be faithful to God's kingdom in this place.