The Story of Central Bible Chapel
The following excerpts are from the foreword to Turning the World Upside Down and were penned by F.F. Bruce. The definition and brief synopsis of the beginnings of the Brethren movement are helpful in order to understand how we at Central Bible Chapel are connected to our heritage:
“The people called Brethren are often so described because they prefer to be known by a designation comprehensive enough to embrace all their fellow-Christians along with themselves.
The Brethren movement originated around the year 1835; although the Brethren commonly insist that their roots are really in the apostolic age, for they aim as far as possible at maintaining the simple and flexible church order of New Testament times. The founders of the movement were a group of young men, many of them associated with Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, tried to find a way in which they could come together for worship and communion simply as fellow-Christians, in disregard of denominational barriers. They had no idea that they were starting a movement; still less had they any thought of founding a new denomination, for that would have defeated the very purpose for which they came together.
Plymouth Brethren 1831
From Dublin, the movement spread to England. In England the first meeting of Brethren was established at Plymouth in 1831; hence arose the popular term “Plymouth Brethren.” In 1848, the Brethren split into two groups known as “The Exclusives“ and “The Open Brethren.” Both groups continue to the present with congregations worldwide. Central Bible Chapel of Tampa descends from the long line of “Open Brethren” assemblies.
The Open Brethren have no central organization. They belong to a large number of local churches or assemblies, spread throughout the world. Each of these local churches is independent in its administration; there is no federation or union linking them together. Yet there is a recognizable family likeness between them, and their sense of a spiritual bond is strong. They have no doctrinal peculiarities. They hold the historic Christian faith, because they find it plainly taught in the Bible, which is to them, as to other heirs of the Reformation, “the only infallible rule of faith and practice.” They are wholeheartedly evangelical in their understanding and presentation of Christianity, proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as the all-sufficient Savior of those who put their trust in Him and as the only hope for mankind. For this reason, they find it especially easy to cooperate in Christian witness with others who share this evangelical emphasis, and in many interdenominational cases their influence is greater than their numbers might lead one to expect.”Dickinson’s Hall Detroit – 1880’s.
Open Brethren evangelists from Scotland first came to North America in the early 1870s. The first of these was Donald Munro, who began his work in Ontario, Canada in 1871. The result of these evangelists efforts was, as Robert Baylis identifies in his “My People: The History of those Christians sometimes called Plymouth Brethren”, “the making of disciples both men and women, and the calling of the young men to preach and teach the Word.” One of these young men, a disciple of Munro, was T.D.W. Muir. Muir would become one of the widest read Brethren authors and largely influential in the growth of North American assemblies. Muir worked with Munro for several years, and then moved to Detroit, Michigan where he felt led to continue his ministry in 1881. It was through the work begun in Detroit by T. D. W. Muir, that a group of believers began to meet in Dickinson’s Hall, a rented space above Dickinson’s Hardware Store. It was here that the Brethren began the first Annual Conference in Detroit in 1890.
Central Gospel Hall Detroit- 1907
In 1907 the Brethren meeting at Dickinson’s Hall built Central Gospel Hall of Detroit. During this time conferences continued and were held in a building called Old Fellows Hall, located on Commonwealth and Grand River in Detroit. Eventually attendance increased, and in 1930 the conferences moved to the Ionic Temple. Believers continued fellowshipping and breaking bread together at Central Gospel Hall until the late 1950s.
Central Gospel Hall Tampa 1914
Sometime in 1914 several families moved to Tampa from Detroit and at first held meetings in the “Court House Square”, later moving into a room in the downstairs of the Hillsborough County Court House. The first group included the Bixbys, the Abolines, the Davis, and the Montgomerys. In 1918 the Hughey family (grandparents of Shirley and Carolyn) arrived from Detroit, followed later by the Thisse family (grandparents of Alfred, Carlton and Sally) in 1919. In the early 1920’s they moved to a storefront on Florabraska Avenue, mid 1920’s found them moving further west along Florabraska Avenue to a property owned by the Rawlins family and were calling themselves “The Gospel Hall”. The 1930’s found them moving to 6212 Florida Avenue. During the 1920’s and 30’s, in the summer months, Monday through Friday they held tent meetings for 6 weeks at a time with Ben Bradford, Robert Curry, James Smith and John Dixon doing the preaching. The 30’s and 40’s witnessed a long line of gifted preachers visiting the Tampa area including; Mr Coombs, Mr Bertram, H S Jones, Richard Hill, A R Crocker, G H McChandliss, and John Aldrich. A need for a better facility led in 1940 to the purchase of a vacant Seventh Day Adventist Church building at 2737 Florida Avenue and in memory of their Detroit origins they called themselves “Central Gospel Hall”.
In the early 50’s Frank and Mildred Detweiler came as workers in the Tampa area, Ben and Mary Zito (John Fogarty’s in Laws), the Oriel family, Alex and Mary Johnson (parents of Anna Aungst ), the Radimer family (Betty Zapadenko [Pratt] parents, all helped grow the Christian family). Then came the Gentiles, the Hocketts, the Leggetts, Arno and Dorothy Huenich, the Fogarty and the Tope family, filling out the growing congregation. John and David Horn began visiting Tampa every winter, preaching and teaching the Bible as a tandem team. Souls were saved.
Soon a Sunday School and Fellowship Building was added, including a small apartment for visiting speakers. A school bus was purchased and used to gather children from miles around for Sunday School and was used for chapel related picnics at nearby parks and at Keystone Lake. This time frame saw the arrival of the Dalfino and Beltram families. In May of 1959 a small group moved to north of Tampa and started a work now referred to as the Marjorie Street meeting. Today that work continues.
Central Gospel Chapel
About this time we changed the name to Central Gospel Chapel, as a way of distinguishing themselves from the nearby Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Halls. The 60’s and 70’s saw the adding of the Gratton, the Davis, the Peterkin, the two Bennetts, the Binnie, and the Carter families. As the congregation grew, a group felt led to start a new work on the Northeast side of Tampa. So on November 6, 1966, a group of 12 families began meeting first at the Lightfoot Recreation Center, then at the Riverhills Elementary School. They then built a chapel on North 56th Street, known as North 56th Street Gospel Chapel, with their first meeting on January 5, 1969. The ministry there continues to the present with a good number in fellowship and a very active missionary outreach in many countries.
Central Bible Chapel
In February 1969, Woody Murphy came from North Carolina to help with the work. A new location was found at 2135 W. Busch Boulevard with about a 400 foot frontage. On November 1, 1970 they moved into the new building and a final name change to Central Bible Chapel to more clearly identify themselves as a Bible believing, Christ centered body of New Testament believers. A plan to visit every family in a one mile radius of the chapel was started. An Awana program and a teen program, Genesis, were added. During this period the Faries, the Mancini, the Young, the Smith, the Allen, the Krokenberger, the Slusser, the Farmer, the Farlow, the Zapadenko, the Stibal, the Zagar, the Campbell and the Thatcher families were added.
In July of 1983, a group of several families were led to start a new work on the northern edge of Tampa, which led to the building of Carrollwood Bible Chapel. That ministry with a good number of people continues until now.
Three of these chapels have been very active in helping, along with many other assemblies around the State of Florida, build and support a very strong and active Camp Horizon, located in Leesburg Florida. Each summer hundreds of children up through age 18 attend the camp and since the early 70’s several thousand young people have come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In 1987, Joe Giordano came to help in the ministries at Central Bible Chapel for about two years, and then in 1989, Frank Taylor came to assist in the ministries. The 1990’s saw a significant growth in both numbers as well as spiritual blessings in the various ministries. As the Lord led the Taylor family back to the Jacksonville area, in 1994 He also led the Additon family to join us in the Lord’s work The 90’s saw the Martinson, the Dodds, the Cagliostro, the Lupinek, the Pinerio and the Hapney families added.
The growing density of the area around the chapel caused increasing problems with conducting chapel activities. Youth activities, crowded parking, and serious auto accidents on our front walk led the chapel to consider selling the location and relocating. The Dunlap, Paaso, the Rodriguez, the Trumback, the Pemberton, the Rios and the Hernandez families came to the area around this time. A 20 acre site was found a few miles to our west at 12024 N Gunn Highway. We moved into temporary quarters on the new property in 1997 and plans were drawn and construction started on what is our present home.
January 1, 2000 saw a small group move to the nearby town of Land o Lakes and started meetings in the Community Center and later built a chapel on Livingston Avenue named Land O’ Lakes Bible Chapel.
Central Bible Chapel moved into their new building in 2004. An extended door to door visitation program was conducted for nearly two years.
Starting in 2008, each Easter season we send a team of workers to assist in the building up of Campamento Manahanain in Guayabo de Mora, an assembly Christian camp in San Jose, Costa Rica. Around 2010 the chapel invited the Fisher family to begin using a vacant house on the property as a distribution site for their Food Pantry ministry. Currently free food is distributed to about 400 people each week. Recent years have added the Fisher, the Merino, the Juliano, the Mustard, the Dalfino, the Lindstrom, the Dunnsmore, the Stevenson and the Baldon families. Each winter we are blessed with several wonderful families from our northern states and the provinces of Canada.
The Next 100 Years
Our future is where and how the Lord leads the various readers of this short and abbreviated account of how the Lord has led us through the past 100 years. Much of our history has been taken to the grave by many of the first and second generation who passed without leaving either oral or written record.
So this account surely but unintentionally leaves out many exciting and important names and stories. We expect the Lord’s soon return, even as we lay plans for the next 100 years.
The past 100 years has seen countless people come to accept the Lord, a great many being baptized, and sadly some choosing to walk away from the Lord. That is the nature of living and working in a world of fallen, broken people, people that the Lord loves dearly. The people of Central Bible Chapel give all the credit and glory for past and future results to the Lord. We seek only to be His obedient servants. Even so, Lord, come quickly!
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