What’s the secret of conquering Mount Kilimanjaro (elevation 19,341 feet) or hiking the Appalachian Trail (distance 2,190 miles)? Taking one step at a time.
For the past three years, Patmos Chapel Seventh-day Adventist Church members in Apopka, Florida, have taken steps of faith and sacrifice on a journey to construct a sanctuary — a tabernacle — a “worship hub.” In March, the congregation crossed the finish line and celebrated with a two-day grand-opening festival.
The festivities began Friday evening, March 17, 2023, with a ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony. Attending the opening ceremonies were guests from the Southern Union Conference and city, county, and state leaders, including Bryan Nelson, Apopka mayor, who offered their greetings and well wishes. Pastor Clarence Wright, a former pastor at Patmos Chapel, now serving in Lakeland, Florida, gave a devotional message.
On Sabbath morning (March 18), more than 800 people packed the “hub” and an adjacent overflow room. Some had to be turned away. The lively praise service featured music from the Dynamic Praise Choir from Huntsville, Alabama, and Patmos’ children’s choir and praise team. Among the special guests was Michael Owusu, Southeastern Conference president, who congratulated the members and praised them for the sacrificial giving that made the renovation possible. Conference treasurer Emmanuel Charles presented Doggette with a financial gift to support the effort. Southern Union Conference president Ron Smith delivered his affirmations through a video message and praised senior pastor James R. Doggette, Sr. for his visionary leadership.
Doggette and administrative pastor Marvin McClean honored the several building contractors with plaques in appreciation of their work on the renovation.
Jeffrey Williamson, Orange County communication director, presented Doggette with a proclamation from Mayor Jerry L. Demings declaring March 18, 2023, Patmos Chapel Day in Orange County.
During his sermon, G. Alexander Bryant, president of the North American Division, commended the congregation for its vision. “Do you know what the emphasis is in the world church today?” He asked. “It’s to have a place like this — to turn our worship centers into community places that will serve the needs of the people for whom Jesus Christ died. How do we take our places of worship and turn them from places that gather just two hours a week to a place that serves the community seven days a week?”
The need for the 9,200-square-foot “worship hub” has been a priority since the congregation moved to the property in 2019. Though the structure had lots of space, there was none suitable for worship. During the pandemic, the church held services in the parking lot. That necessitated moving sound equipment and musical instruments and laying cables every week. As the pandemic subsided, the congregation worshiped in a gym and deacons had to set up floor mats, chairs, sound equipment, musical instruments, and cables every week. The process was reversed after services. The new hub provides an environment more suited for worship and eliminates the need to move furniture and equipment.
The congregation was birthed in a tent in Winter Park in 1937. The church’s first building was dedicated, and the name Patmos Chapel was chosen in 1955 under the leadership of Pastor C.B. Rock. Throughout its 86-year history, parishioners experienced several construction projects and relocations. But the latest move was radically different. When the assembly acquired the Apopka property in 2019, it wasn’t designed as a church building; instead, it housed a widely-recognized athletics program, which offered unique opportunities for mission.
Church leaders named the building “The Well Activity Center,” a reference to the biblical story of the woman at the well in John 4. The 107,000-square-foot activity center has basketball courts, a kid’s gymnasium, volleyball courts, batting cages, martial arts facilities, space for COVID testing, a restaurant, and an outdoor video screen used to stream services to the parking lot.
The hub, a multi-purpose space, is also useful for wedding receptions, banquets, conferences, training sessions, and other events. “Apopka has very few venues for organizations to hold gatherings,” says Doggette. “The hub could make a major contribution to the social and cultural life of the city.”
A Different Mission Field
The Well serves hundreds of youth and adults who participate in activities such as gymnastics, martial arts, basketball, baseball training, tutoring, and workplace screening. As a result, there’s a mission field right inside the church’s doors; the “worship hub” provides a spiritual complement to the physical activities the Well offers.
In addition to the activities inside the Well, Patmos impacts surrounding neighborhoods. In 2019, the church launched a food drive that now serves more than 30,000 persons each year. The biweekly food giveaway has greatly enhanced the health of Apopka residents and is one of the largest food distribution sites in the county. The church also collaborates with non-profit groups to feed unhoused individuals in Orlando regularly.
“We’re at a time in society when, unless we’re out meeting the needs of the community, our churches are in danger of becoming irrelevant,“ Bryant warned in his Sabbath message. “To see Patmos Chapel with a facility that meets the community’s needs seven days a week is outstanding. They are ahead of the denomination at large.”
Florida State Senator Geraldine F. Thompson, who represents Apopka, sees Patmos’ community services expanding. “I’m interested in seeing the community thrive, and churches can add to what the government does to meet the needs of the people. This church has already proven itself with recreational and food programs. Services can be expanded into education and many other areas. I’m looking forward to a wonderful partnership.”
A few days after the grand opening, the church’s community engagement did expand. Mayor Demings invited Pastor Doggette to co-chair the Orange County Citizen Safety Taskforce. The 32-member group, a racially diverse body composed of public officials, educators, community activists, and clergy, will research and recommend action steps to stem the growing threat of gun violence. “My co-chair, James Coffin (a retired Adventist pastor who served for 11 years as executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida), and I will work side-by-side with the mayor to study and develop initiatives for prevention, intervention, enforcement, and prosecution,” Doggette said. “This will give the church a major voice in crafting public policy on this vital issue.”
He added, “With the facility we have now, our task is to reorient our members to become missionaries, not only by giving Bible studies or preaching sermons but by simply making friends and showing the love of Christ to those who walk through our doors.”
“God has given us this building. He gave it to us for a purpose,” he said. ”With God’s grace, we will fulfill that purpose.”
By taking one step at a time.
— Carlos Medley, a retired online editor of the Adventist Review, serves as community service liaison for the Patmos Chapel Seventh-day Adventist Church in Apopka, Florida.