Fellowship Baptist Church
By the grace of GOD…
Fellowship Baptist Church (FBC) began in the hearts and minds of Mr. and Mrs. Walson Clark and Mr. and Mrs. Kay Williams, who came to Lakeland from General Association of Regular Baptist (GARBC) churches in Brownsburg, Indiana.
Mr. Williams contacted Rev. Charles E. Cuthbertson, a missionary with the Fellowship of Baptists for Home Missions, to see if he would plant a church in Lakeland. Rev. Cuthbertson had finished establishing a GARBC church in North Port Charlotte, Florida, and while preparing to move his family north, he stopped in Lakeland for a meeting with the Williams and Clarks. Rev. Cuthbertson told them that he had prospects in several other states to consider, and that he would not come to Lakeland unless he had the clear leading of the Lord.
Mr. Clark placed an ad in the Ledger to see if anyone was interested in GARBC Fellowship and in establishing a General Association of Regular Baptist Church in the Lakeland area. The response to the ad resulted in a Bible class starting at the Clarks’ home on Mar. 6, 1966. The class grew in number and the members prayed concerning a name for the church, deciding to call it Fellowship Baptist Church.
The Lord answered another prayer request and Rev. Cuthbertson moved his family to Lakeland so he could pastor the new church. The group rented the Tuesday Music Club building at 421 E. Park Street, fully equipped and furnished, for the Sunday and Wednesday night services, which began Aug. 21, 1966. The first Sunday morning attendance was 25. In Dec. 1966 the group purchased three acres on Cleveland Heights Boulevard for the future church building.
On Sept. 20, 1967 a church organizational meeting was held and a constitution and by-laws were written and then accepted unanimously by the group on Sept. 27. Charter membership opened Oct. 1, 1967 and closed Jan. 1, 1968 with thirty members.
The ground breaking service at 4625 Cleveland Heights Blvd. was held on the afternoon of Dec. 3, 1967 and construction began the following week.
The first communion service was Feb. 4, 1968 with the first deacons helping Pastor Cuthbertson serve. A recognition council was convened Apr. 29 with 27 messengers examining the church’s credentials.
FBC moved to its new location on June 16, 1968. Records show that 18 souls had been saved and the average Sunday morning attendance had grown to 34.
Fellowship was built almost entirely by donated labor. Rev. Cuthbertson pastored the church, contracted the job, supervised all the labor and worked tirelessly on the building. The platform furnishings and the Communion table were made by a member and his family. Mr. Richard Dawson was chosen music director, Mrs. Gloria Sawtelle, the pianist, and Mrs. Joanne Dawson, the organist, who used her own organ in the sanctuary until the church could afford to buy one.
The church progressed into its second and third years experiencing physical and spiritual growth. The morning worship services averaged 75 and the church held vacation Bible school, camp, a teens’ conference, evangelistic services, dinners and a ladies’ missionary fellowship.
Dr G. Arthur Woolsey led a Bible prophecy conference in 1970 and a steeple was added to the church roof. Morning worship services averaged 100.
Pastor Cuthbertson’s ministry at Fellowship concluded in the spring of 1971 and Dr. Woolsey served as interim pastor from Apr. until Aug. 31. The existing education building was constructed between July 1 and Sept. 1 of that same year and housed Spurgeon Baptist Bible College at its inception.
Rev. H. Joseph Miller, from Hackensack, N.J., became the first regular pastor of the church in Sept. FBC had a radio gospel outreach, “Peace at the Crossroads” on station WQPD at 8:15 a.m. on Sunday mornings beginning in Sept. 1972.
In the 1970s, nine new pews were added to the sanctuary to accommodate the growing membership. A new vestibule and a shed for tools were constructed and a new organ and piano purchased for the sanctuary. FBC sponsored new church plants under Rev. Cuthbertson, one in Mulberry and one in Brandon. Records show a high attendance of 198 and missions giving grew to $390 per month. The first church secretary was hired, Mrs. Lee (Carol) Roth.
Rev. Ronald L. Cochran of Ames, IA became the new pastor in Dec. of 1974 when Pastor Miller accepted the position of Academic Dean at Spurgeon Baptist Bible College. The first associate pastor, “Pastor Dan” Wallin of Pennsauken, NJ was called as minister of youth and evangelism. Don and Rose Hubbard began the AWANA program and “senior servants” meetings began. Growing attendance and financial blessings led to preliminary plans for a new sanctuary building. Monthly missions giving increased to $730 a month. The mortgage for the land was burned at a service held on July 4, 1976.
By the tenth anniversary, FBC had an average attendance of 287 and a record attendance of 318. Ground was broken for the present sanctuary building on Apr. 17, 1977 and it was dedicated on Apr. 2, 1978. On Oct. 5, 1977, Bill Dooley and Brian Shenk were called to be assistants to Pastor Cochran. Fellowship opened the Christian Learning Center in the education building on Feb.14, 1979, to minister to families of preschool age children, and it operated until June 16, 1987.
In Aug. 1979 Rev. Jack A. McCurry took over the pastoral reins. Armand Ternak became the temporary assistant to the pastor on May 23, 1982 and on Sept.15, 1982, Ken Kraft became the interim part-time youth pastor until a full-time youth pastor could be found. On Aug.31, 1983 Dan Warner was called as the assistant-youth-evangelism pastor. The sanctuary was full on Sunday mornings when Pastor McCurry’s ministry at FBC concluded on Nov. 4, 1984.
Rev. Don Moffat filled in as interim pastor until Dr. David Nettleton was called as head pastor in Aug. of 1985. God provided a new organ and sound system, new a/c in the Fellowship Hall and a new roof on the sanctuary building under Pastor Nettleton’s leadership. Mel Lyons was called on Mar. 1986 as assistant and apprentice in the areas of visitation, administration, and extension. Dan Woughter was assistant pastor for youth in 1986 and 1987. On Oct. 7, 1987 Ted Tompkins was called as assistant pastor of youth ministries and continued in this position until Mar. 10, 1991. On Apr. 23, 1991 Otto Reitnauer was called to assist the pastor in youth, Christian education, visitation, and music and continued in this ministry until the end of 1993. Pastor Nettleton was instrumental in helping begin the Chuck Cuthbertson Memorial Fund with monies from the sale of Faith Baptist Church in Bartow, which were used to help fund construction of new churches and support missionaries for many years. Pastor Nettleton shepherded the flock until he was promoted to glory in Aug. 1993.
Mark Shaw served as interim pastor from Aug. 1993 until Feb. 1994. Fellowship had no pastor from Feb. 1994 until Aug. 1994 when Rev. Richard C. Piatt, II was called. On June 14, 1998 FBC celebrated with a mortgage burning service. Much has been accomplished with the physical campus: a complete remodel of the sanctuary and foyer, relocating the nursery, church offices and kitchen, painting the exterior of all the buildings, new landscaping, resealing the parking lot, and more.
The missions program has grown to support three agencies (Sunshine Baptist Fellowship, Lighthouse Ministries and Shepherds) and nineteen single missionaries and/or missionary families, including the Andrew Comings family, commissioned by FBC to Brazil, the Adam Gibson family on pre-field ministry to Portugal, and Phillip Madrid in Paris with Campus Crusade for Christ. It is also a thrill to support our own Don & Rose Hubbard in the Tentmaking ministry, Dave & Shirley Marsteller in the furlough replacement ministry and others like the Richard Jertbergs (Madagascar), Marc Blackwells (South Africa), and Scot Shelburnes (Peoria, IL) who are related to members of FBC. There is now a National Ministry Fund to help support nationals studying at Bible institutes in their own countries, such as the Philippines and Haiti; an emergency fund to help missionaries when unexpected expenses threaten to overwhelm their budgets; and a missions travel fund to help finance the many mission trips the members of FBC delight to participate in. The youth/college groups and members at large have taken missions trips to Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Bahamas, Brazil, Portugal, Italy, Guatemala, Venezuela, Mexico and other locations around the world and within the United States. The church instituted a Philippine Church Fund which is helping to construct Mountain View Christian Bible Church, in an area where several FBC mission teams have gone to serve. In 2010 the vision and burden for a widow’s ministry became reality.
In 2002 the church hired Daniel Comings as a part-time associate pastor, changing his status to full-time associate pastor in 2005. In Jan. 2003 Rev. Charles (Chuck) Smith, who is supported under our missions budget, was brought on as associate pastor, specializing in senior saints’ ministry. In 2009 FBC called an ordination council which approved Daniel Comings’ ordination to the Gospel ministry.
In 2013, we celebrated the 10-year anniversary of Daniel Comings & Chuck Smith as associate pastors. In 2014 we celebrated the 20-year anniversary of our senior Pastor Richard C. Piatt, II with a large banquet and special speakers. In November of 2016, our church celebrated 50 years of ministry in Lakeland, FL. In 2020, Chuck Smith retired from his position with the senior saints in January. Our associate pastor Daniel Comings resigned in September 2020 and is exploring aviation ministry opportunities. Our current associate pastor Ryan McKeen joined the church staff in May 2021.
Fellowship Baptist Church looks forward to God’s continued spiritual and physical blessings as we reach out into the local community and around the world to edify believers and reach the unsaved for Christ. We praise God for the spirit of unity we enjoy and the love we have for one another!
For the glory of GOD!!