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Church in troubled neighborhood focuses on God’s potential

By Barbara Denman

August 28, 2013


When the community clubhouse in Holiday Lake Estates went up for sale, members of the Anclote River Baptist Church believed God had a purpose for the property.

Located in a deteriorating Tarpon Springs neighborhood where the small group of believers previously met in the home of Pauline Nichols, the clubhouse featured a large open meeting space that was ideal for corporate worship.

Built in the 1960s, Holiday Lake Estates with its 3,000 homes was a vacation refuge for senior adults, providing affordable homes located just a short distance from the Anclote River leading to the Gulf of Mexico. After that first generation of homeowners died, the homes became cheap housing and rental property that attracted low income and multicultural residents.  

“It’s a very densely populated area,” said John Kuespert, which has “fallen in disarray as the makeup of the community changed.” Kuespert serves as director of missions of the Pasco Baptist Association and now serves as interim pastor of the church.

In earlier days, John Fountouklis, pastor of the nearby Lighthouse Baptist Church, unsuccessfully tried to cultivate the Holiday Lakes neighborhood. The church surveyed and canvassed the community and drew some children to vacation Bible school at the church. “But we could not get them to come to our church despite our efforts,” he said.

So the Lighthouse congregation sponsored the Anclote River Church with the hope that it could make inroads there.

The community is in dire need of a church to stand as a moral compass for the declining neighborhood, which is now “riddled with drugs and crime,” said pastor Fountouklis.

It is strategic to reaching the 8,000 ‘lost souls,” living there, he said, emphasizing that Christ himself sought out the downtrodden.

“We are called to seek and save what is lost. This is a lost community that needs the gospel—that needs it drastically. This is where Christ would go.”

Anclote River Church was started in 2011 by Nichols and a group of women who were holding Bible studies in their homes. They asked local minister Richard Chamblee to lead the Bible study. But he challenged them to think with a Kingdom mindset, adding that God called him to preach.

So the core group evolved into a church, drawing as many as 30 members, meeting in a local boys club.

When the community center became available, the congregation began to envision how the building could be used as a church. With an asking price far below the property assessment, valued at nearly $200,000, the fledgling congregation was able to obtain the property for $87,500.

Purchasing the clubhouse within Holiday Lake Estates offered an “ideal setting in the neighborhood where people living in the housing development can walk to church,” Kuespert said. It is highly visible on one of the major thoroughfares.

To buy the property, the congregation received a $100,000 interest-free loan from the Maguire State Mission Offering. With that loan, the church had enough money above the purchasing cost to install a new roof and fill in the swimming pool located on the property—both required by their insurance company.

Recently, Pastor Chambliee resigned from the church due to family health issues that required him to move out of state.

So Kuespert has taken the helm of the church until a new pastor can be found.

Even without a pastor, the small congregation is able to continue making the small $300 monthly mortgage payments because of the generosity of Florida Baptists.

“We couldn’t have this church without the interest-free loan,” said Nichols.

“We couldn’t ‘keep’ this church without the interest-free loan,” Kuespert stressed.

Despite recent hardships, Nichols sees God’s handiwork in what she calls “The House that Jesus Built.” She is encouraged that the church has experienced three baptisms since its beginning. Located just four blocks from an elementary school, she sees potential for ministry in a neighborhood where “single mothers live in poverty and kids go hungry.”

“We are digging in and are going to be here as long as God wants us here.”

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