A Brief History of Gateway Baptist Church
Gateway Baptist Church, started in August of 1958 as a mission named “North Central Baptist Chapel.” North Central Baptist Chapel was born out of prayer. Early in 1958, Christians of the Norwood Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, under the leadership of Rev. James Brown, sought prayerfully the Holy Spirit’s guidance in starting a mission in the Meadowlawn area of St. Petersburg. Prayers were answered. On September 28, 1958, North Central Baptist Chapel met for the first time, using the 54th Avenue Elementary School building. The two congregations worked hard seeking God’s leadership for a permanent site, and late in 1961 about 5 ½ acres of land was purchased at 7700 16th Street North. Soon a building was going up, a pastorium was secured, and both fellowships were praising God for his blessings. In 1965 the Norwood Church saw that they could not continue to adequately sponsor the mission, so the withdrew their mother church status and the First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg under Dr. Earl B. Edington’s leadership became the mother church. They began at once to pay off the land mortgage, and the two congregations worked together to secure a new and larger pastorium and furnish and carpet the auditorium. God sent several well qualified men to serve as pastors: the first was Randall Cook; then, Robert Kates, Harold Harllee, J. Fenton Moorehead, Harry Lee Wainscott; and finally Nolan C. Tobias.
North Central Baptist Chapel sought to do its best in carrying out its part of the Great Commission. There are hundreds of persons who owe their happiness and their salvation as a direct result of the chapel’s ministry. The chapel had a worldwide vision also, having given regularly to the Cooperative Program, associational missions, and other Southern Baptist Mission efforts.
The Chapel experienced rapid growth, closing it’s final year as “North Central Baptist Chapel” with 19 Baptisms and 71 coming by letter to make the total membership 389 members. Total receipts were $31,735, with $3420 going for Southern Baptist mission work. Organizationally, Sunday School had 235 enrolled with an average attendance of 116; Woman’s Missionary Union had 98 enrolled, Church Brotherhood 32, and Church Music 42.
On November 21, 1971, the members of North Central Baptist Chapel became constituted into “Gateway Baptist Church” of St. Petersburg, Incorporated, and thanking God for the past and trusting him for the future.
Welcome to Gateway Baptist Church!
Under the leadership of Nolan Tobias, North Central Baptist Chapel incorporated into Gateway Baptist Church on November 21, 1971. Under Pastor Tobias’s leadership, Gateway Baptist continued to flourish. Ground was broken on November 18, 1973 for the new Sanctuary and on July 28, 1974 we moved in and the first service was held. After 5 years of service, Pastor Tobias and his wife were called to be Missionaries to Costa Rica.
Over the next 14 years, God sent several well-qualified men to serve as pastors: first came Rev. Fred Smallwood; followed by Rev. Walter Carter; followed by Rev. Clint Rogers; followed by Rev. Larry Padgett; followed by Rev. John Asharne; followed by Rev. Scott Leonard; and finally Rev. David Deck.
During these years, the membership of Gateway Baptist Church remained steady and peaked in 1980 with 489 members.
In 1993, a decision was made to pay off the sanctuary and make the church debt free. At the same time, with Meadowlawn area expanding, Hoyt Development made an offer to the church to purchase the pastorium and the western portion of the property for $90,000. The deal was brought to a vote and the congregation approved the sale. Soon afterwards, the church’s loan on the Sanctuary was satisfied and the church became once again, debt free.
In 1996, with the Tampa – St. Petersburg area attracting record numbers of new residents, old communities found themselves adjacent to new communities. The Gateway area was now subdivided into Gateway, Meadowlawn, Winchester, and Sawgrass. In order to reach out to all communities and not be limited to just the Gateway area, a decision was made to change the name to “Grace Community Church.” It was put to a vote and passed by a narrow margin, and the name was changed to “Grace Community Church”.
Transition to Grace Community Church!
In 1999, Rev. Billy Ray Little came to our church and accepted the call to Pastor our church upon the retirement of Pastor Deck. A tireless worker, who took great pains in caring for the church and each individual member of the congregation, was an incredible orator. He brought to the pulpit a flare of “old time religion” reminiscent of the Billy Sunday style of preaching. His love of God was evident throughout every area of his 6 years of service to the Church.
In July 2005, Ryan Saari came forward as Interim Pastor. He was charged with responsibility of readying the church and the community for a new Pastor.
On January 29, 2006, the congregation of Grace Community Church voted to call Pastor William "Skip" Cook to be the Senior Pastor of the Church. Upon his immediate acceptance, he and his family moved from his current pastorate in Gumbery, NC. A man named Pastor Cook was the first Pastor of this church almost 50 years ago, and with the calling of another man named Pastor Cook, the leaders of the church are excited that the church has come full circle. Pastor “Skip” took over the pastorate officially on June 4th, 2006.
Grace Community Church Reorganized and Renamed Gateway Baptist Church
On December 15, 2010 at the regular called Business meeting the congregation voted unanimous to reorganize to an Elder Led Church. The Pastor and Deacons were charged with developing new By-Laws to reflect the reorganization.
In a called business meeting in December of 2010, the decision was made by the church body to reclaim the name, "Gateway Baptist Church."
On June 15, 2012 at the regular called Business meeting the congregation voted unanimous to approve the new By-Laws establishing Gateway Baptist Church as an Elder Led Church as defined in the New Testament.