WINTER HAVEN, Fla — One of Winter Haven’s oldest institutions is celebrating a major milestone.
More than 800 parishioners worship at the First Missionary Baptist Church of Winter Haven, though the pandemic has caused many of them to stay home. Flora Lee Whitten is one of the longest attending members of the church, at 93 years young.
“If I live to see December the fifth, I’ll be 94 and I’m so thankful, so thankful,” Whitten said.
Growing up, her life was centered around the church. She used to sing in the choir at First Baptist. Her favorite hymn is amazing grace.
“I thank him that he has kept me all of these years. I thank Him,” said Whitten.
Her uncle Curtis Whitten was one of the founders of the church. He and four other families, many of them, former slaves held the first service in 1881. They eventually built a sanctuary where the church still stands today.
It would be another 30 years until the City of Winter Haven would become incorporated, making this one of the oldest churches in the area.
“There are many issues that we have championed over the years because that’s what the church should do. It should be about making real change,” said
Rev. Clifton Dollison, Pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church.
Rev. Dollison said throughout the years First Baptist has collaborated with city officials to address issues like affordable housing, mental health, and homelessness. As the church celebrates 140 years, Dollison believes it will continue its legacy of impacting the community.
“I often say to the church, that ‘if the church closed tomorrow, would we be missed?’ So we want to make sure that people know that the First Missionary Baptist Church of Winter Haven who has a charge to keep and a world to reach, is certainly doing just that,” Dollison said.