What We Believe
There is a universal principle that must be understood if we want to clearly comprehend the topic of musical instruments in worship. That principle is that we are never to change God’s word. When God says something we are not to add to it or take away from it. This has always been the case (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32, Proverbs 30:6, Revelation 22:18, 19). Therefore, as we approach the subject of how we are to sing we notice that God never said He wants instruments in New Testament worship. He told us to sing and make melody in our hearts (Ephesians 5:19) and to sing with grace in our hearts (Colossians 3:16). We could read the New Testament through a thousand times and never hear of an instrument in the church. Therefore, we are not to add it to our worship.
Walt is the middle son of three boys, and one daughter born to Walter and Gladys Person of Anna, Texas. Most of his youth was lived on the road, moving from seaport to seaport as his Dad, a career Navy man changed assignments. After his Dad retired, his family moved to the East Texas town of San Augustine. Here his life would change forever, first marrying Loretta (Bennefield) in October 1976, then in June 1977 he obeyed the Gospel. Shortly thereafter they began a 22 year career in the United States Air Force.
It was during those years of service, in 1987, that Walt made the commitment to serve the Lord’s church. While still on active duty, each new assignment afforded him opportunities to serve both our nation and God’s “Forever Family” the church. Consequently, he ministered for five years in the Federal Republic of Germany and nine years with congregations in Kansas, North Dakota and Virginia. Upon retirement from the Air Force, he accepted the responsibilities of planting a congregation in rural Virginia, where he labored for five and a half years. Transition came again in July 2003 when he accepted the preaching and ministry responsibilities with the Sanford Church of Christ in Sanford, Florida.
Walt and his Loretta have been married for over 40 years. He considers Loretta to be his best friend and greatest asset in the Lord’s work this side of eternity. She is a professional seamstress as well as a homemaker, Bible teacher, counselor to women and co-laborer in visitation, edification and benevolence. They have two adult children: Beverly and Cathe. They also enjoy the blessing of being grandparents to Hayley, Sarah, Helena and Daniel.
Walt has been a student of the Bible since 1977, preacher of the Gospel since 1987 and became an Elder in October 2013. The Persons have been with Sanford since July 2003.
Specialties: His undergraduate and graduate degree study was completed with the Theological University of America (TUA) in Biblical Studies and Ministry respectively with emphasis in pastoral care, marriage and the family, and has special interest and experience in “Domestic” missions. He earned his Doctorate in Pastoral and Theological Studies in 2001. As a spiritual leader in his community, Walt serves as a volunteer Chaplain, for the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.
This history is a combination of both old and new information, much as the building in which Christians now worship in Sanford is a combination of both the old and new structures. The information is compiled from interviews with living members, church bulletins, and previous written histories. Armillda Covington, whose husband served as an elder for over thirty years, was the first to put to paper the Sanford church’s history. Additional facts were added by Jim and Myrl Steakley and Chauncey “Papa Chuck” and Ila “Lala” Holloway. Special thanks is extended to J.C. Townsend for permission to draw material from “A History of the Churches of Christ in Florida with Other Related Stories: 1869-1949,” and to the following members of the church who assisted in the production and printing of the 50th Anniversary booklet in 1994; Ann Newton, Elaine Galloway, Jeannette Stiffey, Frances Willis and Armillda Covington.
In February of 1944 Brother Steakley was instrumental in gathering a group from the Paola congregation and those in Sorrento and Mount Plymouth to worship in Sanford. Services in these early years were held in the Woman's Club House on Oak Avenue. Many different men did the preaching for about two months until David E. Harrell came. Thirteen brethren would meet together on Sunday morning to study the Bible, sing praises, and partake of the Lord's Supper. Brother Harrell remained until March 1945.
The original 13 members were Mr. and Mrs. E. S. Steakley, their daughter Edith, Mr. and Mrs. M. E. Shelby, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Muse, Mr. and Mrs. A. G. Clause, and Mrs. Rose Phillips, her son Creston, and two daughters, Mrs. Madge Neiswander and Mrs. Lorraine Flowers
Arthur L. Butler started work with the congregation in March 1945 and stayed until September 1947. After an increase in the rent at the Woman’s Club, arrangements were made to change the location of worship services from the Woman's Club to the Court House. A building on the property at 201 Elm was started in October 1945 was nearly ready to move into by the spring of 1946. Furniture in he building was either homemade or donated, most of it by the West End Church of Christ in Montgomery, Alabama, which supported Brother Butler during his tenure with Sanford. Actively engaged in teaching and preaching, the congregation conducted services at the county jail and at a nearby retirement home. Brother Butler’s labors were successful, and membership had grown from thirteen to sixty prior to his departure. The church had a full-time preacher almost from its beginning.
J. P. Lowery, a retired school teacher-preacher started preaching in September of 1947 and left to begin a congregation in Geneva, Florida, in July of 1949.
In 1950 J. C. Nicholson began work and stayed until March of 1953. An addition of two classrooms across the front of the building took place in 1952. Sam Binkley began work in August of 1953 until December 1954. Ralph P. Brewer, Jr. came to work from January 1955 until June 1958. George Yates came in October 1958 and stayed two years, leaving in September of 1960.
The 50s were a turning point for the church in Sanford, in more ways than one. The community experienced a decline in population as many younger couples moved into Orlando to seek employment. Worship attendance, which had increased in the late 40s and early 50s, reflected the community's population change and the attendance dropped. In the early 60s many of the ladies of the church would also meet once a week to sew quilts and make curtains for the renovated dormitories at the Mount Dora Children's Home, a ministry of love still being offered to this day.
The 60s proved to be a brighter time for the Sanford congregation. Many of the couples who had earlier moved away began to return to the community. Additionally, many families stationed at Sanford Naval Air Station became active with the Sanford congregation. During several successful gospel meetings, many were baptized.
An addition of two classrooms was annexed to the building in 1964. An estimate from an insurance company evaluated the property, establishing its value at approximately $100,000.
With the best wishes of the elders and the congregation, seven families (Lou Helms & family, John & Vicki McGough and family, Gene & Jeanne Mayhew & family, Sylvia Cromartie, Cecil & Alice Lindsley & sons, Ernest & Ora Vance, and Geneva Lewis & son) of the regular members who lived in the southern part of the county left to help form a new sister congregation of the Lord's Church in September 1970, meeting in the American Legion Hall on Hwy 17-92. They have grown and prospered, having built a beautiful building, and now have elders and a regular minister. They are known as the South Seminole Church of Christ.
The early 70s were a replay of the problems of the 50s as the church attendance reflected the declining population of the community. The "Gas Crisis" of 1973 caused many who had been commuting to work in Orlando to seek homes nearer their jobs. The church was also saddened by the deaths of many of its original members. Gene Newton was recognized as an elder in 1977, and Delma Willis and Buddy Gaines were appointed as deacons to serve the congregation. Sadly, the Sanford Naval Air Station closed and most of the families were moved to Marietta, Georgia.
In the later 70s the church remained fairly stable. The liberality of the members allowed financial support to be sent to Thailand and to the Queens Church of Christ in New York. Many meetings and special seminars were offered to our community. Cletus Stutzman, Morris Ruby, and many other faithful Gospel preachers proclaimed the truth to our community. Additionally, L.O. Sanderson, a well-known song writer, was a frequent guest song leader.
The church in Sanford has always been generous in its work of helping others. Two young men were helped in their completion of studies through the school of preaching in Lakeland, Florida. Wirt Cook and Victor Jarrell have made fine gospel preachers. Deborah Brown was supported to some degree while in Cameroon, West Africa, as well as Ronda Galloway who worked primarily with medical missions. Douglas Gunselman's work in the Philippines was supported and Sanford was in charge of that work until the Concord Street Church in Orlando, Florida assumed the oversight. Of course, the work Bill Beck did in Thailand was supported in a large way also. The work in Jamaica where Brother Palmer and his family labored and the work in Guam were a regular part of the budget for many years, as well as support of the Herald of Truth Radio program. At other times funds were sent to the church at Port Orange, where Harvey Covington served as interim preacher. The Port Orange congregation has now moved to become the Derbyshire Road Congregation in Daytona, Florida. The World's Fair work of the Queens Church in New York was supported as well as the 17th Street Church here in Sanford, which is a congregation ministering to our black brothers and sisters in Christ. Also in Leesburg and Apopka the black congregations were helped. The congregations in Rhode Island, Oceana, Virginia, and Bunnell, Florida were supported for many years during their initial planting. The Otter Creek congregation, which had oversight of a Korean work, and the congregation in charge of the Viet Nam work were helped for several years. Funds were also sent to support the Asian Bible Chair in Guam.
During those years with Brother Baker, Sanford was instrumental in planting a new work in Deltona, Florida in 1978. With the blessing of the shepherds and the support of the congregation, several of our members moved their membership to Deltona, making up the nucleus of this new congregation. Those that formed this initial nucleus included: Betty Beall and family, Spruell “Doc” and Bertha Beall, Louis and Lola Wenner, Nelson and Mila Crawford, Bobbi Fletcher, Luther and Nora Walker, Arbutus Beall and family, Pearl Welch, Kenneth and Elma Weems and family, Roy and Jewell Head, and Jeanne Harris. Tom Leavins served the newly formed Deltona congregation as minister until starting a new work in Altamonte Springs. Sanford continued with financial assistance until Deltona became self-supporting. Responding to our own blessing we added onto our existing facility a fellowship hall, classrooms, and an office suite.
As with all congregations, many of our “Forever Family” have been called from this life to that eternal home in heaven. Likewise, our youth have grown to be adults and have started their own families. Several have moved to other parts of Florida and across the country. For those that stayed, we rejoiced that a "baby boom" occurred in 1986-87. Many faces changed, and with those changes the fellowship itself saw fluctuation in number, as the nation and the congregation felt the changes of inflation and the tripling of the annual budget. In March 1987 Gene Newton resigned his responsibilities as an elder, due to demands that were keeping him from shepherding.
Tony Black, from Statesboro, Georgia, came to labor with us in June 1988. Blessed once again with growth, we expanded the building and renovated the exterior in 1991. Now with more of their children grown, married, and having children of their own, the congregation joyfully sponsored four of our young men into full-time ministry training: Glenn Newton, Mark Newton, David Dominessy and David Black. Each of these men and their families continue to be faithful to the Lord's Kingdom.
February 1994 marked the fiftieth year of the Church of Christ in Sanford at 1500 South Park and Fifteenth Street. The church continued under the oversight of shepherds George Stiffey, Harvey Covington, and Gene Newton. The deacons then were John Cullum, Mark Newton, Gary Scott, Tommy Stiffey, David Wenner, Randy Powell, Blake Dill, Dale Newton and Terry Wilcox. Tony Black had been preaching for the congregation since June 1988. In July 1994, after serving Sanford for thirty years, James M. Steakley resigned as an elder for health reasons. Employment changes for Mark Newton necessitated his move from our area and his resigning as a deacon in July 1994. E.Y. Fry was added to the eldership in January 1997. Once again the economy and work opportunities led to Randy Power and Terry Wilcox and their families moving, after their resignation as a deacons in July 1997. Following several years of spiritual prosperity, Sanford once again faced a change of ministers when the Black family moved to Pensacola, Florida and a new work in that city in May 2000. We consider ourselves blessed by the Black family, growing up with them during their 12 years of labor for the Lord’s kingdom in Sanford. One additional change to our fellowship occurred in December 2000, with Dale Newton resigning as deacon and his family relocating from our area.
Walter Person, from McKinney, Texas, came to labor with us in June 2003. Walt came to us with considerable experience, having labored both in foreign and domestic mission work. He ministered for five years in the Federal Republic of Germany and twelve years with congregations in New Mexico, Kansas, North Dakota and Virginia before accepting the pulpit responsibilities with Sanford. Growth once again brought additional ministry needs for Sanford, and one additional deacon, Craig Shadrix was added in 2004. Due to the moving relocation of two of our elders, Brother George Stiffey resigned since there were no other elders to serve with at the time. For the first time in over fifty years, Sanford was operating solely with men’s business meetings. Given an opportunity to go back to school, Lonnie Johnson relocated with his family in May 2004 to be the Youth Minister with the Orange Avenue Congregation in Eustis, Florida while attending the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) program with Heritage Christian University. Through the period without elders to lead us, classes, sermons and individual study were combined with prayer to select men in the Sanford congregation to serve as shepherds. August 2004 saw the appointment of George Stiffey, J.J. Redmon, and Terry Summerlott to serve as the spiritual leaders of Sanford and Matt Steen was added to serve as a deacon. In that year of rejoicing we also celebrated our sixtieth year serving the Sanford community, inviting past members to participate in a tribute fellowship gathering that same month.
Once again the impact of the economy resulted in many families relocating to other states to live either closer to family or to move where work could be found. In September 2007 Terry Summerlott resigned his responsibilities as an elder, due to his relocation to Dallas, Texas. Much like riding a rollercoaster, the congregation grew and shrank following the “Housing Crash” in 2007. Though uncertainty surrounded both business and personal life, the Sanford Church of Christ celebrated 65 years of service in February 2009. With renewed focus, the congregation began growing, most significantly with our youth. Sadly, in March 2011, J.J. Redmon resigned as an elder, relocating to Alabama. Prior to Brother Redmon’s resignation, Ron Benvegna was appointed as an elder during the same month. Together with George Stiffey, they reorganized the ministries of the congregation and the individual works of the deacons. Simultaneously, a renovation project of the building was set in motion. Using Mike Hicks Construction, a new roof was installed in August 2012, windows were replaced on the west side of the building in September 2012, and new gutters were installed. The sprinkler system was completely renovated by James Fisher Sprinklers, Inc., during October 2012. With focus on God giving the increase, we continue to focus our stewardship on seeking the lost, while maintaining a place to nurture the redeemed.
With a renewed outward appearance, the “Forever Family” excitedly welcomed increased growth and increased opportunity to serve in the Sanford community. Many areas of ministry became obvious, thus prompting the beginning of a “Leadership Selection Process” the first Sunday of July 2013. The serving elders, minister Walter Person, Gary Castel and Gerry Catha comprised the Leadership Selection Committee. Following a series of messages on spiritual leaders, nominations, and interviews with each candidate, the congregation recognized on October 27, 2013 Tim O’Keefe, Tom Stiffey and Walter Person as additional elders to join shepherds George Stiffey and Ron Benvegna. On that same Sunday, to support the increasing ministry demands, the congregation recognized these men as deacons: Julio Garcia to work with the growing Spanish work, Byron Chapman to work with the youth, and David Galloway, Jr. to work with missions. They join those currently serving deacons: Bill Schmitt who works with the technology needs of our growing ministries, Matt Steen who works with education needs, John Cullum who works with the expanding communication needs, and Craig Shadrix who accepted the expanded role of youth leader to that of trainer and mentor of our Lads-to-Leaders and Leaderettes Ministry. After multiple years of serving as the primary care provider for his father- in-law, working as an engineer designing defense systems, and traveling up and down the east coast with his children and grand-children. The death of his Father-in-law and being laid off, Ron Benvegna resigned in March 2014 from his responsibilities as a shepherd of the Sanford Church of Christ to focus on grief recovery for his family while making necessary family changes as he accepted retirement.
In the middle 1990s the surge of interest in New Testament Christianity brought many faithful Christians, who lived and worked in the Orlando area, to Sanford. They wanted to worship with a congregation who taught and practiced Bible truths. We have learned when we work together we can accomplish great and good things. So we must be busy seeking and saving the lost, as well as restoring those who have fallen away from their first love so that on that last day our Lord can say, "'Well done, good and faithful servant... Enter into the joy of your lord " (Matthew 25:21).
The "far greater weight of glory" keeps all Christians richly supplied with hope. The brethren in Sanford have this and a bright future to keep their spirits high. As we continue to depend upon the will of God, we pray ... have confidence ... and believe that our faithful obedience will help spread the borders of Christ's kingdom in our community.