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.
- E.S. Steakley and his family first moved to Sanford, Florida in 1919. Finding no established congregation in Sanford, they met in private homes for six months. When the small group failed to make any progress, the Steakleys moved back to Tennessee. They returned to the Paola community in December 1937, and the following month a small group began regular worship services. It was the first Church of Christ in Seminole County, Florid
- They met across from the Steakleys' store in a meeting house that E.S. Steakley had built. Those included were Mr. and Mrs. E. S. Steakley, Mr. and Mrs. Dalton Bumbalow, and Mr. and Mrs. Tiner. The Tiners lived on the other side of Sanford from this community. When World War II came and gas was rationed, the Bumbalows established a congregation in Sanford.
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
- In May of 1944 a lot on West First Street was purchased for a building. It was sold and two lots were purchased on the corner of Second Street and Elm Avenue.
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.
- During the early 40s the war dominated most people's thinking. There was hardly a family that did not have a son away in the service. Some families had nearly all their male members away at war. These loved ones were mentioned in every prayer offered by the church. The elders serving at this time were E. S. Steakley, C. A. Kelly, and Spruell Beall. They led the church in a very determined way. A very beautiful building was completed in 1947 and valued at $15,000.
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.
- A few years earlier a building fund had been set up because the congregation had outgrown its facilities, and in August of 1956 property was purchased at 1512 Park Avenue. The congregation felt richly blessed in getting this beautiful park-like setting for its new home. A $50,000 bond issue was floated and building began in 1960. Again, members provided the majority of the labor. Holloway Materials Corporation supplied the blocks, and Gator Lumber Co., furnished the lumber, building materials and interior paints. Jones Electrical Supply Company furnished all electrical fixtures and equipment and Roy Burns did all the electrical wiring. Wall Plumbing and Heating installed the Westinghouse Air Conditioning and Central Heating as well as furnished and installed the plumbing fixtures. Seminole Terrazzo installed the terrazzo floors. The Western Auto Associate Store, owned by Spruell Beall, furnished Wizard Exterior Paints. On July 2, 1961, the first worship service was held in the new building with Morris Ruby doing the preaching. In September of 1961, after Brother Ruby left, Bill Beck began work with the church and stayed until September 1962. His departure was to plant a congregation in Thailand. Sanford supported Brother Beck, his wife Betty and their four children in this mission effort from 1962 to 1963. While serving in the mission field, a fifth child, Anita, was born in Thailand. The work continued to grow, and eventually became self-supportive in 1965.
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.
- In January 1963 Bert Brown came to work and stayed until December 1966. He went back to school, got his degree and began working with the Christian Home and Bible School in Mt. Dora, Florida, which the church in Sanford, and especially the Wednesday morning Ladies Class, supports financially and in other ways. Emerson J. Estes began working with the congregation in January of 1967. He left in April 1973 to begin evangelistic work, holding meetings all over the Southeast.
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.
- Over the years, faithful men have served as shepherds and deacons. In the early years, E. S. Steakley and Spruell Beall served as shepherds. After the death of Brother Steakley, Brother Beall requested that he not be an elder alone. There were no elders until Nestle Lines came to Sanford, and then he and Brothers Spruell Beall and James M. Steakley served as elders together. Brother Lines moved away and Harvey Covington was appointed in 1967.
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.
- A bus was purchased from the Christian Home and Bible School in 1972, and the bus ministry was in the making. In June of 1973 Charles N. Crump from Florence, Alabama came to work with the congregation and three more buses were purchased. Sanford’s bus ministry was very active with two buses on routes every Sunday morning, evening, and Wednesday night. Many children were blessed with hearing the Gospel message of Jesus through this effort.
- At the time Brother Crump came, the congregation purchased a residence for the minister. It was located at 471 Rosalia Drive. Many members completed the necessary renovations prior to Brother Crump and his family’s moving in.
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.
- Charles Crump was minister until he moved to a new work in the spring of 1975. Fred A. Baker came to work with Sanford in June 1975 of that year and began a 12 and a half year stay.
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.
- Faithful in our support since 1966, Sanford supports the children's home in Mt. Dora, Florida, the Central Florida Bible Camp in Eustis, Florida, and the Accept Crisis Pregnancy Center in Orlando, Florida. Now preaching in established congregations, we consider ourselves blessed to have supported the training of David Myers, Richard Lyles, and Stephen Rosenzweig as Gospel preachers.
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.
- In May of 1988 George Stiffey and once again Gene Newton joined Harvey Covington and James Steakley as shepherds of Sanford. With their addition to the work of Sanford, the shepherds were faced with the health problems that began to plague Brother Baker, who decided to retire in June 1988. He and his wife Ruby resided in Sanford until they too were called from this life. The Sanford “Forever Family,” with abounding love and appreciation, is grateful for all the years of service they gave to the Lord's vineyard.
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.
- Jon Overcash, from Crossett, Arkansas, came to labor with us in June 2000. Grateful for thirty-three years of oversight, Harvey Covington resigned as an elder due to health complications in August 2000. Remaining stable and focused on edification, benevolence, and evangelism, Allen Baker was recognized as an elder in December 2000, joining Gene Newton, George Stiffey and E.Y. Fry. Once again, the decision to plant another congregation of the Lord’s Church was started in Christmas, Florida, with Daniel Carswell serving as minister. During the transition from Brother Black to Brother Overcash, several families relocated to other areas. Though our adult numbers decreased, our youth numbers remained about the same. Therefore, the shepherds addressed our youth ministry needs in 2002, welcoming Lonnie Johnson as Youth Minister, an addition to our ministry staff. Additional transition challenges faced Sanford when Jon Overcash left the work at Sanford in June 2002. Consequently, Lonnie was asked to fill in until a minister could be found to work with the congregation. Ministry needs continued to grow and three additional deacons, Joe Hunt, Bill Schmitt and Tim O’Keefe were added following the resignation of David Wenner and Blake Dill in 2002.
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.