by Nori Nicholas
It was the last day of January 1967 when David and I drove into Boca Raton. As I recall, we were bubbling with excitement at this new exciting venture that God had placed before us. We were coming to plant the Boca Raton Presbyterian Church. David had felt the call of God to become a pastor, more specifically, a “church planting” pastor. In 1967 “Church Planters” were a rare breed. In fact, the term had not yet been coined.
The country was in the midst of huge demographic shifts. People were leaving the rural and heading for the urban. Thousands of small towns were losing their population, and in the process the congregations in those country churches were shrinking. Those shrinking country churches were begging their denominations for financial aid. Many could no longer afford to pay for staff. The denominations had not yet acknowledged the inevitable and started consolidating and closing down those shrinking churches. Instead, they were focusing on scrambling to find pastors who would step in and minister to these dying churches.
When David came along and said he felt that God was calling him to start a new church, he was not met with any enthusiasm. However God opened doors, and we received permission to come to Boca Raton and start and new church.
The Founding Families
There was a small group of conservative Presbyterians in town who desired a church that would be true to the Bible.
William “Bill” Hallman and his wife Helen led this group. Bill was a very well known attorney in Boca. They had gathered together some like-minded folk to request the Presbyterian denomination for a new church.
In that group were Clark and Betty Butterworth – he was a technician from Georgia Tech who managed a radar station that used to be where Red Reef Park is now located. There was Ned and Mary Holland – he was the manager for the local Benjamin Moore paint manufacturing plant. There was Ann Bachman a retiree with her aged mother. And also Russell Douglas – he was a teacher at Boca Raton High School and also a pianist. Russell became our “music department”! Among the families in this group there were eight children.
The Boca Raton Regional Hospital was under construction, and we had been given permission to hold services in the construction office. We held our very first service on February 5, 1967 with eight adults and five children in attendance. At the end of the service, a lady from the hospital construction company marched in to announce that we would not be allowed to meet at that location in the future. They were going to be starting a thrift store there to help raise funds for the new hospital – the Debbie Rand Thrift Store.
The very first item of business was to find another place where our little group could meet. David raced around town and found a little strip mall that had been standing vacant for many months. It was located at the corner of Palmetto Park Road and Dixie Highway at the railroad tracks.
He approached the owner, Mr. Aldrich, and asked if we could rent two of those little storefronts. Mr. Aldrich very graciously gave us a month-to-month lease at the grand rate of $5.00 per month. We met in that little storefront for about six months but grew very little. It was not a very welcoming location.
David once again went on a hunt, and he found the Boca Raton Art Guild on Palmetto Park Road. It is now known as the Boca Raton Museum Art School. We met in the Art Guild building for about three years. There was only one main room and a kitchen. We held services in the main room and put up playpens in the kitchen to turn it into the nursery. Sunday School classes were held outside on the porch and under the trees.
With facilities like these it was very hard to attract young families, but bit by bit God built our little congregation.
Coming Up Next Week
Ernie's, Rev's and Koinonia