In 1934, the Lord spoke to Missionary Rainer to go to Winter Garden and find a place to run a revival, and she did. Souls were saved and filled with the Holy Ghost. These services were held in an old tin building located in a lane between 10th and 11th Streets and Center Street and South Street which is now East Bay Street. This building also housed classes for the nearby Winter Garden Colored School. Later her husband, Elder Rainer, joined her and was appointed as the pastor. Thus, the dream of a Church of God in Christ in Winter Garden became a reality.
Elder Rainer purchased that tin building and later did some remodeling. Elder Rainer was a gospel preacher. One of his first deacons was Deacon Webb. The Lord blessed and souls were added to the church. Pastor Rainer was supported by tithes and offerings. Sometimes due to the economy, he had to be supported by “pounds” that were given to him on a weekly basis.
In 1938, Elder Rainer was relocated, so the church was without a pastor. Elder Willie Malone came to Winter Garden and held the church together until a pastor was appointed. In 1939, Bishop W.R. Nesbitt, Sr., placed Elder E.B. Beacham to fill the vacancy left by Elder Rainer. He served as the “shepherd of the flock” for one year.
During the early 1940’s, both Elder J.H. Hood and Elder Fair pastored the growing membership. Elder Hood was appointed pastor in 1940 and Elder Fair was appointed in 1942. Many souls were filled with the Holy Ghost so they eventually outgrew that little tin building. Around 1943, Elder Fair called all the members together to discuss the purchase of a lot on East Bay Street next door to Mr. William and Mrs. Juanita Maxey. Some agreed and some disagreed. But GOD said, “YES!” Elder Fair, Deacon Jones, the late Elder Hayward, who was a minister at that time, and Missionary Viola T. Knowles, went down town to see if they could build a church there, before purchasing the lot. The lot was purchased for $125.00. Through faith and dedication, Elder Fair and Missionary Knowles secured a letter from the mayor’s office to glean as a means of raising money to build the church. The Lord blessed and the church was built on the corner of East Bay Street and 11th Street in 1943.
In 1951, Elder David Thompson was appointed as pastor by Bishop W.R. Nesbitt, Sr. God raised up a praying group of dedicated women. The anointing would be so strong that sinners would be drawn off the streets. Some were too embarrassed to come inside and would peep through the windows. This small group of anointed people had the respect of the community. Church services were often long with prayer on their knees on the hardwood floor lasting one hour and the song service another hour. By this time, the building began to lean extensively. It was then that Elder David Thompson and the congregation decided to build a house for God that would stand for generations to come.
God gave Elder David Thompson a vision of a building. The congregation pondered the feasibility of bringing the vision to reality. After fasting, praying and giving much thought to Elder Thompson’s vision, land was purchased. The property was located farther east on Bay Street and is the present location. First Federal of Winter Garden financed the purchase. This same bank later held the mortgage for the edifice where we presently worship the Lord. Many doubted the ability of Pastor Thompson and his small congregation to build such a large edifice, including the district superintendent, Elder Lewis Hart. We believed then and now that “we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.” We further believe in taking the burdens of this edifice to the Lord and leaving them there.
As the people of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day, the Lord gave the people “a mind to work.” Most of the construction of the building was done by the men of the church on nights and weekends. Men such as Ministers James Boyer and Aurelius Brown, Brothers Herbert and Willie Ward, Willie James Thompson, Lonnie Jefferson, Freddie Pringle, Joe Brown and Lloyd Law laid the foundation. Mother Rena Brown was the first woman to hammer a nail in the building. The women gleaned and sold dinners at strategic locations throughout the city such as the “wash house” on 11th Street to purchase the building materials. By working diligently, the building was completed mid-summer of 1968. The Official Dedication Service was held on November 24, 1968.
The church was mortgaged for 19 years, but with God’s help and regular “rallies” it was paid off in half the time. The women continued to labor in the kitchens until the wee hours of the morning. People such as Elder David Thompson and his wife, the late Mother Annie Lee Thompson, Mother Essie Jones, Mother Hattie Jones, Mother Carrie White, Mother Mattie Lillie, Deacon and Mother Merck Taylor, Brother Eddie Gene and Mother Tillie Baker, Mother Lula Clemons, Deacon Willie and Missionary Julia Jackson, Mother Rena Brown, Mother Ida Jefferson, Missionary Eva Williams, Church Clerk Sister Louise Pollard, Sister Ana Duval, Sister Sara Montgomery, and Deacon John and Sister Jay Doris Thomas were instrumental in making the early pay off possible. The church received additional income by renting space to Head Start. Mortgage burning services were held November 25, 1979.
The church grew extensively under the leadership of Superintendent Thompson. Evangelistic efforts included regular street meetings, door-to-door canvassing, tent revivals, nursing home ministry, hospital visitation, and food distribution. Many were called into ministry under his leadership including Elder Robert Horne, Superintendent James Boyer, Assistant Superintendent Aurelius Brown, Elder Norris Brinson, Elder Jimmie Jefferson, Elder Rhett Massey, Elder Leonardis Jones, Elder Larry Pugh, Elder Byron Stevenson, Elder Wendell Anderson, Elder Isaac Cotton, Minister James Washington and Minister Brenton Rodgers. Other was elevated from minister to elder such as Elder Charles Price and Elder Ricky Rose. During his almost 50 years as pastor of Bay Street Church of God in Christ, Superintendent David Thompson led our church to great heights and levels that profoundly impacted the lives of thousands.
On June 25, 2000, Superintendent Thompson transitioned the church to Elder Byron Stevenson. Under Elder Stevenson’s leadership, the church has acquired several acres of land, a bus and made several facility renovations. H.A.M.M.E.R. (Higher Academics Meeting My Educational Requirements) Tutorial Program, a video ministry and website are operated by the church. The David Thompson Life Center and the King’s Academy Preschool were added in the summer of 2007. Currently eight modules are being added to the campus.
Our church has been a beacon in the Winter Garden and West Orange community for decades. The church has been a favorite site for local ecumenical services and concerts. Gospel music artists such as The O’Neal Twins, Twinkie Clark, The Pace Sisters, Chrystal Rucker and Carolyn Traylor have performed here. Pastors Thompson and Stevenson have been active in the ministerial alliance, made partners with local schools and have participated in community task forces. Members of the church have also been active in local education, civic and social programs and were instrumental in having SR429 re-routed to save this community.
Bay Street has always been known for its choirs, youth department and hospitality. Some of the choirs and music groups over the years have been the Bay Street Gospel Choir, Inspirational Tones of Youth, The BSC (Children’s) Choir, the EDT (Elder David Thompson) Choir, New Hope Community Choir, Unity and Love, the Voices of Bay Street and the Jubilee Choir. In the 1960’s and early ‘70’s the choir was often featured in the newspaper and on local radio and TV programs. The youth department was large and active in the 1970’s and ‘80’s. Teenagers from the community joined the church in order to participate in the youth group meetings and trips. Many were subsequently saved.
Our church has been blessed to be on the cutting edge of ministry. A number of writers including playwrights and poets have come out of this church. Several of their plays have been performed (If God Is Dead and Flight 309), along with encore productions of God’s Trombones. A church newsletter, church library and cooking classes were available in the 1980’s. By the early 1990’s several praise teams were formed followed by praise dance teams.
The church which is known as “the Holy Ghost Headquarters” has hosted local, district and state meetings of the Western Florida Jurisdiction. During Bishop Thompson’s tenure (1971-1977), our edifice was the state headquarters. Several Presiding Bishops have graced the pulpit of our church including Bishop J.O. Patterson, Bishop L.H. Ford and Bishop C.D. Owens.
Down through the years the Lord has blessed our church from humble beginnings to become the historical Bay Street Church of God in Christ. We shall forever let our lights so shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our father which is in heaven. For we know that “WITH GOD NOTHING SHALL BE IMPOSSIBLE.”
Original Trustees (1301 Bay Street)
Elder David Thompson
Elder Aurelius Brown
Deacon James Ludd
Missionary Tillie Baker
Sister Louise Pollard
Brother James Boyer
In October of 2011 during the Annual Women’s Conference, after a prophetic Word from one of our guest speakers, Pastor Stevenson announced to the church that the name would be changing. We would evolve from a street to a region realizing that the ministry that God gave us is much larger than just a street; hence the name would change to West Orlando Christian Center Church of God in Christ. On the first Sunday in July of 2012, it became official; we are West Orlando Christian Center COGIC!