In a previous issue, OWSL took you on a tour of historic homes in the Oviedo area. This time, we visit the historic churches that form the bedrock of our community’s rich history.
The first European and American settlers to build homes and raise families in Oviedo didn’t just bring seed and tools to help them survive and thrive. They brought their faith and their traditions. One of the first buildings constructed in the local pioneers’ fledgling new settlement was a church. It was a source of spiritual strength, a center of community life, and a lifeline to settlers in need of charity.
Today, more than a century later, the area’s first churches are still ministering to the needs of the community.
In our last issue, we showcased some of Oviedo’s historic houses. This issue, we take a look back at the town’s oldest houses of worship and discover how they have been shaped by events and people from the past to the present.
Antioch Missionary Baptist Church
311 East Broadway Street
Ten years after the Civil War, a former slave was finally free to worship as he pleased. And in the process, he became one of Oviedo’s faith leaders.
Antioch Missionary Baptist Church of Oviedo, the town’s first African-American church, was founded by Martin Powell, a former slave who came to Florida with the Rev. W. G. Powell. Ironically, Reverend Powell is the father of Confederate assassin Lewis Powell (more on that later).
Antioch Missionary Baptist Church was established in 1875. The Rev. Amos Laster became its first pastor. As Oviedo grew, so did Antioch.
But in 1942, Antioch underwent some growing pains. Oviedo’s town fathers decided to straighten and widen the road running past the church. The changes forced the church to physically move (building and all) to a new location on East Broadway Street. Unfortunately, the building was damaged during the attempted move. For the next 20 years, the congregation raised funds to build a new facility. Not only did they build a new church, in 1992 a fellowship hall was added. Many members of the faith family deserve credit for the church’s development. Over the past century, 24 pastors have contributed time and treasure to the church.
Fountain Head Missionary Baptist Church
157 Oviedo Boulevard
It’s no coincidence that this church has “missionary” in its name. The Fountain Head Missionary Baptist Church is committed to helping people in Oviedo and around the world.
In 2005, a joint missionary team from Fountain Head and the First Baptist Church left Oviedo on an inaugural trip to Nairobi, Kenya. Later that year, six new churches were built in Africa. In 2012, the mission team journeyed to New Delhi, India.
What a difference a few decades make. In the church’s early days of the 1920s, the congregation had only about 20 members who met in a simple wooden structure. The concrete-block building on Oviedo Boulevard was built in 1944 and remodeled in 1952. It features stained glass windows, oak pews, a vaulted ceiling, and a steeple. Today, the church is outwardly focused and eager to spread the good news.
“The Lord has ushered the Fountain Head Church into a new era of ministry,” says Pastor Victor Blair. “We honor our past, give thanks for our present, and embrace the vision for our future.”
First Untied Methodist Church
263 King Street
How many churches can say they’re on the national register of historic places or serve as home to a Jewish congregation? First United Methodist Church of Oviedo can say both.
The architecturally impressive church at 263 King Street is a classic example of Colonial Revival style that was built in 1955. The red brick colonial was designed by James Gamble Rogers and built by Paul Campbell.
Many say the building is so striking, it created a friendly rivalry with nearby First Baptist Church of Oviedo in the ‘50s to see which of the two was the top church in town.
The Methodist church was founded in 1873. Much of the church’s property was donated by Henryetta Mitchell. Her sons also donated land during World War II. The church eventually sold 15 acres to the City for the construction of Oviedo High School.
The same tradition of sharing space with others continues today. The church has opened its doors to Temple Shir Shalom until the Jewish congregation completes its own building.
“I think it’s cool,” says Megan Sladek of The Oviedo Preservation Project. “Our kids have gotten to read the Torah after the High Holy Days.”
St. Luke's Lutheran Church
2021 West State Road 426
Near the dawn of the 20th century, a group of farming families, eager to escape the harsh winters and failing economy of eastern Europe, journeyed to Florida by way of Cleveland.
In the winter of 1911, members of the Holy Trinity Slovak Lutheran Church created the Slavia Colony Company, according to the church’s history. Their mission was to find a warm and fertile area to grow crops. After much research, the company bought 1,200 acres near what is today State Road 426.
By 1912, the community was thriving and parishioners had built the sanctuary for a new church, one we know today as St Luke’s Lutheran. The first services were held in a turpentine shed/chapel. Incredibly, the chapel has survived the ravages of time and can be found today in the St. Luke’s cemetery.
Part-time pastors helped out on a revolving basis. It wasn’t until two decades after the church was founded that Pastor Stephen M. Tuhy became the church’s first full-time pastor.
In 1939, the familiar red brick structure we see from the road today was built and dedicated. During the 1940s, a Sunday school and a daily nursery school opened. What had started as 25 members at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church was soon more than 1,000.
In the mid-1990s, a new organ was installed at the church and the annual Christmas show was launched. The St. Luke’s Lutheran School building opened in 2001. That was followed by the Lutheran Haven Early Childhood Center and Shepherd’s Hope Health Care Clinic, some of the many ways St. Luke’s Lutheran Church continues to serve the community today.
First Baptist Church of Oviedo
45 West Broadway Street
This house of worship has gone from a church with a controversial Confederate connection at its beginning to a megachurch makeover today.
Nearly 150 years after Oviedo’s First Baptist Church became a leader in the faith community, it was time for a religious conversion. Just about a year ago, the iconic church on West Broadway Street changed its name to Cross Life Church and introduced a high-tech, more theatrical service along the lines of the First Baptist Church of Orlando.
The first services at the Oviedo church in 1869 were incredibly simple. They were held outdoors under shade trees along what is today Lake Jessup Avenue. The impressive brick structure on West Broadway that has become a community landmark was built in 1926.
But the most interesting aspect of this church’s history doesn’t involve brick and mortar – it’s flesh and blood.
The church is forever linked to a controversial family. Its first pastor was the Rev. W. G. Powell, the father of Lewis Powell, one of John Wilkes Booth’s co-conspirators in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Lewis Powell’s assignment was to kill Secretary of State William Seward. Fortunately, he failed. Lewis, who was executed for his crime, was eventually laid to rest in the historic Geneva Cemetery alongside his mother. The Rev. Powell is buried elsewhere on the family’s property in Seminole County.
*Thanks, once again, to The Oviedo Preservation Project and the Oviedo Historical Society for their invaluable assistance in researching this feature.
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