The High Springs Church of God will host a homecoming service to celebrate its 91st birthday on Sunday.
The church was originally founded in the city of Alachua but moved to its current location in High Springs in the early 1940s. The homecoming service will take place at 10 a.m. at the High Springs Church of God (23765 NW 182nd Ave.).
Former pastor Carroll Lee, who served at the church in the 1990s, will be the guest speaker on Sunday and will talk about the church’s past and future. Following the service, the church will host a potluck dinner for the congregation.
“It's a good opportunity for people that have previously attended here that moved out of the area to come back and celebrate the history, and there are some who have moved out that are planning on being here on Sunday,” current pastor Jacob Newton said in an interview.
One look into the church’s future is from Newton himself, who wants to bring change while also preserving the church’s history.
Though the church has been around for over nine decades, Newton has been serving at the pulpit for only eight months. He moved his family to High Springs after he received a unanimous vote from the congregation to become the new pastor. Originally from St. Augustine, Newton was ready for change, but didn’t expect to fall in love with the community of High Springs as hard and as fast as he did.
Now, he is proud to call High Springs home and enjoys serving in a variety of roles in the community.
The following are excerpts of a recent interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: You preached your first homecoming service in St. Augustine at the age of 17. What first called you into ministry?
A: My call to ministry started when I was 15. I was going on a mission trip to India. And whenever I was in the process of going there, I was praying, “God reveal to me whatever you want me to do,” and through the course of that trip I just really felt like ministry was going to be my calling. And sure enough, while I was on the trip, there was a local pastor, and he was praying for me. He said, “You know that God is calling you into ministry?” Throughout time, that's really been confirmed in my life, but that was really my first sense that this is the direction I needed to go.
Q: Did you grow up in church?
A: I grew up in pastor's home. My dad has pastored the same church in St. Augustine for my entire life. And my great grandfather was also a pastor, so there's some heritage there. We were in church Sunday morning, Sunday night, we had youth group on Wednesday night, and Bible study throughout the week.
Q: What led you to High Springs and this church?
A: In our denomination — in the Church of God—our bishop appoints pastors to churches. In that process, he also wants to try to make sure that there is some congeniality between the pastor and the congregation as well.
We had moved back to St. Augustine in late 2020. We were pastoring a church there for about two years and felt like maybe we needed to branch out from our roots in St. Augustine. So, we contacted the state office, and they mentioned this church here in High Springs. Ironically, whenever they painted the picture of the church, we're like, “Yeah, I don't think that that's right. Maybe the next one we’ll be interested in.”
That was in October, and then in January he circled back and said that church in High Springs is still open. We came over in February and we drove around the town for a little bit. We met with the church council here, and we were totally in love. We thought this actually might be something that we need to seriously think about and consider.
There were a few things that, if we were going to move, then these are some things that we really want to see. One was people that are just loving and receptive to change. People who are not going just bow up if we're like, hey, we think we should do this. Sure enough, that's what we found.
And we have my wife and five Kids. Every place is not family friendly for large families. We really felt like the people just really cared for our kids and loved on them.
Well, the interim pastor, an hour before the service, says I think I'm going to just go ahead and take up the vote today. Is there a percentage of the vote that you'd feel comfortable accepting the nomination? He asked what about if you got at least 75% of the vote? I felt that was a pretty good indicator.
Sure enough, after I preach, he sends us out. Fifteen minutes later he calls us back and I'm thinking, did they have more questions? He says, just so you know, you were unanimously voted in. It was really crazy. Within three weeks, we packed everything up in St. Augustine, we moved to High Springs and since then we really fell in love with it. That weekend we came up we thought this is home, this is where we want to really be.
Q: Can you preserve the history of the church while continuing to modernize as times change?
A: Yeah, definitely. I think especially things like homecoming are great opportunities to remember the heritage and the legacy that church comes from. We have a number of members that have been here for decades and decades. We have some that they have been here their whole lives. I think it's really cool to be able to see all of that.
At the same time, since we've been here, we've added 10 new members to our church. I think that it brings a lot of excitement whenever you're able to blend what the church has been historically, with also being able to really try to grasp hold of something new and something fresh and something that sometimes can be different than what the church is normally used to.
Q: How does this church serve the community of High Springs?
A: That is actually one thing that is really important to me is just being community focused and community outreach oriented. Starting out, we were at Pioneer Days, and we had a tent set up and were passing out water bottles to people that were coming through.
During Teacher Appreciation Week, we went down to High Springs Community School and set up a taco bar. It was like, ridiculous, it was so huge. We told our congregation that we were going to have a taco bar and there was more food on the table than on Thanksgiving.
Some of the teachers walked in, and they're like, “Oh, my gosh, we've never seen anything like this before.” That was super fun, being able to really serve the community in that way.
The chamber president started attending our church in June and a couple of weeks ago she asked me if I would be willing to be considered for being the vice president. Through that, we're going to be helping out at the Fall Festival for High Springs in the fall.
We have different ideas as well to just be able to serve the community in other areas. One thing we're going to do in the fall is we're going to be hosting a movie night for families to be able to come and enjoy a movie. Anytime that there are service projects or needs in the community, we want to be able to be there and respond because I think that that's such an important part of being the church is to be able to serve our community, just like Jesus calls us to.
Q: What makes the homecoming service special?
A: The church has done homecoming services in the past. I think a lot of it is about looking at some things that have happened in the past, being able to reflect on those, while also looking ahead to the future, like, this is some great things that God has done in our church's history, and this is what we're looking forward to in the future.
At 91 years, I felt like it was something we needed to celebrate. This thing’s been going for a while, and I wanted everyone to be able to relish some of the history of the church and to dig deep into the past.
A lot of people over the time we've been here have reflected on different things that have happened in the past, different victories that they've seen through the church.
I think being able to try to highlight some of those things brings a moment to really be able to celebrate what the church has been, while keeping an eye towards the future and saying, if God's done all of this in the past, what does he have planned for the future as well?
If you go:
Name: High Springs Church of God
Where: 23765 NW 182nd Ave, High Springs, FL 32643
When: Sunday: 9 a.m. Sunday school, 10 a.m. service
Wednesday: 6 p.m. dinner and 7 p.m. Bible study