The Early Years
Our church began in the fall of 1913 as a mission sponsored by St. John's Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. Rev. Philip H. Hensley, City Missionary for the Presbytery, started a Sunday school meeting under the oak trees at the Berry family home on Branch Avenue in Seminole Heights. A few months later, with some contributions from a few sister churches, Rev. Hensley acquired corner property a few blocks away at Florida and Comanche Avenues to house a small chapel building. The mission grew steadily for the next five years.
Then on June 29, 1919, Rev. James F. Winnard of St. John's Presbytery presided over the organization of Seminole Heights Presbyterian Church with Rev. Ray Busler being installed as the first pastor in addition to one ruling elder, two deacons, and 33 charter members.
The young church struggled in its first seven years with three different regular pastors and several supply ministers. By February 1926, the struggling congregation decided to turn its property over to the Presbytery and disband. However, the Presbytery told the congregation to hold on a little longer and sent a pulpit supply minister for the four weeks of April to assess the situation before making a final decision.
The supply minister, Rev. Lawrence E. McEldowney, preached his first sermon on Easter Sunday to a crowd of five or six people. By the end of the month, the Presbytery reorganized the church with Rev. McEldowney in charge. Six months later, the congregation celebrated the opening of its new sanctuary next door because the church had outgrown the original chapel space. Rev. McEldowney went on to serve as pastor for twenty years and saw the congregation grow to well over 200 members before retiring in 1946.
Seminole Heights Presbyterian was served by three more pastors for the next twelve years including Rev. Robert Poland, who oversaw the congregation add at least one new member every week between 1953 and 1954 with a membership of over 400. By the end of the decade, the congregation was out of space. The Presbytery offered property on Habana Avenue if the church would be willing to move, and the congregation held its last service in the Florida Avenue sanctuary on Easter Sunday in 1959.
In March 1960, the congregation held its first worship service in the new fellowship hall on Habana Avenue and was now known as Seminole Presbyterian Church.
An Evangelical Transformation
In 1961, Rev. Richard Watson began a transformative 16-year pastorate at Seminole Presbyterian. During his tenure, the congregation emphasized missions and evangelism including overseas trips to Mexico and Jamaica, a church plant in urban Tampa, and annual youth conferences. The most lasting accomplishment was the launching of a Christian day school in September 1965 with one class each of 4 and 5 year olds. This new school, Seminole Presbyterian School, would eventually define the church's identity for the next 40 years. The growing congregation built a formal sanctuary in 1967, which was adjacent to the existing 1960 fellowship hall and education wing.
Move to the Presbyterian Church in America
Yet as God was blessing the ministry of Seminole Presbyterian, He was about to test the church's faith. By 1969, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) had drifted away from the fundamentals of historical Christianity. After much prayer, the congregation voted unanimously to join a more biblically faithful denomination, even with the risk that the Presbytery might not let the church leave with its property. After several tense months and much prayer, in God's providence, the congregation and pastors were allowed to leave the PCUS with property in hand. Eventually, Seminole Presbyterian joined other local sister churches and was received into the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) on April 15, 1975.
Growth of Seminole Presbyterian School
After the turbulent 1970s, the church committed itself to missions and the growth of Seminole Presbyterian School to include a high school by the end of the 1980s. Rev. John Buswell (1980-1990) and Rev. David O'Dowd (1990-1999) pastored the church for these two decades.
By the end of the 1990s, the growing needs of the school necessitated its formal separation from the church. In 2001, the school became its own legal entity and eventually changed its name to Cambridge Christian School with the intention of moving to a new campus. The church and school would continue to share the Habana campus for the next few years as the school was deciding on a permanent location. Then in 2003, the school decided that it would remain on the Habana campus and began the process of acquiring adjacent land for future expansion.
A Renewed Vision
In 2004, Rev. John Keen became the senior pastor and led the congregation with a new vision for Seminole Presbyterian Church that did not include running a day school for the first time in nearly 40 years. Eventually, the church and school reached a tentative agreement for Seminole to move off the campus and for Cambridge Christian School to complete a purchase of the property within a specified amount of time. Seminole began meeting at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Seminole Heights on September 13, 2009 and would remain there for the next seven years.
During the interim period in Seminole Heights, the church began a new missions focus by partnering with a church-planting group in Costa Rica. The church also explored other ministry opportunities while waiting on God's timing. Finally, Cambridge Christian School closed on the purchase of the old Habana campus in September 2015.
Christ Central Presbyterian Church
For nearly a year, the church prayerfully searched for a new campus to purchase. In God's providence, the current campus on Himes Avenue, which was previously home to Christ Community Church, came on the market just as Seminole began to search in earnest. After carefully considering all of the possibilities, the congregation voted to purchase the Himes Avenue campus. Also, as part of a desire for a fresh start with a focus on the church's identity in Christ, the church Session voted to change the church's name to Christ Central Presbyterian Church. On November 13, 2016, Christ Central Presbyterian held the first worship service at the Himes Avenue campus.
On June 30, 2019, Christ Central celebrated her centennial anniversary with a few member families still being able to trace back their familial membership to the earliest years of the church. The congregation gave thanks to God for using this church to bless the Tampa community over the past century.
For one hundred years, our church's one foundation has been Jesus Christ our Lord. Now in our second century of ministry, we are excited to see how our Lord will continue using Christ Central Presbyterian Church to reach Tampa Bay.