In 1927, Charles and Anna Byer, missionaries sent by Lancaster Mennonite Conference, arrived in Florida and opened the Tampa Mennonite Mission. Originally known as the Ida Street Mennonite Church, services were held under the trees or in a tent until they were eventually able to rent a facility. Over the next 25 years, the mission put down roots in the community, purchased property, and three distinct congregations were formed. One of those three — College Hill Mennonite Church — held its first service in the building at 3506 Machado Street, Tampa, on December 7, 1956.
For much of its history, College Hill was primarily an outreach to the children of the community, holding children’s church services, VBS, clubs, and social activities. When Pastor Jon Moore arrived in the early 80’s, he undertook the work of transitioning College Hill into a fully-functioning “adult church”. This transition was continued — and completed — when current pastor, Roy Williams, began in 1985. At the time, College Hill was made up of about 12 people, operating on a shoestring budget, who simply went out into the community, visited people and invited them to church!
Over the past three decades, College Hill has continued its emphasis on community outreach and programming, with their efforts and funding far outreaching what might be expected of a congregation of under 50 people! Their food pantry serves 300 to 500 families per week, not only with food but also with information and services, as local organizations are invited to set up tables and talk to the guests about insurance, voter registration and other similar topics. In the past College Hill has collaborated with Hillsborough Community College and the University of South Florida to facilitate adult education classes. Scholarships are offered to College Hill children and youth through their “LTC: Let’s Talk College” program. They’ve also taken their program, “Reality, Recycling & Religion” into the public schools, which subtly introduced Christian principles; this curriculum has now impacted over 10,000 children and adults in their neighborhood.
When he began at College Hill, Pastor Roy Williams brought a background in banking and commercial real estate lending, and continued the principles he had been practicing by investing in people and the community. The church continues to work at jobs creation and nurtures small businesses by offering grants for people to start a new business of their own. These grants come with just one condition: that the recipient would pass it forward at some point in their life, when they are able to help somebody else.
With a mission statement of “Perfecting Saints for Ministry”, College Hill Mennonite Church continues to invest in their people through mentorship and leadership training, preparing people for ministry – be it at College Hill or elsewhere. As he approaches the twilight of his ministry years, Pastor Roy anticipates the priorities and passions of College Hill Mennonite Church continuing, no matter what his role may be.
* pray for them as they transition into Mosaic Mennonite Conference
* pray for their future, and whatever it may hold for them