The principal settlement of Atlantic Beach and the Beaches community dates back to 1900, when Henry Flagler built a branch of the Florida East Coast Railway to Atlantic Beach and constructed a 350-room summer resort hotel on the beach. The City of Atlantic Beach was then incorporated in 1926. The early origins of Community Presbyterian Church date back to 1932, when several Christian families initiated a non-denominational Sunday school for children in the home of Victoria Welch, and also an adult Sunday evening vesper service.
In 1936, the Presbytery of Suwannee called into service the retired minister Dr. Edgar Way to help form this new church, located at the beach. Dr. Way visited and preached on Sundays, and, under his direction, this (our) beach community church was organized and chartered in 1937. Our church originally had 29 members, was (and is today) a Presbyterian church, and met in the Atlantic Beach City Hall.
In 1938, we had increased to 77 members and purchased two lots on Sherry Drive, where we established the present day location of our beautiful church campus. Our church sanctuary was built in 1940 (in its present location, with subsequent renovations), and the first service was held on September 29, 1940. Rev. Massey Mott Heltzel was the church’s first full time pastor from 1939-1942.
The Jacksonville Beach area continued to evolve during this early war-time period, and included the initial construction of Mayport Naval Station, located just north of Atlantic Beach. The exterior of the sanctuary in 1940 looked much as it does today: a modest one-story chapel with a simple white façade that befits the local beach neighborhood. The pastor’s office was located in a room at the rear of the sanctuary.
Sunday school rooms and a kitchen were located in what is now a portion of the narthex and rear pews. In May 1941, the name of the church was changed to Community Presbyterian Church.
In 1942, the north wing was completed, and is now part of the expanded youth wing. In 1943, two adjoining lots were purchased. By 1945, membership was at 160 people, representing 75 homes. Boy Scout Troop 37, chartered in 1937, was then adopted by our church and its meeting hut (c. 1940s) was constructed on the church campus, where it remarkably still remains today.
In 1948, the first kindergarten school was held at our church and in 1959 we assumed full responsibility of the school and hired three teachers. By the late 1950s, an administrative office building and a fellowship hall were built (since renovated and then replaced), and in 1967 the sanctuary was expanded.
In 1985, Community Presbyterian Church expanded to two Sunday worship services. In 1986, the first stained glass window was installed. By 2006, that number had grown to twenty stained glass windows. In 1988, the sanctuary was again expanded. In 1991, a two-story education building was constructed (with subsequent renovations in 2006-2007). And, in 2002-03, the sanctuary was again renovated, to its present condition. By 2005, our membership included 730 adults and 145 youth.
In 1996, plans were made for a memorial garden, where the ashes of our loved ones can be deposited. Commemorative plaques with names and dates are included in the design. Construction began in November 1997. More than 100 former church members and family members have been memorialized.
In 2005-2007, the entire church campus was upgraded and renovated beyond the sanctuary (which was previously upgraded in 2003). This included the administrative offices, education building, expansion of the youth wing, parking facilities, campus lawns, and construction of a new fellowship hall facility and a two-story ministry building that serves both the pre-school and classrooms.
We are excited for the future of Community Presbyterian Church, made possible only with support from our loyal and supportive congregation. Here’s to a great 2021! Stay safe!