By Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
PORT ORANGE - First United Methodist Church looks good for 125.
The church has been a part of the city through its evolution from a small town to a densely populated suburban community. And the church has evolved with the city since it was first organized in 1887, from operating out of private homes in its early days to opening a new, large sanctuary in 2003 at 305 Dunlawton Ave. to meet the needs of a growing congregation.
Jeff and Terry Shroyer recalled fond memories of their early years at First United Methodist Church, years before the church's current sanctuary was opened. Mr. Shroyer, 65, recalled the old church on Magnolia Avenue was "just a little white building."
Mr. Shroyer spoke about getting to know the church's bell ringer, saying he would "grab the rope real low and shoot it up in the air to fly" to ring the bell. He also remembered his first conversation with the Rev. Tom Nelson; when Mr. Shroyer said he lived in Port Orange since 1956, the Rev. Nelson said he was born in 1956.
Ms. Shroyer, 62, also spoke fondly of a former church tradition called "Wilderness Thanksgiving," a camping trip around the Thanksgiving holiday where churchgoers would meet at a park, either for the day or to camp out, where a turkey would be cooked on an open fire and served for the campers.
The Shroyers said the church was like a family to them and it continues to be a part of their lives.
"We were married in this church. Our sons were baptized in this church. We renewed our vows here," Ms. Shroyer said. "And our funerals will probably be here, too."
First United Methodist Church also has been a major part of Janet Hanstine's life. The 88-year-old has been coming to the church since her wedding in 1947 and since then has been involved in everything from teaching Sunday school classes to singing in the choir and quilting with the quilting group.
Ms. Hanstine's late husband built the church's fellowship hall, which was completed in 1977 and was named Hanstine Hall in recognition of the family. The couple's four sons attended the church services and were also married there, she said.
Although she lives in an assisted living facility and has lost her ability to drive a car, Ms. Hanstine said she tries to visit the church and help out as much as she possibly can, depending on her sons and her friends for rides to and from the church.
"I just keep coming and coming as much as I can," she said. "I never want to be a leader, (but) I want to be a helper."
And helping others is the main part of First United Methodist Church's vision statement, which reads the church is "committed to serving people genuinely, introducing them to Christ and being beacons of His word through our actions."
In fact, churchgoers went out on community service projects as part of the church's 125-year celebration. The service projects included cleaning up trash at the beach, singing hymns at a nursing home, preparing lunches for the local homeless community and making care packages for military overseas.
The Rev. Nelson said he believes First United Methodist Church's dedication to serving others in the community is what gives the church life.
"We think we're in one of our most vibrant days because of all the service we've been doing," he said.
One of the churchgoers who participated in the service projects was 17-year-old William Harms, a senior at Spruce Creek High School. He coordinated the homeless bag lunch project, where volunteers packed lunches consisting of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and some snacks to give to homeless people in downtown Daytona Beach.
William said he enjoys helping the homeless, something he's done before through his work with the church's cold night shelter, a part of the fellowship hall that gives homeless people a place to sleep and a meal to eat when temperatures go below 40 degrees.
"(Homelessness) is a big issue that faces a lot of people nowadays," William said. "It's always good to help when they're in need."
Joe Kennedy, who's lived in the area for about a year, watched another service project take place, free car washes. He said he was impressed by the churchgoers' community service.
"These people are incredible," Mr. Kennedy said. "I've never seen people like this in any church I've been to before."