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A Lakeland church that was founded by a group of six charter members and has developed into a cross-generational congregation that loves everything from traditional hymns to putting on Broadway-style musicals is celebrating 100 years of loving God and serving its community on July 10.

“We are thankful for the consistent work God has done between 1922 and 2022. We are just praising him for the past 100 years and acknowledging that He is the one who has brought us to this place,” said Dr. Mark Bedwell, senior pastor of Ardella since 2016. “It is a very rare and special accomplishment to be thriving in this generation as a 100-year-old church.”

Ardella Baptist Church started in 1922 with six charter members and grew to more than 100 members by 1929.

The church is inviting community members, former pastors (mission partners) and members from throughout its history to join in and acknowledge the momentous occasion. Following its 10:30 a.m. Sunday worship service on July 10, Ardella Baptist Church is hosting a dinner on the grounds and performance by talented young pianist Jacob Luttz. Everyone is welcome.

Ardella’s roots in Polk County run deep. The church was started in 1922 by a charter group of a half dozen members. Their goal was to build a church that utilized “only the Bible for their guidance” with the goal of making their community a better place to live, worship and educate families. 

Ardella grew from the original six charter members in 1922 to 107 by the end of 1929. The name Ardella came from a traveling missionary. He had a daughter named Ardella and the charter members of the church loved the name.

Located on W. Pipkin Rd., a few blocks from South Florida Ave., thousands of people drive past the church each day (when the road isn’t under significant construction).

In its infancy people likely passed by the church most frequently by train, when a primary rail line ran through the area. As “Lakeland History” by Hampton Dunn describes the area’s early days: Lakeland was yet unborn. The metropolis was Medulla with a post office and two stores.

One hundred years ago, J.H. Dorman was appointed the first pastor of Ardella Baptist Church, and 17 other men have held that post in the church’s storied history.

Today, descendents of the founders still attend the church, and they can celebrate a humble beginning on one acre of land that has blossomed into a congregation of more than 225 regular attendees on a beautiful 17-acre campus. 

“We want to reach young families, but not at the expense of losing senior adults. We want all ages to visit and say, ‘Wow, this is a great church. I want to be a part of this.’” – Dr. Mark Bedwell, Senior Pastor

Dr. Aaron Burgner, senior pastor of Lakes Church, and Matt McCraw, senior pastor of First Baptist Bartow, are just two examples of community leaders who grew up at Ardella Baptist Church. Burgner and McCraw, as well as E.J. Brinson, senior pastor of Ardella from 1987 to 2008, are all joining Ardella in celebrating 100 years with guest preaching appearances in 2022.

“When I came here six years ago, God gave a vision for us to strive to be a healthy family where all generations grow as disciples of Jesus Christ,” Bedwell said. “Focusing on all generations isn’t easy. We want to reach young families, but not at the expense of losing senior adults. We want all ages to visit and say, ‘Wow, this is a great church. I want to be a part of this.’” 

The senior pastor said earlier this year a community member called and asked him, “What do you think about hosting Southern Gospel concerts?”

Bedwell’s response? “I love it.” 

Three concerts are already scheduled beginning in January 2023. 

As Bedwell puts it, if you visit Ardella, “You might come and hear a song you heard on the radio, but you also might see handbells.”

Each year the church hosts a summer Vacation Bible School for children to attend. This year’s theme was “Mystery Island.”

The church pours into the younger generation through its Awana club, annual vacation Bible School and by partnering with local entities like Fellowship of Christian Athletes, who hosts Student Leadership University training at the church. 

“Our campus is being used almost every day for ministry including home school groups, women’s Bible studies, and a ministry aimed at mothers of young children,” Bedwell said.

Bedwell and his wife, Kim, brought their love for Broadway musicals to the church with them when God brought them to Ardella. Five years ago the church began putting on full scale productions, complete with custom sets, costumes, choreography, music and more. Planning and rehearsal for the annual program takes nearly five months and nearly 150 volunteers work together to pull off the spectacle. 

“I believe that relationships are the true core of Ardella,” Bedwell said. “If you walk in you’re going to be loved on – not by just the greeter at the front door, you’re going to leave knowing you are loved.”

In this photo, people are being baptized in Scott Lake as they make a profession of faith in Jesus.

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