In the early 1920s, Leila Sumner was determined to bring an authentic Pentecostal revival to Lakelanders, but she faced several challenges.
There were no Pentecostal churches in the area and W.R Hadsock, the reverend who was going to host the revival, did not have an organ to accompany him.
Not to be deterred, Sumner and two of her friends rolled a pump organ down bumpy, dusty roads to put under the tent.
The revival took place, people accepted Christ as their savior and it was the catalyst for the beginning of Lakeland Church of God on the corner of Ohio St. and Quincy St., where Hadsock served as the first pastor.
Today, that church is a vibrant multi-generational church in North Lakeland known as Together Church, a congregation that is celebrating its 100th anniversary in September. The church will be hosting special services on September 25 to commemorate the occasion.
“I can’t imagine pushing an organ down even a good road, let alone an old dirt road, and to think about how many times they probably had to pick it up,” says lead pastor Justin Stewart, who has been at the helm for more than five years. “It just shows the perfect picture of over the years, even through the hard times, of when we have had to persevere and push something to a different place that typically couldn’t be pushed to, but because of God we got there.”
“The name is not just a slogan — it makes sense because the church as a whole has built a culture that brings different families and demographics together,” Stewart said.
The church does that within its walls, but also through Lead Florida, a program and experience focused on developing Christian leaders and entrepreneurs that is led by Jaime Stewart, the lead pastor’s wife and Together’s administrative pastor.
The impact of the church, which is part of the Church of God denomination, goes far beyond its own congregation. Several local churches that have been planted out of the 100-year-old church are:
- Trinity Life
- Renovation Church
- Highland City Church of God
- Living Water Church of God
“…even through the hard times, of when we have had to persevere and push something to a different place that typically couldn’t be pushed to, but because of God we got there.” – Pastor Justin Stewart
The story of how the congregation obtained the Lake Wire property is just one example of how the people of Together Church have been diligent and faith filled over the years.
In the early 1950s Rev. J.T. Roberts decided he would ask people for donations of dollar bills and have them fill a wash tub with money to show the progress. In short order people stepped up and filled the tub with $30,000 that was transported to Peoples Bank of Lakeland and put in a safe until the contract could be finalized on the property.
Long-serving church members like Bob and Joyce Short have experiences with Together Church that date back almost as far.
Joyce, now 75, is the daughter of W.C. Byrd, who pastored the church for more than a decade. Joyce started attending the church at 1 year old and has been involved with it the majority of her life. Bob serves as a board member, and the couple has served in various roles over the decades, including Sunday School teachers.
Some of the Short’s children and grandchildren currently attend Together Church, and Joyce said the culture of the church includes involving children and teens from a young age, helping them to find God’s purposes for their lives.
Dewayne Watford, financial administrator at Together Church, started attending the church 46 years ago, and almost immediately he was personally touched by the kindness of the Shorts.
“When we first went into a Sunday School class, Bob and Joyce were the teachers, and there were chairs in a circle filled with people,” Watford recalls. “Bob made everyone move closer to each other to make space for us, and that made a memorable impression.”
As Dewayne awakened to a deeper relationship with God, especially at a local revival in the mid 1970s, God used him to make an exponential impact through a bus ministry he led for the church.
In a period of five years, a fleet of seven buses transported a total of more than 28,000 children (total, not unique) to the church — not bad for a ministry that Dewayne said he had reservations about “being the right guy for” when someone at the revival told him he was the man to lead it.
As with any organization that has survived 100 years, the impacts last generations.
“I was at Watson Clinic earlier this year for some testing, and across the room there was a lady who kept looking my way, and I’m trying to figure out if I should know who she is,” Dewayne shares. “She eventually walks over to me and says, ‘Do you remember picking me up on Swindoll Road when you drove that bus?’”
In the 70s it was a bus ministry that connected people. In 2022 it’s online streaming of worship services, it’s a commitment of churchgoers to serve community organizations alongside each other, and as Pastor Stewart puts it, it’s about “sticking to the Word because it’s the living Word and it will never return void.”