In early 2020, I had just returned home from a seven-month deployment as an Air Force Chaplain. Our family began the social distancing lockdowns extremely grateful to be together and to make up for lost time. As the months went on and the chapel on base remained closed, the Lord laid it on the hearts of several people, myself included, that we could safely have a worship gathering outdoors on Sunday morning when I was available to preach. A dear friend, Rosemary Henderson, graciously offered her side yard as the meeting spot, and on June 21, 2020, about thirty of us met to worship the living God in her beautiful garden overlooking Tampa Bay. Emails were sent and phone calls were made to invite people to our gathering. We emphasized that we were not starting a church, but just meeting temporarily during COVID. During the first few weeks, we sang a cappella, and then, a regular attender offered to accompany on his guitar. As the summer came to a close, there remained a core group of believers that had no desire to disperse. They wished to continue together as a permanent outpost of Christ’s church.
We petitioned the OPC’s Presbytery of the South to be an official church plant. That petition was accepted in April 2021. My family was scheduled to move to Yokota AB, Japan, in the summer of 2021. As we made preparations for this move, the Side Yard Fellowship’s overseeing session asked if I would consider accepting a call to plant this church. I had never considered myself a church planter! And yet God had placed this group of believers on my heart, and for some reason they wanted me to stay. I accepted the call and will be released from active duty this June, moving into the Air Force Reserves. After a few meetings, we settled on our new name: Bay Haven Presbyterian Church. Our group has gathered every Sunday, with only a few exceptions due to weather. We continue to have visitors almost every week, and the Lord is growing our membership. We have a vibrant Sunday school class for both adults and children, Sunday evening instruction on the Westminster Confession of Faith and prayer time, a men’s study, a women’s study, a Bible study in nearby St. Petersburg, Florida, and an outreach to the homeless. Pray for this gathering—that the Lord would protect us and guide us forward, and that we would be used for his glory.
By Rev. Dan Halley
Adapted from an article in New Horizons