Alafia Baptist Church celebrated its 170th anniversary, making it one of the oldest churches in the area.

Alafia Baptist Church certainly has a long history in Hillsborough County and is considered the one of the oldest continually operating churches in the region. In October, the church observed its long and rich history with its 170th anniversary celebration.

In 1850, a small group of Florida pioneers gathered together in their desire to worship and erected a simple log structure to call their church home near the south prong of the Alafia River. There were no cities in the area and the best roads were only cow trails. From this early church, traveling preachers on horseback crossed rivers and cut trails through the wilderness to carry the gospel to the surrounding farm communities.

In 1851, a young man named J.M. Hayman moved into the community and felt called to preach. He was ordained as the first minister of Alafia Baptist Church. Hayman was considered a circuit riding preacher and traveled throughout the area that included Plant City, Lakeland, Bartow, Thonotosassa, Clearwater, Manatee and Hernando Counties. At the end of his first year, he had traveled 1,450 miles, preached 69 sermons, baptized 28 persons and was rewarded with $12.62 for his salary.

Many changes took place over the course of the years as the area began to grow, and in January 1911, the subject of building a new church was decided on unanimously. By that summer, the new building was dedicated.

With continued growth, a new church structure was built in 1968. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by a fire in 1972, along with most of the church’s records and archives. The pastor’s home and the fellowship hall were spared. As the church continued its faithfulness, expansion and remodeling continued throughout the last 20 years.

As part of this year’s anniversary celebration, Alafia Baptist Church hosted a free barbecue dinner on October 17. After dinner, the attendees were treated to a gospel concert by the group New Floridians. Then, on October 18, the church welcomed former Pastor Erle McMichen to preach, followed by lunch.

The theme this year was ‘old fashion,’ wherein many of the 100 attendees dressed in costumes representing the early period in the church’s history.

Carol Givens, church secretary, is excited about the continued future of Alafia Baptist Church.

“I have been a member here for 36 years,” said Givens. “My dad, Billy Sanders, was a former pastor. This is a loving and caring church that looks out for one another. We also have a great desire to reach out in the community and offer a variety of ministries. Everyone is welcome and Jesus is Lord.”

In August 2019, Reverend Jimmy Evans became the pastor and has been instrumental in beginning a new food distribution ministry which offers support to a large number of area families.

During the shutdown for the coronavirus pandemic, the church began livestreaming worship services. The church is meeting again and is sanitizing after each service, and masks and hand sanitizer are available to congregants.

Alafia Baptist Church is located at 222 Alafia Church Rd. in Lithia. For more information, call 634-8845, visit www.alafiabaptist.org or visit its Facebook page.