Wimauma church frets over greying population

- On a recent Sunday, fourteen parishioners filed into a humble building on Rte. 674 in Wimauma.

Their religion is Primitive Baptism.

They aren't sure how many Sundays they'll have left.

"This is home," said Dene Patterson. "This is where all of our roots were."

Patterson is a third-generation member of the Fellowship Primitive Baptist church.

She's 85.  None of the other members are under 60, but most are over 80.

"My grandmother and grandfather rode the horse and buggy (to get here)," she said. "They'd start out early in the morning and ride all night long to get here in time for church."

At one time, there were more members.  Many more.

"I counted 110 people in one picture," said Earl Stanaland.

In the 1930s and 40s, they met in a log cabin building nine miles east of Sun City Center.

"They put wooden pegs instead of nails," said Stanaland.

Stanaland's family is the reason the church is here in the first place.  It was his great grandfather, Pleasant, who founded the church and accompanying cemetery.

He left Georgia in 1875 and made the 300-mile journey to Wimauma.  "It took seventeen days to get here through the woods," he said.

He came in search of a better, more fruitful life, and got interested in citrus.

Earl is the caretaker.

"I've got my great-grandfather buried here," he said. "I got my grandfather buried over there."

That's why he worries more than others: what would happen to the church land if the newer building, from the 50s, was unused?

"I am trying to get some younger people started."

But several of the members say their children have moved away to other states, and are not likely to come back, throwing the future of the church further in doubt.

"It is like it is something that has always been here and I can't ever see it going away," said Patterson. "But that day may come when we don't have it anymore, because of our membership dying out."

The church members have confronted their reality; they have only fourteen members left, with thick memories and a thinning future.

"Everything that we learned and knew in life started right out here," said Patterson. "People just drift away from the church."  They meet the first Sunday of every month.

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