High Springs ‒ For over a year, the congregation at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal church in High Springs has been planning an historic celebration to mark the 125th consecutive year the church has been holding services at its current location.

The church's history actually goes farther back, with services held in private homes until a parishioner deeded the current land to build a permanent church in the 1880s.

The fall of 1896 became a turning point in the history of the church as residents of High Springs took shelter as a tornado tore through, damaging homes, churches and families' livelihoods. The “Great Storm” as it became known, caused 202 deaths and was one of the costliest hurricanes on record at the time.

St. Bartholomew's was a vital part of the community and railroad workers and townspeople worked tirelessly to rebuild the damaged church, cutting down pine trees and even using railroad ties to bring the church back to life. St. Bartholomew's church became a landmark and an integral part of the town. Since its reconstruction, parishioners have held services every single Sunday for the past 125 years.

To celebrate those 125 years of services, the congregation planned every detail of the anniversary, including food, a bake sale, musical entertainment, tours of the church with members in period costumes and a Sunday service conducted by Diocese of Florida Bishop John Howard.

The only contingency they couldn't plan for was the weather.

A cold drizzly storm passed through High Springs on the weekend of Nov 6-7, 2021—the same weekend as the planned event, causing some adjustments to the activities.

With temperatures hovering in the high 40s, participation in the event shrank, but church members were determined to mark the 125th year and activities went on as planned. Despite the weather, it is estimated that 250 people attended the celebration.

Refreshments were provided by the High Springs Lions Club and Mister P's BBQ, and both sold out by late afternoon. Despite the cold weather and an outdoor stage, music was provided throughout the event by Band Together, Canopy Road, Hogtown Slayers and headliner Cliff Dorsey. But because of the cold, many people elected to sit in their cars and in the mission hall to eat and enjoy the music.

Kicking off the celebration at 10 a.m., the City of High Springs provided police services and the City’s CRA director David Sutton delivered a speech on the history of the church. City Manager Ashley Stathatos followed with a speech about High Springs today and the changes the town has undergone. The congregation also sponsored a bake sale offering cookies, brownies and other baked goods with donations going to the church.

Church minister Reverend Canon Lance Horne, who is based in Jacksonville, was unable to attend due to illness, and Father Ladd Harris stepped up to offer the invocation. Retired CBS radio personality Ben Hill served as Master of Ceremony for the event. The UF Clinical Research Vehicle was also on site, offering COVID vaccinations as well as wellness checks. On Sunday, the church held a 10 a.m. service led by Bishop Howard, which was attended by about 70 parishioners.

While the inclement weather did not cooperate, the St. Bartholomew's congregation was determined to honor the 125-year history of the church come rain or shine, reminiscent of events years ago, reminding the community that conviction, determination and faith can overcame adversity.

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