Dear Members and Friends of First Church,

Sir Isaac Newton, the great Enlightenment scientist, once deflected the praises offered to him for his discoveries with these words: “If I can see far, perhaps it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants.” As this issue of the Epistle focuses on the history of our congregation, I am likewise aware of how much the accomplishments of the 15 years of my pastoral ministry here were built on the shoulders of those who went before me. Our church was founded as a small mission congregation by a Presbyterian church in Fort Myers over 45 years ago, when Bonita Springs was a small fishing village in the midst of an undeveloped forest. Today we are the largest congregation in our Presbytery and one of the largest congregations in our denomination.

I offer my gratitude and indebtedness to the three pastors who preceded me: Harry Price (the founding pastor), Joe McClure (who oversaw the  building of the second sanctuary—now the Great Room and CenterPoint), and Paul Kirbas, who pastored during the construction of our current sanctuary. It has been a remarkable story of growth. Each of those men was the right person at the right time. We will always honor their legacy.

Every pastor is actually an interim pastor. Nothing is permanent on this earth, and each of us is here for just a short time. I have been blessed to spend 15 years and counting as one of the pastors of this great congregation, but God’s work began long before I came and will continue long after I am gone. It is both humbling and uplifting to realize this truth (humbling, because none of us is indispensable; uplifting, because this is God’s church and He is not dependent on any human being).

When Jeanne and I felt that God was calling us to come to First Church in early 2004, we were attracted by the incredible, latent potential in this congregation and community. We were convinced that our primary mission was to help unlock that potential. Very few churches across the country are blessed with the continual influx of new residents that is found in our area. The people who move to Southwest Florida bring with them phenomenal resources of talent, treasure and maturity.

First Church was perfectly positioned to ride the wave of sustained growth that began in the communities of Bonita Springs and Estero in the mid-’90s and has continued, in spite of the national economic recession that began in 2007. New people continue to move to our area, and new houses and entire communities spring up. But that’s only one component of our church’s story of growth. In order to flourish, a congregation needs to be in a healthy community environment. It needs internal health. It needs to do a lot of things right in order to be attractive to new people. Sadly, there are many churches across the country that are well-positioned in growing communities but have not grown because they lack the elements within.

I have been blessed in my pastoral career of 40 years to have served in two large and growing congregations prior to coming to Bonita Springs—first as an Associate Pastor in Wichita, Kansas, then as a Senior Pastor in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. What I learned from those two ministries  proved to be invaluable preparation for my years here at First Church.

In the pages that follow we will hear from many people who have witnessed part of this church’s wonderful story. Enjoy their reflections!

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Doug Pratt