The congregation moved into the newly expanded sanctuary in January 1990 as membership grew toward 750. The 1990s were a time of transition as First Church celebrated a growth in staff and the milestone of 25 years as a congregation.
Rev. Jon Fregger (wife Georgia) was called in August of 1990 as Associate Pastor for Youth and Christian Education. In May of 1993, Rev. Bob Abel accepted a call from a South Carolina church, and for a time, Interim Parish Associates (retired pastors) were used to 1990s help with pastoral duties. Rev. Charles Donnell came in this capacity, and Harry Price returned to First Church as well.
By June of 1994, the congregation extended a call to Rev. Paul Chaney (wife Martha) as Associate Pastor. He served through 1999.
Rev. Joe McClure gave his final sermon on April 30, 1995, culminating a 16-year ministry nurturing First Church into one of the community’s largest and most active spiritual forces. In July, Session hired Rev. Robert Waller (wife Beverly) as Interim Pastor.
In March of 1996, the congregation voted unanimously to call Rev. Paul Kirbas (wife Jennifer) to be Senior Pastor. Coming from Druid Hills Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Paul was a family man with two young sons. His arrival marked another page in our church history as we celebrated paying off the debt from the last expansion project. Paul Kirbas was known for his evolving teaching ministry which included not only inspirational Bible studies and sermons, but also educational classes to expand our faith and sense of mission. Church membership, attendance and outreach continued to grow, reflecting the growth of Bonita Springs. In 1998, Easter service attendance exceeded 2,200.
“There is a very special quality of life that exists in our area,” Pastor Paul said, “and it is one of the few places in our country where the Church is still a central part of the community. I hope to lead our congregation in becoming the kind of church that makes a regional impact for the good of all God’s children.”
Through the vision of Director of Music James Johnston, the Community Music School (now First Academy of Music, see related article on page 15) opened in September 1998. Under Pastor Paul’s leadership and his commitment to families, First Church embarked on the construction and opening of Wonder Years Preschool in 1999. Also that year, Rev. Paul Chaney stepped down due to health issues and Rev. Dennis Reid (wife Kim) answered a call as Associate Pastor; he served until 2002.
Growth was evident in programs across the board as the vision of what our church could be in the future unfolded. By the end of the decade, the congregation had once again embarked on a building project, its most ambitious one to date: our current sanctuary!