As another decade began, the Presbyterians were still holding services at Pittman Funeral Home. In May of 1970, Sam McCammon, Executive Presbyter of Westminster Presbytery in Florida, arranged for the search committee to interview Rev. Harry Price. During the visit he also showed Harry and his wife Minnie the pastorate in San Carlos Park.
Minnie recalled, “Sam said, ‘This isn’t the place I really need you, Harry. I need you down in Bonita Springs.’ So, we got in the car; it was nighttime and dark [as we] got to Bonita Springs, and all he could show us was this lot on Bonita Beach Road… and some old trees that had been a grove. He said, ‘This is where the church will be.’”
Harry and Minnie returned to Tennessee and waited for word from the Presbytery. “My husband said, ‘Well I tell you, if we go down there, we’re sure going on faith.’ Harry always did everything on faith,” Minnie reminisced. Sure enough, Rev. Harry Price was called by the combined presbyteries of West Florida and Westminster to serve as Field Minister for both the Bonita Springs and San Carlos churches. The Prices settled in San Carlos Park and split their time between shepherding these two congregations.
Brick and Mortar to Call Our Own
Construction of our first sanctuary (now known as Price Chapel) took place from September 1971 to March 1972. First Presbyterian Church of Bonita Springs was officially organized as a union church of the two Presbyteries on April 9, 1972, with 65 charter members and 3 affiliate members. Rev. Harry Price was installed as the first full-time pastor.
“Well, the first Sunday when they had the dedication, we overflowed,” Minnie said. “There wasn’t much on Bonita Beach Road, so people flocked… Presbyterians, Lutherans and a lot of Baptists who didn’t have a church. That was certainly a blessing… because they were looking for a good solid place they would feel at home to worship.”
Minnie shared with us what might have been the secret to Harry’s way with people:
“Harry had [this] very, unusual ability,” she explained. “He would remember them [congregants] from the first time he saw them and call hem by name. I said,‘Harry, how do you remember all those names?’ He said, ‘I’m so thankful for each one, I can’t forget them.’ And when they came back the next Sunday, he was so thankful to see them again. That’s what they needed. They needed someone who loved them.”
It wasn’t until 1973 that Harry and Minnie moved to Bonita Springs themselves. eir ministry was one of inclusion, welcome and care. “They gathered people like themselves, gentle and loving, at peace with themselves and with God and each other,” Rev. Joe McClure reminisced.
So, while the world was watching All in the Family on TV and listening to The Way We Were on the radio, Harry and Minnie were busy building up the foundation of First Church—its membership. By 1974 it had jumped to 182, paving the way for the first expansion of the sanctuary. After a fruitful nine-year ministry, Rev. Price retired on September 30, 1979.
Rev. Joe McClure was finishing up a two-year assignment at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg when he was called as our second full-time pastor. On the job by November 18, Joe hit the ground running as Sunday attendance was 500+ and Session elected to build a bigger sanctuary.