In March, 1997, local businessman Tom Platt secured a commitment from the Florida Baptist Convention to assist in starting a new church on Fleming Island. He and his wife Donna met with Dr. Walter Bennett, then Director of Church Development at FBC. They met to discuss their mutual vision of a new church to meet the spiritual needs of existing and future families coming to Fleming Island.
The first planning session took place at the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Orange Park. Later sessions at Bono's Restaurant, Lick Skillet, and in the home of the Platt's included Danny Bennett, Associate Pastor of First Baptist Middleburg (Dr. Bennett's son), Russ and Nancy Hughes (our first Music team) from the Convention, Larry and Dena Medlock, and Duncan and Sandy McDonnel.
A Name and a Place
At a planning session in the summer of 1997, several prospective church names were considered - including Eagle Harbor Baptist Church, St. Johns River Baptist Church - but Dr. Bennett came up with the winning name: Hibernia Baptist Church - chosen because of the historic significance of the name Hibernia, being associated with the first settlers to a plantation on the island having come from Ireland. (Editors note: Hibernia is the ancient name for Ireland.)
Dr. Bennett agreed to serve as our pastor on a part-time basis, with the understanding that when "we got too big for him, we would agree to hire a full-time pastor." Shortly afterwards, he secured an agreement with Paterson Elementary School's principal, Fred Fedorowich for us to rent space for worship services on Sundays and Wednesdays.
A Family of Friends
First Baptist Church of Middleburg agreed to sponsor us as a mission of their church, and to provide funding support as well as "lend us a few families" for six months to help fill the seats around the three families who became the original nucleus of the congregation. The first worship service was held in September, 1997 with three families officially joining the congregation: the Platt family, the Bill Butler family and the McDonnel family. A few months after the first services, leadership of the church music program passed from the Hughes' to Bruce Hutson, our first full-time/part-time music director.
After about four years of loving, careful nurturing by Dr. Bennett, he concluded that "we had gotten too big for him," and he urged the church to form a Pastor Search Team to find a full-time replacement for him.
After a year's search, the Pastor Search Team was led by God to Brother Scott Yirka who preached his first sermon as our full time pastor in July of 2001 to a congregation of 130. A short two and a quarter years later - October 2003 - he preached to a congregation of 574 - an increase of 443%!
The Miracle of the Land
Hibernia Baptist Church had begun looking for land not long after the church was founded in 1997. Dr. Walter Bennett, our first part-time pastor, had been searching during his entire ministry, and encouraged our new Pastor Scott Yirka to continue the search.
Brother Scott and Tom Platt searched for 10 acres of land for several months, and then obtained the services of a realtor-broker to assist in the search. After months of unproductive search, Brother Scott asked the congregation to pray and fast for 30 days for God to give us 10 acres.
Not long after the 30 days of prayer and fasting, Brother Scott called Dr. Mark Nicholson, Pastor of Providence Baptist Church to inquire how his church was doing. Pastor Nicholson informed Brother Scott that their congregation had been praying about merging with our congregation and bringing their 10 acres of land! The miracle continues!
After the merger of Providence Baptist Church into our congregation, attorney Grady Williams, Jr. (son of the late founder of Providence Baptist Church) requested that we pray that Conseco Finance Inc. would be willing to return his phone calls to discuss the sale of an additional 8 acres essential to assembling a workable site for our church.
The congregation gathered on the original 10 acres and held hands in prayer that God would make the additional acres available to the church. When Grady returned to his office the next morning, he had a voice mail message from Conseco Finance Inc. requesting that he call them to discuss the sale of the additional acreage that we had prayed about just the night before. And that's the miracle of God's gift of the land to our church.
A Future Home
After an initial planning session with an architect with Lifeway about how to begin planning the new worship facilities, the Building Team recommended to the congregation that The Stellar Group provide design and engineering services for the new facilities.
As of late in the summer of 2003, The Stellar Group was authorized by the congregation to continue with the necessary permitting and design of up to 30% of all design documents, as well as developing a guaranteed maximum price for construction of the church buildings. (Preliminary estimates are in the range of $10.4 million for all buildings to eventually be built.)
A flexible design incorporating a multipurpose worship building, a children's worship building, an administration building and two educational wings were approved by the congregation. The genius of the design lies in the "pod" approach to building: each building is viewed as a separate component for funding and building yet will be part of an integrated overall design concept.
We are so excited about our beginnings. We are humbled by the wondrous blessings God continues to bestow upon us and we are thankful for the wonderful family of friends who continue to share Godâ€™s love and work in His name to evangelize the island.
On June 27, we broke ground on our future site of Hwy 17 South. Hundreds turned out to be a part of this special day and to pray on various spots of the property for the blessings that we have received and the many more that are to come.
May 24, 2005 - Raising the Walls
Using the unique tilt-wall construction, all walls were poured on a slab, dried then raised into position with a crane. It was a very exciting day as we went from no walls to two buildings within a matter of hours. Two buildings were initially erected--the phase 1 worship center and the first education building.
October 22 - We are now moving Farther in Faith!
On October 22, 2006 we kicked off our Phase II building campaign called "Farther in Faith." God continues to bless us as our membership grows, yet with this growth comes a challenge. We need more space! It is our goal to begin construction on Phase II during the first quarter of 2007 and move into our new sanctuary during the first quarter of 2008.
Phase II will include: a new Worship center seating 1200, New adult education space, and 230 additional parking spaces, just to name a few highlights. Our current worship facility will be used for Children and Student worship needs.
2010: The Second New Sanctuary
Spiritual Growth Leads to Growth in Attendance
Hibernia's rapid growth occurred almost as soon as we moved from Paterson Elementary School to our first new sanctuary. With 3,000 members, we were running out of space for Bible Study Groups as well as corporate worship. This growth required three Bible study periods as well as three morning worship services.
The Building Team
The design, engineering and construction of the new sanctuary were important matters to be prayed over and given careful consideration. The Building Team, consisting of Ed Rock (Chairman), Tom Platt, Keith Dease, Randy Burdine, Gary Hiers, and Associate Pastor David Poupard, oversaw the project from beginning to end.
New Features Designed
The decision was made to incorporate the following features into the new combined sanctuary and Bible Study Group classrooms:
Â· Square footage: 38,000
Â· New Classrooms: 14
Â· New Sanctuary Seating: 1,050 (possibly more, depending on final configuration of seats)
Â· Choir and Orchestra: seating for 100 choir and orchestra members (possibly more, depending on final configuration of seats)
Who Helped Build Our New Sanctuary?
To perform the critical engineering work to be performed before construction could begin the Phillips Engineering firm was selected. Matt Phillips, owner, had worked with the church in the earlier phases of construction. The architectural services were provided by the R. Scott Dean architectural firm. The design presented by Scott Dean, owner, was the one incorporated into the new building. The incredibly complex job of converting the design of the building into the building actually constructed was done by our own church member, Tom May, owner of Thomas May Construction Company. The exquisite design and placement of the beautiful pavers surrounding the new sanctuary were the work of Randy Burdine, member of Hibernia and owner of Tropical Pavers, Inc. The demandingly intricate details of laying out the uncounted miles of electrical wiring throughout the building were accomplished by Hibernia member Keith Dease, owner of KAD Electric Co.
The Focused By Grace Campaign
To start the campaign to build our second new sanctuary, in the fall of 2009, Pastor Scott Yirka asked Tom Platt to serve as the Director of the Focused By Grace (FBG) campaign. Tom accepted the challenge and immediately set out to secure the assistance of two experienced leaders:
Â· Reverend Clarence Hackett, Director of the Stewardship Department of the Florida Baptist Convention; and
Â· Larry Koster, a member of Hibernia who had experience in previous church capital campaigns.
Tom, Clarence and Larry met with Brother Scott to discuss a vision for the campaign, and began to lay out the plans for FBG.
The first three months involved a common goal of praying, encouraging, leading and giving. That was to be followed by a continuing effort over the next three years to sustain the campaign.
The Focused By Grace Campaign was built around seven spiritual principles:
1. The Principle of Prayer: Psalm 127:1 "Except the Lord build the house"
2. The Principle of Sacrifice: II Samuel 24:24 and Hebrews 12:2 "Not equal gifts but equal sacrifice"
3. The Principle of Communication: "Tell the people and trust the people"
4. The Principle of Involvement: Nehemiah 4:6 "the people had a mind to work"
5. The Principle of Commitment: "I will not ask others to make a commitment until I have made my own"
6. The Principle of Asking: James 4:2b "You have not because you ask not"
7. The Principle of Timing: "The right person asking the right person at the right time in the right place in the right way"
With guidance from Clarence Hackett, Tom and Larry set out to contact people who would provide the leadership of several teams, and provided the training to them to accomplish the campaign goals.
The "high-point" of the campaign kick-off was a church-wide banquet held at Reynolds Park in Green Cove Springs at which the initial pledges were announced shortly thereafter, the entire congregation responded to the request to pray for God's guidance in how they should participate.
The results were a church-wide combined pledge of $2,400,000.
The new worship facility will take us from an existing sanctuary that seats 500 to a new sanctuary that will seat over 1,000. Initial plans are that we will begin in the new sanctuary with three morning bible study periods and two morning worship services.
Later, in early August , 2010, Pastor Scott asked the congregation to pray that at least $100,000 contributions come in by August 23, and by mid-August, that goal had been met and exceeded!