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Local chapel goes all out to celebrate 100th anniversary

April 4, 2014
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

It looked like a birthday party inside the Bayshore Community Chapel, with birthday decorations, musicians and souvenir coins being handed out to the kids.

It was a birthday, as the historic chapel on Church Road celebrated its 100th anniversary Sunday with a service, followed by a celebration with music, fellowship and plenty of food.

And if the walls could talk, the stories they could tell. From Billy Graham preaching there in 1940, to the TV show "Route 66" filmed a scene there, to its time it was a school, the building has certainly had a colorful history.

Article Photos

Chuck Ballaro

The Bayshore Community Chapel in North Fort Myers, below, celebrated its 100th anniversary last Sunday with a huge celebration with more than 300 people in attendance.

The church was founded in 1910 and the chapel built four years later. When the land was donated, it was written into the constitution that the church remain non-denominational, which it has remained from the beginning.

"It's not important to God whether you're Baptist, Methodist or Catholic, it's whether you have a relationship with Him through His son," said Dr. Mark Means, the chapel's pastor.

Few would know more than Means, who dressed as if it was a wedding rather than an anniversary, and whose family has been involved in the church for almost 45 years.

Rea Means was asked to be the pastor when the family moved to town in 1970, a job he accepted with a wife and five kids for $25 per week, with a 12-person congregation.

"Sometimes, it was just me, my mom, my dad and Rea Means. Nobody else," said longtime member Mark England.

Rea would hold that job until his death in 2008, which by that time had evolved to become the official church of the nearby Pioneer Village retirement community with a congregation of up to 250 during season, 150 during the summer.

"If you had asked me years ago if I would be in this position, I would have said 'I don't think so,"' Mark said. "But here we are. Things have changed in the past few years."

The building has changed a bit, two side rooms have been built as well as the back section for Sunday school, but it remains the same otherwise, with pretty much the same function.

More than 300 people came to celebrate, many of whom grew up at the church before moving on to other congregations or ministries to take on important roles, Means said.

"There has been so much history here at the church. A lot of churches (11) sprung from this location and many people who were born, bred and raised here grew up at the chapel," Means said.

Jim Smith, who has been a pastor since 1999, said he is related to the Powell family, one of the original settlers in the area, so he's always been connected to the church in some way, though not closely so until becoming a pastor.

"If you want to know the history of North Fort Myers, Alva, and Matlacha, the families who built this church are the ones who settled on this ground," Smith said.

One of those descendents is England, whose mother, Virginia, came here with her father as a child and whose father helped care for the church while he cut the lawn.

England has come to the chapel since 1950, when he would ride his bike to J. Colin English Elementary and never see a car. He has seen a lot of changes.

"My mother was Sunday School teacher for the primary girls. The parents would drop them off, barefooted and sleep in their eyes, and my mom saw to it they got shoes and gave them breakfast. That has changed," England said. "Now you have conveniences like sidewalks."

Being non-denominational means sending a simple message, something Smith believes is among the reasons the chapel has lasted so long.

"We've stuck to the basics. The basic principles of the Bible and not try to branch out into all these ideas other denominations have," Smith said. "Our basic message is that Jesus came to save the world from sin and we don't beat people over the head with dogma."

The chapel is at 16990 Church Drive, North Fort Myers.



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