The little church that could
“Through the years, Christ Church has withstood the highs and lows of attendance, a closure and re-opening, and the threat of physically being moved to a different location. Through much prayer and dedication, it makes me happy to be a part of this historic Florida church and to carry on the legacy of my ancestors.” – Russell Hancock
133 years later, a jubilant church abides in glorifying God
Historic bell extols message of love
“Christ Church, founded September 26, 1886, has been an inspirational and historical landmark in Fort Meade, FL, for 133 years,” says Russell Hancock, a church member of the iconic little church. “Founded by immigrants from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, Christ Church was created and continues as a worshiping community of liturgy and sacrament, devoted to Christ’s commandment to love God and our neighbor.”
Table of Contents
By Russell Hancock
Photos courtesy of Russell Hancock and Christ Church
As the sound of the whistle became louder and louder, anticipation grew for the residents of Fort Meade, Florida, as they anxiously awaited the arrival of the very first train into town on that 2nd day of March, 1886.
Two of the passengers on that train were Luke and Alicia Flood, who had traveled from Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland, to make their new home in Fort Meade and unknowingly play an important part in the history of the quaint Florida town.
After getting settled in their new home, the Flood family, as well as other new residents were lead to start a new church, a church that would carry on the Anglican tradition of their homeland and the Church of England, to be the focus of their life in America.
On September 26, 1886, a missionary priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Florida, led a small group of Christians of the Anglican tradition in the celebration of Holy Communion within the parlors of the Bullock residence in Fort Meade.
In addition to new residents from the Northern States, many in this young congregation, were new to the United States, coming from England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and Canada. Shortly after their first meeting, Luke and Alicia Flood, along with the other founding members of Christ Church were invited to meet in the Fort Meade Methodist Church.
The Rt. Rev. Edwin G. Weed, Bishop of the Diocese of Florida, made his first visit to Ft. Meade on December 22, 1886 to visit the new congregation.
By early 1887, the congregation’s numbers had grown enough to consider the building of a church of their own. It was during this time that Bishop Weed appointed the Rev. George S. Fitzhugh, missionary to South Florida, as a priest in charge of the congregation; thus the Church was formally organized as a mission of the Episcopal Church.
In March, 1888, Bishop Weed visited the congregation, bringing with him a donation of $1,000 toward the cost of building the church. Christ Church was designed by the Rev. J.H. Weddel, architect, in a Carpenter Gothic style familiar to Florida while maintaining the essentials of the Anglican tradition as found in English churches.
With Luke Flood on the building committee, construction was started and completed in 1889 and was fully furnished in 1890. Completed cost of construction was approximately $1,600. The church bell was ordered in 1891, cast in West Troy, New York, by Meneely & Co., and hung later that same year. To this day, it remains the only church bell to ring every Sunday in Fort Meade.
1891 Meneely bell
This bell was cast in the Meneely bell foundry in West Troy, New York (now called Watervliet). The foundry was family-owned until its closing in the early 1950s. It still rings out from this landmark little white church.
Fort Meade’s little church persists through hardships
In the early 1900s the congregation declined when economic and political conditions forced many businesses and people to move away from Fort Meade. Then in 1948, the decision was made to close Christ Church and sell the property, due to low attendance.
Several years later, Christ Church was re-activated at the residence of Mr. & Mrs. Bill Childs. With the encouragement of Rev. Russell S. Carleton, the church was re-opened in the 1960s as a place of worship with Rev. Alford Bruce Lauenborg, a retired priest living in Fort Meade at the time.
In the mid-1970s, application was made to have Christ Church placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The application was approved on May 6, 1976.
By 1998, the congregation had declined and an offer was made to move the church building to All Saints’ Academy in Winter Haven, FL.
At this time, Rev. William H. Hazelett, came out of retirement to hold the hands of the remaining few members, as they mourned the loss of their church. The community joined together to keep the historical building in Fort Meade.
During that summer, the congregation more than tripled in size, by means of membership and financial contributions. Finally, in September that same year, it was decided that Christ Church would remain in Fort Meade to continue in the ministry for which God intended.
Through the years, Christ Church, the little church of Fort Meade, has been documented in several historical books, periodicals and was featured in a HBO Original movie.
The church has undergone an exterior restoration thanks to a matching funds grant from the State of Florida in 2004. Rev. Hazelett served as priest-in-charge until his retirement in May, 2010.
Christ Church through the years
Living out the Second Commandment
In March of 2016, a fire claimed the sanctuary of the Fort Meade Worship Center, a non-denominational church located downtown Fort Meade. By this time, membership at Christ Church had again declined.
Taking hold of their faith and of the second commandment – “Love your neighbor as yourself – an invitation was made and accepted for the Worship Center congregation to share the building with Christ Church Episcopal.
On Sunday mornings the original Episcopal congregation meets at 10:00 a.m., then the Worship Center congregation meets at 11:15 a.m.
Over 100 years had passed since the first train whistle was heard coming into the station at Fort Meade, Florida, carrying Luke and Alicia Flood to their new home. The Flood’s brought their beautiful children, their dreams, and their faith which have all contributed to leave a historical and inspirational mark on Fort Meade, Florida.
(Editor’s note: Part 2 of this little church will feature the history of the Flood family. Don’t miss it – Signup here to be notified by our email newsletter on historic churches.)
To this day, Christ Church is the oldest church building still in use in Polk County, Florida, where services continue to be held with the Rev. Dr. John LeMond.
Marjorie Flood Hancock, the granddaughter of Luke and Alicia Flood, is an accomplished musician and has been playing in churches for over 60 years. She has been serving as the church organist at Christ Church for nearly 20 years.
Her oldest son, Chuck Hancock, also an accomplished musician, served as organist at Christ Church for four years prior. Margie’s husband Allen, serves as Lay Eucharistic Minister and Senior Warden; while their younger son, Russell, serves as Junior Warden, Lay Reader, and on the Altar Guild carrying on the Flood family legacy.
Christ Church remains a worshiping community of liturgy and sacrament, devoted and faithful to Christ’s commandment to love God and love our neighbor.
To connect with this awe-inspiring little white church on social media, you can find them on Facebook and Instagram.
Don’t miss Part 2 of the little church: The Floods
New immigrants to Fort Meade, Florida, Luke and Alicia Flood brought with them from Ireland their seven children, their dreams of life in a new land, and their strong Christian faith. Through their faith, Luke and Alicia were instrumental in the establishment of Christ Church.
Today, their legacy continues as their granddaughter, and her family, serve as active members and leaders in the church. Sign up for our church history newsletter.
Meet the author
A third-generation Fort Meade native, Russell Hancock has lived his entire life in the town where his great-grandparents first settled upon their move from Ireland.
After graduating from Fort Meade High School, Russell continued his education at Florida Southern College where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Communications: News Media.
Since his college graduation, he has been a writer and photographer for a local agriculture magazine, and assisted with his family’s funeral business. Today, Russell is a realtor in central Florida and is an active member of Christ Church Episcopal in his hometown.