Iconic Daytona church, named after abolitionist and civil rights leader, was founded by a group of White worshipers.
Editor’s note: Volusia County is home to dozens of churches with predominantly Black congregations. Only a limited number can claim to have stood the test of time for 100 years or more. Mass Communication students at Bethune-Cookman University visited some of these churches to find out what makes them special. This is one in a series of stories about the local religious institutions.
BY SARITA MASON
SPECIAL TO THE DAYTONA TIMES
Tubman-King Community Church did not start out named after two icons of Black history.
Likewise, the church, which has been around from more than 100 years, did not come into being as a staple in the city’s African-American community.
It was a group of White Christians – 19 to be exact – that came together on April 1, 1879 to form the First Congregational Church, which was one of the first churches built in the city of Daytona Beach.
The Rev. C.M. Bingham was the first pastor, according to church history. The church was originally located in downtown Daytona Beach, but after a donation of land from an anonymous source in 1965, the church relocated to its current site, which caused a split in the congregation.
The congregation, now located in a predominantly African-American community, saw its makeup change to reflect its surrounding in the 1970s and 1980s. This led to an even larger split in the congregation and a racial transition within the church, according to the church’s website.
Some members wanted to continue as First Congregational and move back to the downtown location. The congregation, which had grown to 245 at one point, numbered 48 people, records show. They voted 42-6 to keep the church in the new location and continue to “preserve its rich heritage as a Congregational Church” and “meet the needs of the people in the community surrounding its facilities.”
‘An identity problem’
In 1979, the Rev. Glen C. Misick became the first Black minister of First Congregational Church. The church at that time had 20 White members and four Black members. Misick began recruiting new members and getting the church involved in the community. Membership once again fell.
Misick, meanwhile, accepted a call to pastor a church in San Francisco. In 1985, the Rev. G. Wesley Raney was called to serve as pastor. During his tenure, Raney realized that the church had an “identity problem.”
Under him, the church’s name was changed to Tubman-King Community Church. The name change, honoring the memory of Harriet Tubman and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was very important to the church because of its location in the African-American community. The church wanted the name to represent the Black community and its history.
Raney also ordained deacons Lionel Earl, George Tye, Rowland Fulton and John Rutledge. He resigned as pastor to accept a call to another church in Raleigh, North Carolina, in May 1991.
Long to Kaufman
The Rev. John T. Long III was called by the congregation as pastor in 1994. Long is the longest pastor to serve at Tubman-King so far with 21 years under his belt. He strived for spiritual worship, leadership, service to the community and more. He resigned in June 2016.
Today, the Rev. Dr. M.L. Kaufman serves as the senior pastor. Kaufman most recently served at Nicey Grove Baptist Church in Marshville, North Carolina.
In an interview, he spoke about change within the church, empowerment and leadership among the congregation, growth within the community, and growth among Bethune-Cookman University students.
“Historically, most Black churches have been welcoming to other people and the doors have been open and it’s no different here,” Kaufman said.
He noted that traditional churches now have some challenges, especially among younger generations. “The church is not the central voice anymore and you have a lot of competing voices as well as a struggle for the churches relevance,” Kaufman noted.
But, he said, it is nothing that cannot be overcome.
“One thing they taught us in school, especially in my foundational seminar at Virginia Union, they taught us that if you fail to critique your tradition, it will become stale,” he added.
Ron Dickens has been a deacon since 1989. Dickens said he has seen many things come and go at Tubman-King, including pastors and members. He recalled that during the 1980s, there were many thriving businesses in Daytona Beach that brought local community members jobs, which eventually brought them to a church family-Tubman-King.
“When companies picked up and left, so did some of our members which, affected the church tremendously,” he said.
Gerald Chester, another deacon, has been serving the church since 1996. Chester said that over the past few years, Tubman-King has had a few issues with stabilizing the church members and welcoming change to older members.
“Revisiting church politics and creating a better paper constitution will better our church,” Chester said.
Longtime members reminisce
Wilburn Williams, minister of music and choir director at Tubman-King, has been attending the church since he was born. Williams, who attended Bethune-Cookman, said his family grew up in the church and he has been there ever since.
“I love the overall warmth that still lingers in this place,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine it in any other way.”
Belinda Williams-Collins is an usher at the church. Williams Collins joined the congregation more than 20 years ago. She says she loves the new direction that Kaufman is working toward and hopes to be part of the new change.
“The coming of new pastors has changed things slightly, but the tradition of this church will never change,” she said.