Pastor Ricardo Welch
BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
PETERSBURG — The City of St. Petersburg was incorporated on Feb. 29, 1892, when it had a population of some 300 people. Twenty-six years later, 14th Street Church of God in Christ was established.
“For 100 years, he has been our helper through oppressive, through depressive, through civil rights and uncivil rights, he has been right there,” said Prayer Tower Church of God in Christ Senior Pastor Ricardo Welch.
In 1918, Elder Frank and Sister Matilda Harris, their two children, Edna and Clinton Harris, Brother and Sister Tom Wheeler and Deacon and Sister Wiggins purchased a small plot of land on the corner of 14th Street and Fourth Avenue South. Working along with the founders was Mother Eguenia Gibson, her husband Amos and daughter Georgia.
This group of faithful individuals proceeded to build a little wooden church. Throughout the process, Elder Frank Harris passed away, but the work was carried on by the remaining faithful.
Throughout the years, 14th Street Church of God in Christ continued to grow and prosper under the auspices of such men of God as Elders Barr, Smith, Nettles and Bishop E.V. Johnson, who under his pasturage the old wooden church was renovated.
In 1964, Bishop Johnson appointed Elder Clarence Welch as pastor, who was led by the Lord to change the name to Prayer Tower Church of God in Christ. Not only was Elder Welch the spiritual leader of the church for 49 years, he was also a leader in the community.
Elder Welch left a long list of accomplishments and accolades when he shut his eyes for the last time. He served on the boards of the YMCA and the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast. He was on the Pinellas Technical College advisory council and worked closely with the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and Congregations United.
He was a co-founder of the YMCA’s Neighbor-to-Neighbor program, which adopts needy families for Christmas, and he even wrote a children’s book called “My Friend the Lizard,” its proceeds going to buy hearing aids for children.
Eminent domain once again struck St. Pete’s black community and it was necessary for Prayer Tower along with the rest of the residents, businesses, school and other places of worship in the Gas Plant area to relocate throughout the city to make way for the baseball stadium.
On March 25, 1984, dedication services were held at the newly constructed Prayer Tower located at 1135 37th St. S.
After Elder Clarence Welch’s passing on Feb. 9, 2013, his son, Pastor Welch succeeded him as senior pastor on June 23, 2013.
Pastor Welch strives to reach as many souls as humanly possible through the gospel of Jesus Christ with love, sharing and caring.
“My heart for the church from this day forward is that we keep our thoughts on kingdom building, kingdom business and be kingdom minded. If we do these things, it will demonstrate our commitment to God…,” he wrote.
Prayer Tower is comprised of a sanctuary equipped with classrooms, a nursery, library, dining facility, computer room, chapel, counseling/respite care center and the Flagmom and Gussie Welch Fellowship Hall, which rest upon 2.94 acres.
More important than the physical accomplishments is the fact that souls have been and are still being saved and dedicated to God’s work. Prayer Tower represents the oldest Pentecostal Church in the Tampa Bay area and is the Mother Church for the Church of God in Christ in St. Pete.
After the Centennial Choir got the room’s blood flowing, Mother Alice Simmons read a scripture from the Old Testament, Supt. B.O. Walker read from the New Testament; the avowal of visitors was given by Mother Mattie Skinner, and Deacon Dwyanne Brown gave the occasion.
Spending his childhood in the church on 14th Street, Pastor Welch took the church down memory lane.
“Let me tell you about that old church on 14th. When you came up the front steps, you almost thought you were walking backwards because the church sat on a hill. You had to lean forward to go up,” he said to a room full of laughter.
He recalled people getting splinters on the wooden benches if they didn’t deploy the use of a cushion, and he mentioned people’s heels might go through the wooden floor if they stomped a little too hard.
When it rained, Pastor Welch remembers enlisting the services of buckets because “you could see the heavens” through the roof.
“They use to raise an offering on Sunday that came up to $1.50, and the light bill was $1.75. They had to get an extension on 25 cents,” he laughed. “Look where God has brought us!”
Guest speaker Bishop Jimmie Williams, Jurisdictional Prelate for the Florida Eastern Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction of the Church of God in Christ spent the remainder of the evening preaching and healing the infirmed.
Congratulations on 100 years of serving the Lord!