The Transformational Leadership of Rev. Robert Pierce

In late August or early September, the Call Committee, which was re-activated, got a message from the Reverend Dr. Williams indicating that there might be an answer to their prayers. He had received a call from the Reverend Lee Carlton, Southeast District Coordinator. The Reverend Carlton had been in communication with Elder Perry, who had spoken to the Reverend Elder Sandmire, pastor of Golden Gate MCC, San Francisco. Elder Sandmire had indicated that a young man on his staff and an Associate Pastor might be interested in MCC Sarasota-Bradenton. Along with this good news came a disclaimer: “Don’t get your hopes up!”

On November 24, 1985 Rev. Robert Pierce, Assistant Pastor of Golden Gate MCC, San Francisco, signed a Covenant Agreement to be the new Pastor of MCC Sarasota-Bradenton! He arrived with his dog Heidi on January 18, 1986, and asked for prayers for the successful transfer of his companion Bob Murch. The “parsonage” was at 2015-G 5th Street in Bradenton. On January 22, 1986 Pastor Pierce assumed the position at MCC Sarasota-Bradenton.

In the service bulletin of May 4, 1986, Pastor Pierce congratulated MCC Washington DC on their 15th anniversary celebration which included the purchase of their own church building with the remark, “I hope it doesn’t take us 15 years!” It would take only 3 years but meanwhile in May, 1987, the group rented and moved into historic Crocker Church. To help defray costs, Church members and friends painted pews, cleaned the premises and perform janitorial duties. The budget increased to over $800 per month and the Church began Sunday morning worship services. This was a long awaited answer to prayer! They could meet on Sunday mornings and also hold other evening services.

The years 1987 through 1989 were years of great growth and change. Attendance blossomed and membership doubled to 80 persons. In October 1987, Reverend Pierce was ordained in the Unitarian-Universalist sanctuary with the Reverend Elder James Sandmire officiating. The Reverend Elder Freda Smith, the first sitting Elder to visit the Church held a “Spiritual Renewal.” The Church began to see itself as a part of the historic events that led to the founding of MCC. A new spiritual persona was born and people from a four county area, a distance of 100 miles north to south and 60 miles east to west, attended the services at Crocker Church.

In June 1988, a “for sale” sign was spotted by Dick Starner, building committee chair, on a Southern Manatee County remote dirt road. Many realtors had been contacted and properties evaluated. None that would suit church needs were available under $500,000. Investigation revealed a 3.5 acre plot priced at $115,000 on North Lockwood Ridge Road. The property consisted of a two-bedroom home, a three car garage with a lean – and six foot high weeds! The parcel was “agricultural” and needed to be rezoned for church usage. In August 1988, the property was claimed in a bid to purchase made and accepted. A preliminary site plan and rezoning change were approved by Manatee County on December 1. On December 14, the property was purchased with $35,000 in the building fund and an $85,000 bank note due in three months. During the next three months Church people, their families, and their friends hammered, sided, painted, plumbed, and thus transformed the three car garage into a beautiful 100 seat Chapel. Early in January 1989, Pastor Pierce was hospitalized with AIDS. This did not deter him or members of the MCC family from going all out to convert the property to a place worthy of the worship of God. The pastor’s offices were moved into the house on the property in February 1989.

The Church took on a $160,000 bond program in order to pay off the bank note and prepare for a new Church building to be constructed west of the existing buildings and to be known as “Trinity Center.” Three weeks after the bonds were offered all were sold and held by members of the congregation. This bond program was successfully chaired by Robert (Bob) M. Landry, and in a 12 month period the Church collected – including regular offerings, building fund, special donations, and bond programs – almost $300,000!

Beginning in 1991, a concerted and frustrating drive began to get Trinity Center under way. In June a contractor was selected and the final site plan submitted for approval by Manatee County. By October 14, 1991, the building permit was issued. However, the requirement for occupancy – the paving of Lockwood Ridge Road by Manatee County – was not yet met. In the interim Church members and friends of the Church sent letters to the County Commissioners urging the approval of a special waiver of the requirement. Members were prepared to fill the Commissioners’ hearing room, if necessary! But it was not. The Commissioner representing the Church’s district wrote a letter to fellow Commissioners expressing support for the waiver. The Manatee County Commissioners unanimously approved the waiver on October 31, 1991 and referred the matter to a hearing officer for final details.