About Church by the Sea
The Church by the Sea is a community church. Our members are from diverse denominational backgrounds. Our unity is based on our common confessions of faith in Jesus as Lord of our lives. Each person is encouraged to turn to the Word of God and, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, to discern God's plan for his or her own life.
We believe God's Will for each individual will fit into, and even shape our understanding of His total plan for the whole body of believers at The Church by the Sea. We also urge our members to discover their own spiritual gifts and talents and to use them effectively in uplifting those inside and outside the congregation.
The history and desire for a church began in 1943 when a group of believers, fishermen and others living on the beaches asked Rev. Philip H. Ralph, a 72 year old retired Congregational minister visiting St. Petersburg during the winters, to help start a church in the area.
Rev. Ralph located the Fishermen’s Union Hall on Sunshine Beach, just south of John’s Pass, which is now a part of Treasure Island. The small building loaned to this group of people held the first church service in February of 1944 with 20 adults and 20 children. Attendance grew and talk of officially organizing a church was discussed along with questions of where to build a church.
Fundraising began in the midst of war and tough financial times. Donations of $161.35 from two ladies who made “thank offerings” to give for relatives spared in the war began the fund for finding a place on the beaches to build a church. When their story was told in church, Rev. Ralph received two separate donations of $100. With $361.35 as a down payment, two sand lots were purchased midway between the Fishermen’s Union Hall and Redington Beach in an area called Mitchell Beach.
On June 25, 1944, The Church by the Sea was officially organized. A covenant was signed by fifty-four charter members and became associated with the Congregational Christian Community Church. A groundbreaking ceremony was held on the lots with representatives of ten denominations turning shovelfuls of dirt.
In July of 1945 Rev. Ralph, now in his mid seventies, began building the church. He was so anxious to begin the construction that he poured the concrete floor himself and installed the footers before plans for the building were even finalized. People were recruited to help in the building of the church. An architect volunteered his services. Labor and materials were donated by people and businesses in the community. People pooled whatever talents they could, although most were accustomed to hauling fishing lines rather than handling saws and hammers. Anchors and chains were used to strengthen walls. An assortment of electrical wiring was donated from homes on a Sunday called “Wire Sunday.
Two years after the first meeting in the Fishermen’s Hall, the first worship service was held in a portion of the new building. Each Sunday more construction was completed.
A Spanish style tower with windows was built. A twenty-five foot mast with a beacon was placed on top of the tower. This was the tallest structure in the area at the time. The church’s light was a nautical landmark for the fishermen to guide them from the gulf toward John’s Pass and to safety. The seaman’s byword was “look for the house of God to find your way home”. This light stayed on until all fishermen were accounted for. If the light stayed on longer than usual the community knew someone was overdue and everyone would pray for the sailors’ safe return to port. That mast has since been replaced with a lighted cross.
Today, over 65 years later, The Church by the Sea remains a landmark on the Gulf Beaches. The church has survived many threats of storms being so close in the Gulf of Mexico. Thousands of weddings, baptisms and funerals have taken place over these years and generations of families have worshiped at the church.
Tourists visit from all over the world and “snowbirds” call the church home during the winter months. Spectacular stained glass windows capture the Florida sun from all directions welcoming worshipers of all denominations and walks of life. Many of the original fixtures, built by Rev. Ralph and the founders, are still in use and are reminders of their labor of love. Several of the charter members’ families are still active with the church.
The nondenominational church is a hub of activity in the community with youth programs, Bible studies, music and worship arts ministries, missions, a thrift shop and outreach programs.
Eight senior pastors have served over the 73 years. They are Rev. Philip Ralph, Rev. Robbins Ralph, Rev. Fred Campbell, Dr. John Pickens, Rev. Leon Hermes, Dr. Armand Weller, Dr. Dave Ruth and presently Reverend Dr. Jeff Iskra.
At the Church by the Sea, we endeavor to offer the many areas of ministry that defined the Church of the 1st Century – the teaching of the apostles, Christian fellowship, worship in spirit and in truth, Spirit-directed prayer, caring ministries to those in need, and the unreserved sharing of the Good News about Jesus Christ.