In 1946, Orlando, along with the rest of America, was celebrating the end of the war and looking forward to the challenges of a peaceful future. In southeast Orlando, in what was known as the Conway area, there were no Christian churches. Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church was born because families wanted the strengthening influence of a Christian church in their neighborhood.
Since its first meeting in 1946 and its organization as a church in 1947, Grace Covenant’s congregation has been served by seven pastors, three associate pastors and two parish associates. Families first met and worshipped in a private home, then in a chapel erected from a surplus army metal building, then in a sanctuary and education building, and finally in the campus that exists today. From 63 members at the end of 1947, the congregation has grown to over 700 communicants today.
Initially, a Sunday School was established in the home of Mr. and Mrs. A. E. Smith at the corner of Kaley and Bumby Streets. The first meeting was held on May 26, 1946, and was led by teachers provided by First Presbyterian Church of Orlando. Sunday classes continued in the Smith home during the succeeding months.
Attendance grew steadily and within one year, class members requested and were granted permission to organize as Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church. Land was purchased at the corner of Conway (now Curry Ford Road) and Jessamine Street (pronounced “Jasmine”) and a surplus army metal building was erected for the Chapel. Sunday School was at 9:30 a.m. and Worship Services at 7:30 p.m.
Initial pastoral leadership was provided by Rev. Jack Powell, assistant pastor at First Presbyterian, who served the congregation as its stated supply from 1947 to 1949. During these years, the church’s Sunday School continued to grow, Sunday evening worship services were held, and church membership reached 62. By 1949, a decision was made to replace the metal Chapel structure. Construction of a new Sanctuary started on February 27, 1949, with the laying of the cornerstone, and the building was completed later that year.
After Rev. Powell left, Grace Covenant and the John Knox church of Orlando together called Rev. Hugh C. Hamilton, who divided his time between them between 1949 and 1951. During his ministry, women’s circles were established, a Young People’s Society and Men’s Club were formed, and the music ministry established. John Knox Church also was growing and Rev. Hamilton accepted a call to minister to that congregation full time.
Rev. George C. Hayward followed Rev. Hamilton, serving from 1951 to 1955. In succeeding years, a stewardship tithing program was started, Boy Scout Troop 23 was sponsored, membership increased to over 200 communicants, the church became self-supporting and no longer needed presbytery’s financial aid, and construction of an Education wing was started.
H. Halouk Fikret was Grace Covenant’s minister from 1956 to 1963. Rev. Fikret was born a Muslim, converted to Christianity after moving to and attending college in Scotland, and later came to Orlando, where he attended and was ordained an elder in Park Lake church. As a layman of “unusual merits,” he was ordained as a minister under church law at that time.
During Rev. Fikret’s tenure, the church celebrated its 10th anniversary, a kindergarten school was formed, the church library was opened, the Boy Scout troop was reorganized, mission support was increased, and air conditioning was added to the Sanctuary. Sunday evening worship was discontinued and replaced by two morning worship services, and new by-laws were approved.
Next called was Dr. Donald T. DeBevoise, who served from 1963 to 1981 and who led the church through many significant moves in areas of Christian education, membership, worship, development and support, and benevolences. Increases in membership and program needs led to the decision to move the church and, in July 1968, five acres costing $10,000 were purchased on Peel Avenue.
Construction on a Social/Education building and new Sanctuary was started in December, 1969, and on September 13, 1970, the new Sanctuary was dedicated to the glory of God. Additional expansion of the campus occurred nine years later with completion of Memorial Hall.
Dr. Robert L. Eckard was called to serve the church in 1982. During his 20-year ministry, mission and programs expanded and strengthened, outreach extended, lay leadership increased, volunteer participation continued, and campus improvements were completed. Conway Hall, with its social hall, kitchen and gymnasium, was completed and dedicated.
During Dr. Eckard’s ministry, church growth required the calling of our first associate pastor, Rev. William Bruce Bailey, who served from 1986 to 1996. He was followed by Rev. Diane Knauf, who served until 2004, when she accepted a call to a church in Pennsylvania. Succeeding Rev. Knauf was Rev. Derek Davenport who accepted his call as associate pastor in November 2005. Rev. Davenport served until October 2010 when he was called to a position with Pittsburg Theological Seminary. Rev. Harvey Oster, who served Grace Covenant as Parish Associate, later served as Interim Associate Pastor from 2011 until 2013.
Two churches came together with Grace Covenant in 2010. Conway Presbyterian Church made the decision to merge with GCPC and brought with them the Small Blessings Child Care Ministry. The newly constructed Conway Hall was named after this congregation. John Calvin Presbyterian Church had to face the sale of their facility to enable the expansion of Oak Ridge High School and they elected to close. The members were initially disbursed to other congregations, but in time the majority came to settle at Grace Covenant. Memorial Hall was renamed John Calvin Memorial Hall in honor of that congregation.
Our seventh and most recent pastor, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh, came to us in January, 2013. During his ministry another congregation moved onto the campus of Grace Covenant. Orlando Presbyterian Church had been formed in 2012, when the First Presbyterian Church decided to leave the PCUSA denomination. This group of more than 40 individuals wished to remain with the denomination and initially worshipped on the campus of Park Lake Presbyterian Church. The congregation moved to the campus of Grace Covenant in 2015, and worshiped on Sunday evenings. In 2016, their pastor accepted a call to serve a congregation in Georgia. Orlando Presbyterian Church had diminished in size and began to consider closing while a variety of pastors served as preachers over the next several months. In 2017, our session, in consultation with the OPC session and the presbytery, voted to “send our pastor as a missionary” to our sister congregation. Dr. Pittendreigh served the OPC congregation as a stated supply for a little over one year, leading their evening worship service, while continuing to lead Grace Covenant’s morning worship services. OPC held its final service in August, 2018, and several of the 21 member congregation joined Grace Covenant.
The Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church Foundation was formed in October, 2000, as a result of the sale of property donated to the congregation. In 2012, Foundation had $48,686. In 2013, we received a large bequest from the estate of one of our members, Anne Stegman, enabling the Foundation to increase to $1,200,000. With the generous gift of this member, the Foundation is now able to provide $30,000 to $40,000 annually for missions.
Dr. Pittendreigh retired in 2019. We are now searching for our next pastor, trusting that God has already raised him or her and will be leading us to discover His will for our congregation’s next chapter.
THE LOGO OF THE GRACE COVENANT PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
The logo of our church shows the arch design found in our windows and in the walkway on the north side of the sanctuary. Within this arch are three figures. These represent not only the Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but also one of the more recent and important developments in our church’s history.
In a worship service on Pentecost Sunday, May 21, 2010, three churches celebrated coming together as one congregation – Grace Covenant, Conway and John Calvin Presbyterian Churches.
Conway Hall is named for the church that merged with Grace Covenant. Inside Conway you will find the stained glass windows of their building, which is now used by a Brazilian congregation of the Presbyterian Church, USA.
John Calvin Memorial Hall was renamed in honor of the members of John Calvin Presbyterian Church. Many of their memorabilia are found on the second floor of this building.