Spirit of Faith hopes to heal 'divided' city
Published: Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 4:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 4:23 p.m.
Gainesville's Spirit of Faith church opened its new home to the community Thursday afternoon, with officials promising to make something positive of a property that was "used as a place that divided the city."
Local elected officials, clergy from other churches and the media gathered in the sanctuary of the former Dove World Outreach Center in northwest Gainesville.
For years, the property next to the Mile Run neighborhood was a blight on this quiet, residential area as Dove World drew international infamy and raised security concerns with an anti-Islam message that included Quran burning events.
In July, Spirit of Faith purchased the 20-acre property from Dove World for $1.25 million.
Senior Pastor Ken Claytor said Thursday the church seeks to replace a message of hate with one of love and inclusiveness.
In 2010, on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, law enforcement was on high alert in the area as Dove World planned a Quran burning event and then called it off at the last minute after pleas from the White House.
In March 2011, an associate pastor did burn a copy of the Quran during a mock trial of Islam's holy book. The church posted a video of the act on YouTube. Rioting eventually followed in Afghanistan. At least 20 people, including seven United Nations workers, were killed.
Speaking at Thursday's event, Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones recalled the uneasiness and sleepless night that dealing with Dove World brought him. Now it was time to turn the page, he said.
"This is a joyous occasion … this church is a godsend for this community," Jones said.
Gainesville Mayor Ed Braddy said he used to live "within the blast radius" of Dove World and his children still live in the neighborhood. Braddy said he personally knew the uneasiness Dove World stirred in the area and said Spirit of Faith would be a welcome addition.
On Wednesday, the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Dove World leader Terry Jones was arrested in Polk County on his way to another Quran burning event. That same day, Spirit of Faith moved onto the Gainesville property.
Claytor said Thursday's event, which was planned back in July, was not intentionally scheduled for the day after Sept. 11.
"We did not plan for it, but it does have significance," he said. "He had planned to burn the Quran here, and we moved in on that same day. It was not something we planned, but it does have significance."
Claytor shared some of his church's story. He said he had a successful real estate job in the Washington, D.C. area when God called him to begin a ministry in Gainesville, a city he did not know at all.
"Coming from the north, you want to be on the coast," he joked. "You want God to call you to the beach."
He and his wife, Tabatha Claytor, moved to Gainesville in 2007 and began the church in their living room. As the congregation grew, services moved to the city's Thelma Boltin Center and eventually to the University of Florida Phillips Center.
Claytor said the non-denominational church wants to welcome all members of the community. The first services at the new home are this Sunday at 9 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. Future expansion plans include a new sanctuary building, a day care, a school and an orphanage, he said.