Church of God of Port Salerno prioritizes community service

It all started with a vision.

Sister Zora Miller, a Pentecostal missionary, lived in Deerfield Beach. She had never been to Port Salerno, a quaint fishing village on the south shore of St. Lucia Inlet, miles north of his home.

Yet, as the story goes, Miller received instructions from God in 1931 to found a new church in the Martin County community. This is how the Church of God of Port Salerno it has been found.

Ninety years later, the church still exists. And prosperous.

The church campus has been expanded several times over the years, with plans for future growth in the focus stages.

As part of the celebration of its 90th anniversary, the congregation of over 200 members has launched a 90-day project to provide services to those in need in the community.

“Everything we have done has been ordained of God,” said Xenobia Poitier-Anderson, church events co-chair. “That’s what keeps us going.”

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Landscape of volunteers on Saturday, September 25, 2021, at the Church of God in Port Salerno.  The church is celebrating 90 years in Martin County by completing 90 days of service projects leading up to their anniversary.

Pentecostals believe that God is present and at work in their lives every day, not just a distant figure sitting on a cloud somewhere.

In turn, members of the Port Salerno congregation believe it is their duty to take an active role in making their community a better place.

“We’re not afraid to speak up,” said Tony Anderson, a longtime church member, who also serves on the Martin County School Board.

Ruth Anderson-Stubbs, Anderson’s sister and Poitier-Anderson’s sister-in-law, added: “We are hand in hand.”

Chandler Josie, another member of the congregation, said his faith inspired him to get involved in many civic organizations.

“When they call, I go,” Josie said.

Volunteers erect a sign on Saturday, September 25, 2021 at the Church of God in Port Salerno.  The church is celebrating 90 years in Martin County by completing 90 days of service projects leading up to their anniversary.

Determination was a trait the founders of the church needed during the early years.

It was during the Great Depression. And these were blacks trying to start a new church in a community that was then (and still is now) predominantly white.

The church recruited members through street meetings and door-to-door visits. The Pentecostal style of demonstrative worship, however, was somewhat alien to the locals.

“We were called Jumper Church because we were always singing and jumping,” Poitier-Anderson said.

When rumor spread that the church was planning to build a building, a group of townspeople tried to oppose it. However, church members moved quickly to secure a building permit before a meeting could be called to give critics a forum for their grievances.

The church was built, with the help of supplies and services donated during these economically difficult times.

“Little becomes a lot when you put it in the hands of the master,” Anderson-Stubbs said. “We believe that.”

Carl Thomas (right), from Port Salerno, fry fish on Saturday, September 25, 2021 at the Church of God in Port Salerno.  The church is celebrating 90 years in Martin County by completing 90 days of service projects leading up to their anniversary.

Another story that is part of church tradition recalls a time when the local sheriff supposedly came to arrest one or more church leaders. However, when he arrived, he was left speechless – by the will of God, church members believe – and ended up walking away empty-handed.

I cannot confirm that this happened. However, I have no trouble believing that a group of black people with strong opinions and what was considered an unconventional style of worship could have generated a bit of friction in a community like Port Salerno.

Fast forward through the decades and the Church of God of Port Salerno, located at 4605 SE Cove Road, is now firmly established.

The official 90th anniversary celebration of the church will conclude with worship services on December 3 and 5, with dinner and the screening of a documentary on the history of the church scheduled for December 4.

The guest speaker at the December 5 service will be Bishop Quan Miller, nephew of Zora Miller, the founder of the church.

Landscape of volunteers on Saturday, September 25, 2021, at the Church of God in Port Salerno.  The church is celebrating 90 years in Martin County by completing 90 days of service projects leading up to their anniversary.

Until then, church members will continue to work on the 90-day service project.

So far, the church has provided gift cards to teachers at two local schools. Families in need in Port St. Lucie and the Stuart / Port Salerno areas received gift cards last week.

This week, the church’s Girls Ministries program plans to present a gift basket to a local family. Sheila Miguel, who is to receive one of the church’s gift baskets, said she felt honored and privileged to receive such generosity.

“When they told me they chose me, I cried,” Miguel said. “It touched me. I’m upset.”

Miguel is not a member of the church, but has appeared there to give members his personal testimony of faith.

“We’re not asking which church you belong to,” Poitier-Anderson explained. “If you have a need, we try to meet it.

TCPalm Columnist Blake Fontenay

Other activities planned for the coming weeks include hosting a free gospel concert on November 6, providing lunch boxes to first responders, and distributing Thanksgiving meals to families in need.

Poitier-Anderson said that throughout the three months leading up to the anniversary, the focus will remain on community service.

“We have been here for 90 years,” she said. “We don’t want to talk about ourselves and what we need.”

As for the church’s future expansion plans, they are a bit on hold at the moment. Tony Anderson said those plans will ultimately be determined by the community’s most pressing needs.

“Our vision is to be a beacon for the community,” he said.

A lighthouse. Like the ones ships use to locate shore from miles away. A bit like the light that guided Zora Miller in Port Salerno all these years ago.

This column reflects the opinion of Blake Fontenay. Contact him by email at [email protected] or at 772-232-5424.


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Norma P. Rex

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