In 1925 Tampa, Florida was a lively little city with a population of 50,000 and was a mere 19 miles in diameter. Ybor City, the Spanish district, noted for its cigar industry, was just a rock-throw away. The roads were unpaved. In the middle of College Hill, Reverend Andrew Mack Woodard founded his church in the year 1925 and named it St. John Progressive Missionary Baptist Church. Pastor Woodard split his time between his two churches ministering to the needs of his flock.
St. John Progressive Missionary Baptist Church was built on very fertile ground. It was born on the threshold of the Great Depression years and was able to survive the lean impoverished times during that era. St. John branched off from St. Matthew Missionary Baptist Church. It started as a store front church on Potter Street and Lake Avenue. The membership was small. The members labored tirelessly building a sound foundation for the church under the leadership of Reverend Woodard.
In 1928 St. John moved from Potter Street into a small wooden church located right where our church sits today. Several years later, Reverend Woodard and his wife, Sister Beatrice, left St. John and continued God’s work as missionaries. Reverend Woodard traveled throughout Florida preaching the Gospel until his death in 1945. God continued to send his trusted shepherds to watch over and guide his St. John flock. These former pastors were Reverends Monroe Lovett, B.J. Townsend, Steve Rogers, W.M. Johnson and Ishmal Anderson.
In May 1949, Reverend Dr. Flagger G. Hilton, his wife, Sister Savannah Hilton and son, Roosevelt, united with St. John in the little old church. Reverend Hilton served St. John the longest (from 1949 to 1991). He was truly a visionary, aggressive, goal-oriented and very wise man. He was a great leader, teacher, organizer and humanitarian. He was very passionate about the Lord’s work and it was exemplified in his sermons, actions and deeds. He believed in progress. Under Pastor Hilton’s leadership the church grew at an exorbitant rate of speed spiritually, financially and numerically. It was like a fire had suddenly ignited overnight. God’s blessings continued. The membership grew from 25 saints to hundreds. Many ministries were established at that time. In 1953 under his dynamic leadership they marched from the little old wooden church into the first concrete edifice.
St. John continued to progress under Pastor Hilton’s leadership. The membership continued to multiply and the church continued to prosper financially. The membership grew above one thousand. In 1984 the current edifice was built and paid off in record time. This new edifice was more spacious and had state-of-the-arts accommodations, including a baptismal pool. God blessed us with more property. By 1991 the membership roll was above 1400. Pastor Hilton ordained and developed a total of 25 ministers and most of them moved on to pastor other churches. In 1991 Pastor Hilton retired and his unyielding efforts garnered him the title of Pastor Emeritus. One year later he was called home to glory on July 10, 1992.
On February 9, 1992 Reverend Dr. Bartholomew Banks, Sr. was installed as Pastor. He is very active in the community and has held several positions in the Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Association during his tenure at St. John. He currently sits on several local boards. In March 2006, Pastor Banks was elected President of The Progressive Missionary and Education Baptist State Convention of Florida, Inc. He is responsible for providing leadership to 300+ churches within the Association. He was also blessed to receive an Honorary Doctorate Degree in 2005. The church family is so proud of his nomination and degree.
Under Pastor Banks’ leadership, St. John continues to excel, prosper and progress. The Lord continues to bless us. We truly give thanks to Him for sending Pastor Banks back to us. Again, God has sent us a shepherd with vision, wisdom, excellent leadership abilities, humility, organization and perseverance, and most of all a spirit filled man led by God. Through his leadership we have accomplished so much during his tenure as Pastor of St. John Progressive M.B. Church.