The New Church in South Florida:
to Boynton Beach
New Church Life 117.7 (July 1997): 31120.
In 1898 Jacob Fritz left Roanoke, Virginia, after making and losing a fortune in Virginia real estate, and moved to Miami, Florida. Undaunted by adversity, Mr. Fritz joined the early Miami founders and began acquiring land, purchasing four hundred forty acres in the vicinity of Northwest 27th Avenue and 36th Street for a dairy farm and housing development. With the proceeds of his first venture, Mr. Fritz sent for his wife Carolina and six children. In 1926, with a new fortune behind him, Mr. Fritz was in the midst of his newest venture, a luxury eight-story hotel complex, when nature and economics intervened. The famous 1926 Miami hurricane damaged the hotel severely and the bottom fell out of the city's booming real estate market. But Mr. Fritz, as he had done before, picked up the pieces and moved on with yet another venture, remaining convinced that Miami was the place to be.1
A lot more could be said about this remarkable entrepreneur, but what is of particular interest to us is that Mr. Fritz was one of the first, if not the first New Churchmen to set foot in Miami. Apparently, the Jacob Fritz family had been introduced to the teachings of the New Church back in Virginia when Miss Elizabeth Simons (Mrs. E. E. Iungerich) visited them on their farm. Later, many Convention and General Church members visited the family in Miami, and it was always the dream of Mr. Fritz to have a New Church congregation in that beautiful city. He never lived to see that dream fulfilled since he passed away in early 1940, but his daughter Caroline carried the vision forward and became quite instrumental in the establishment of the first General Church congregation in Miami.
When the David Lindsay family moved to Miami in 1941 and bought a lovely home in Miami Shores, they very quickly got to work tracking down the New Church people already in Miami. When the Second World War broke out, many young men and women were stationed in places like Opa Locka, Key West, Homestead, Port Everglades, and Miami. The group that met in the Lindsay home began to grow, and included the Jane Wilson family, Hollis Brandt, Private Arthur "Buddy" Schnarr, and young Ted Farrington. It was during this time that Caroline Fritz, the daughter of Jacob Fritz, married Mr. E. E. Collins, who became very interested in the teachings of the New Church, was baptized and joined the church. It was also at this time that ministers like Björn Boyesen, Ormond Odhner, and later Dan Pendleton, who, in making bi-annual visits to the southern states sometimes as far south as West Palm Beach, began extending their circuit to include Miami as the last stop, which very quickly became the largest New Church group among the southern states. Rev. Ormond Odhner, in one of his delightfully detailed pastoral reports, said, "Miami is always one of the high spots in my southern trips. Not only is our group there the largest of any in the south, but the city itself is lush and luxurious, the weather is warm and wonderful, and the swimming is wonderful." 2
If it wasn't for the combined vision and financial planning of Mrs. David Lindsay Hodges and Mrs. Caroline (Fritz) Collins, 1954 wouldn't have been the year when the Miami group received its first resident pastor. But these two remarkable ladies persisted in communicating their vision to Bishop George de Charms, and in the late summer of 1954 the Rev. Morley Rich and family moved there. As the group gathered momentum under full-time pastoral leadership, more New Church people joined them, such as the Bob Gauzens family, Mrs. Vida Schnarr, the Reynold Doerings, the Bruce Pitcairns, and Carl Asplundhs who spent their winters in Palm Beach. Shortly after Mr. Rich became its resident pastor the group found it necessary to rent a public place for services. Public worship first took place on the premises of the Miami Woman's Club, and later in the Lions and Pioneer Clubs. In 1958 the group was recognized as the Miami Circle, and after years of looking and many discussions, a house of worship was bought on North West 5th Avenue and 151st Street. Bishop Willard D. Pendleton dedicated the building on the 14th April, 1963.3
After a stay of ten years, the Rev. Morley Rich moved to another pastorate and the Rev. Roy Franson took over in 1965. Under the leadership of Mr. Franson the first Southeastern District Assembly was hosted by the Miami Circle in May, 1967 at a beautiful resort in Ft. Lauderdale with more than ninety people in attendance. Mr. Franson continued to do the huge Southeastern United States traveling circuit started by Mr. Rich, which included visits throughout the whole Florida District, and extended north to include the growing group in Atlanta, Georgia and some other pocket groups in North and South Carolina. During Mr. Franson's pastorate, the small but growing circle in Miami proudly reported having seven weddings and six baptisms in their new building. In 1974 Mr. Franson was called to another pastorate and the Rev. Glenn Alden, fresh out of theological school, took over the Miami Circle.
By the late 1970s the demographics of the Miami Circle, like so many other General Church congregations, proved to be a challenge. The circle had begun to spread over a large geographical area, mostly north of Miami. The families of Donald Schmucker, Ron Sands, Argo Karallus, Hank Mellman, Murray Carr, Lawson Cronlund, Bryce Genzlinger, John Muthe, Bill Boker, Ginny Huntzinger, Lou Synnestvedt, Norman Synnestvedt, and Ted Farrington were all a part of the Miami Circle even though some of them lived quite a distance from the church. But they were a dedicated group and often got together for work parties at the church (at one time the church property had over twenty different citrus and tropical fruit trees), and for those famous outdoor "pig roasts" (a fine skill originally cultivated by Arthur "Buddy" Schnarr who then shared this secret knowledge with the pastor).
The Rev. Glenn Alden was the first pastor to work just in Florida, and he did a tremendous amount with the scattered New Church families in the north, central and western parts of the state, and with the growing group in Lake Helen (near Orlando), which received its own resident pastor during the last year of Mr. Alden's pastorate in Miami. Mr. Alden started "traveling" doctrinal classes, which involved loading local members into his Volkswagen bus and driving them to meet the scattered New Church groups around the state. It was creative efforts like these that paid off and gave the newly organized Florida District a sense of identity and community within the larger New Church family, which any traveling minister knows is very hard to do.
Back in his pastorate in Miami, Mr. Alden made special efforts to try to get the circle into a self-supporting status so that it would be on reasonably solid financial ground as it faced what was becoming a decidedly uncertain future. In 1981 Mr. Alden was called to a new pastorate and his cousin, the Rev. Mark Alden, took over in July of that same year.
One challenge for the incoming pastor was to find a way to include the growing senior membership of the congregation in the activities of the church. The Rev. Mark Alden succeeded in this task by offering a wide variety of activities and programs for members of all ages. He also reworked and improved the format of the Miami Circle newsletter, the Florida Missive, realizing it could serve as a valuable communication tool, especially for the isolated and for the elderly "shut-ins." But one of the highlights for the Miami group came at the end of Rev. Mark Alden's brief pastorate. A highly successful Southeastern District Assembly was held in Miami on March 1720, 1983. Among the guests were Bishop King, several out-of-town ministers including the pastor-elect, the Rev. Dan Heinrichs, and his wife, and lots of members and friends from the Florida District and beyond. The assembly was held at the brand new facilities of the Florida Institute of Technology located right on Biscayne Bay. One member was able to bring his sailboat almost to the front door of the facilities and offer rides between the scheduled events. The assembly brought a real sense of cohesion to the members of the Florida District and particularly to the hosts, the Miami circle, who, as already said, faced an uncertain future.
The issue of high property rates, the increasingly knotty problem of a scattered congregation, and many questions about the location of the church building began to surface, and a number of members from the Miami Circle expressed concern over how these issues might affect their future. The Rev. Mark Alden worked hard to develop some rough plans that would help the congregation relocate the church to a more central and suitable location if and when it desired. In looking through the church records I found a file entitled "Long Range Projections for the Miami Circle" that Mr. Alden had sketched out with a footnote that said, "Guesses, please revise" (actually his "guesses" ended up being quite prescient). It included a ten-year plan with the necessary phases for new property development, a construction timetable for a new church building, and plans of a condominium complex designed for church retirees. (In anticipation of future plans like these, the Board of the Miami Circle had generated a small fund which ended up serving as the seed money for the relocation of the church.) But it was Mr. Alden's uncle, the Rev. Daniel Heinrichs, who, in taking over the pastorate of Miami July l, 1983, led the congregation in the Herculean task of relocating the church.
Just as Mrs. Lindsay Hodges and Mrs. Collins were the motivating force in establishing the Miami group with its first resident pastor in 1954, Mr. Bill Boker, a retired businessman and resident in Florida since 1967, became the motivating force behind the decision to relocate to Boynton Beach in the early part of 1988. The generous financial support of this remarkable man, together with the small fund generated by the Miami Circle a number of years earlier, made 1988 the year when a three-acre property of undeveloped land was purchased in what was then rural West Boynton Beach, and plans for the construction of a new church building got under way. And so on January 10, 1988 the Miami Circle gathered for the last time to worship in its original church building.
It took the firm leadership and persistence of Mr. Heinrichs to carry forward the vision of relocating the church, and it was no easy task. Discussion of such a move had begun back in the days of Rev. Glenn Alden's pastorate, and many people then and much later couldn't see how it would ever happen. Prior to the actual move in 1988, Mr. Heinrichs and his wife Miriam had spent a good four years patiently researching and exploring options, talking through the issues with church members. They would often spend their Sunday afternoons driving around different parts of the state surveying potential church sites.
With the professional help of long-time member Ted Farrington, and with the help of the members of his own family, Mr. Heinrichs supervised the remodeling of the one existing building on 10621 El Clair Ranch Road. This building became the manse, with the living room serving as the temporary church for almost two years. Mr. and Mrs. Heinrichs had two of their four adult children (Mary and Bradley) in residence with them already, and were shortly reunited with the remaining two married children (Freya and Robert), both of whom wished to relocate from the cold, harsh winters up north to be with their family and a New Church congregation in sunny South Florida. For a while, then, the whole Heinrichs clan lived in the manse, and on each Sunday miscellaneous grandchildren and family members would be swept out of the living room so that the pews and organ could be moved in and set up for church. As all of this was going on, Mr. Heinrichs had the additional duty of supervising the design and construction of the new handsome church building which was being built next to the manse and was completed at the end of May, 1990.
One hundred forty-four members and friends of the newly incorporated "New Church at Boynton Beach" gathered for the dedication service which was conducted by Bishop Peter M. Buss on June 24, 1990. This must have been a proud moment for what was still, officially at this point, the Miami Circle, and two years later, in June, 1992 the growing congregation in the Boynton Beach area became officially recognized by the General Church as a society.
The Boynton Beach Society has been growing steadily. Some familiar names to many of our readers such as Beryl Moorhead, Jane Birchman, the John Snoeps, the Peer Snoeps, the Barry Smiths, the Roger Smiths, the Phil Smiths, the Phil Horigans, the Phil Heinrichses, Grace Childs, Dorothy Brickman, the Gareth Actons, the Dexter DiMarcoses, the Jim Monahans, the Peter Morells, the Francis Van Loosbroeks, the Jack Lees, the Alan Childses, and Fred Schnarr have found the Boynton Beach Society and become a part of this exceptionally welcoming New Church family. When I arrived as the new pastor in July, 1994, the society had already developed the plans and raised the funds to build a new addition to the church in order to accommodate the influx of new members who had recently relocated from other church societies. Growth continues to be a major factor not only for Palm Beach County (which is the fastest growing area in Florida) but also in the long-term planning of the Boynton Beach Society itself. Many new and exciting uses have been developed by the Boynton Beach Society, and one of the last parcels of undeveloped land in the area (which happens to be a two-acre property adjacent to the existing church property) may very well be acquired by the society in the not too-distant future to accommodate its growing uses (the enormously popular Eldergarten, a possible school, senior adult learning, family and youth programs, public seminars and classes, book store, offices, etc.).
South Florida is indeed a lush and luxurious part of the United States, as Rev. Ormond Odhner couldn't help but notice during his southeastern pastoral trips. The pleasant climate and warm seas no doubt add to the appeal of South Florida, but it was the profound message of the New Church that first inspired old Mr. Fritz and then a few people in Miami Beach to form a church group, and it was the desire to see the New Church permanently established in South Florida that inspired the Miami Circle to relocate to Boynton Beach. The Boynton Beach Society has become a strong New Church center in South Florida and looks with excitement to a bright and promising future.
1 Miami Herald, Saturday, May 18, 1996.
2 New Church Life, February, 1949, "Report on a Pastoral Trip," Rev. Ormond Odhner, p. 84.
3 Miami Missive, July, 1972, "A Thumb-Nail Sketch of the Miami Circle," Mrs. A. Hodges.