What’s in a name? Ask ‘South Miami’ church that’s in Coral Gables
If the church is located in Coral Gables city limits, why is it named the First United Methodist Church of South Miami?
The answer lies in its roots, which were planted in a town called Larkins. The church began in South Florida in 1914 at the home of J.P. Dowling in Larkins, where it remained until 1915 when its first church building went up near the current 6000 block of Sunset Drive.
After a marked increase in parishioners, a new sanctuary was erected in 1923 on donated land just north of Sunset Drive and west of Southwest 57th Avenue (Red Road) in the city of Coral Gables. In 1926, the town of Larkins was renamed South Miami.
In tribute to the church’s beginnings, it was decided that the new name would become part of the church’s – even though the church is in Coral Gables at 6565 Red Rd.
According to the church’s historic preservation staff, the portion of the church constructed between 1948 and 1963 “is significant to the city of Coral Gables history.” For that reason, the First United Methodist Church of South Miami received a local historic designation from – you guessed it – the city of Coral Gables.
Over the years, the church had more renovations and additions and today is a church, school and daycare center. “I was first drawn to the church because of its beautiful architecture,” says Sandi Newby, the church’s webmaster. “I loved the order of the service and the music.”
It’s obvious the church’s name is not important for Ms. Newby, who noted a development that definitely is: At least six residents have recently joined the church, first drawn in by its website, www.firstumcsouthmiami.org.
As the homepage welcome message says, “Curious about this church on the corner? The one you’ve passed a thousand times as you travel Red Road or Ponce de Leon Boulevard or U.S. 1? The one that looks so interesting from the outside? We’re just as interesting on the inside.”
The pastor, the Rev. Cathy Felber, says the church is dedicated to the surrounding community. For example, every Wednesday is “Food for the Body,” a free meal for anyone who wishes to partake; the food comes from such restaurants as Red Lobster (a main contributor to the event), Season’s 52, Chipotle, Starbucks and Panera Bread Company.
The meal is followed by “Food for the Soul,” which includes Bible readings and discussion, inviting visitors to participate. The church also plays host to concerts and movie nights and is the venue for Boy Scout Troop 361 meetings and many weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. On Christmas Day, the church showed A Charlie Brown Christmas after services and brunch.
Rev. Felber says the contradiction in name and location actually works in the church’s favor and helps it stand apart.
“Since the mid-1940s, it has been called ‘that church on the corner,’ ” she says. “We are a church whose name is ‘South Miami’ but our building complexes are located in Coral Gables, and so the church sometimes doesn’t seem to fit anywhere.
“However, because of our wonderful location on this visible corner, we draw many different types of people, some of whom tell us that they used to feel as if they didn’t fit anywhere. But through the welcoming hospitality of the church, they have found a family where they do fit.
For more information, visit www.firstumcsouthmiami.org.
Blair O’Brien is a sophomore majoring in management and minoring in music business and entertainment industry at the University of Miami.