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Strauss returns to Corolla Chapel for dedication of new fellowship hall

Near-perfect weather conditions prevailed for the dedication of a new church fellowship hall and kitchen in Corolla on November 8.

After a brief introduction by current Pastor Jim Southern, Rev. John Strauss, who restarted the Corolla Chapel ministry in 1987, led the Sunday service with a brief walk down memory lane and regular scripture message.

Almost a homecoming, about 60 people sat spread out within the chapel, leaving plenty of space for social distancing. About half were members of the congregation when Strauss was there.

After leading the congregation in a couple of lively hymns, Strauss recalled a few events from his earlier days in Corolla.

“I was told it would be service ready when we got here,” Strauss advised. “But there were weeds sprouting up between the planks.”

Trimming them with a pen knife, the pews also had to be dusted off.

It was in 1885 that the Corolla community formed an inter-denominational congregation in the village and two local carpenters to build the original one-room chapel. Circuit-riding preachers served the village until the Great Depression took its toll and preachers stopped coming. The chapel was used for Sunday school and worship services whenever a preacher was in the area and eventually fell into disuse around 1953.

In 1962, John W. Austin purchased the property with a desire to see it restored to use as an inter-denominational chapel. In 1987, Strauss entered the picture and began holding year-round services.

“We were asked if we could have year-round service,” Strauss said. “I said we will try but there was no heat in the winter. When I could see my breath in the pulpit, I knew we would cut this one short. We would have an opening and a closing prayer and a short message. Naturally, we didn’t forget to take the offering.

With as many people outside listening as there were inside, a vestibule, restroom and porch were added in 1992. In 2001 came plans to increase the chapel’s size and the following year it was moved across the street and affixed to a section of new construction forming a crucifix. A fellowship hall was completed on the south side of the structure in 2007 and Strauss retired soon after.

The century-old chapel still has its original interior walls and is furnished with many of the original items including its pews, pump organ, pulpit and pulpit chair.

“I thought I was going to retire,” Strauss continued, “but God said he wanted me to work overtime.”

Today, at almost 92, Strauss is still active leading music at The First Congregational Church in Zephyrhills, Florida.

Following the indoor service, Strauss and Southern encouraged everyone to move outside for a ribbon cutting for the new 2,500 square foot north wing.

According to Southern, the addition of a new fellowship hall and large kitchen area will be a big part of the chapel’s ministry to international student workers. The extra space will also allow using the site as a feeding station if needed following a storm.

A big part of the chapel’s international ministry is a collection of more than 250 refurbished bicycles available for student use during the time here.

“Some students live a couple to three miles from where they work,” explained Southern. “with no public transportation, getting from their homes to work and back can be both time consuming and taxing, although the bike path makes travel easier.”

Located at 1136 Corolla Village Road on the north end of historic Corolla village, Corolla Chapel remains an inter-denominational chapel in keeping with the wishes of John W. Austin family.

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