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Plant City churches welcome new leaders
Plant City Observer Thursday, May 1, 2014 4 years ago

Plant City churches welcome new leaders




It takes a few minutes for the Rev. Cole Dodd to rattle off all the places he lived growing up as a child.

With an insurance claims adjuster for a mother, Dodd always seemed to find himself in the middle of tragedy. In 1992, when everyone in his or her right mind was fleeing Miami in the wake of Hurricane Andrew, Dodd moved to the South Florida city. Two years later, he was in Los Angeles after the Northridge earthquake. In 1996, they were off to the Carolinas for hurricanes Bertha and Fran. A year later, a blizzard in New Jersey/New York, and then to a Minnesota hail storm a year after that.

“I’ve seen a lot of depravity,” Dodd said. “I’ve seen people shaken to their foundation.”

Which is precisely why First Baptist Church of Midway leaders approved Dodd as the church’s new lead pastor. After serving as FBC Midway’s worship leader and interim pastor, Dodd was installed March 23, as the new leader.

At just 30 years old, Dodd, a Plant City native, is one of the city’s youngest pastors. But, with that youth comes an energy and passion that already has shown results at the 115-year-old church.

“We need to change the culture we’ve sunken into,” Dodd said. “The biggest thing, to me, is to bring sincerity to the word. We’re going to take Jesus to the community. He told us to go and make disciples, and we’re going to do that with love. We’re going to love so radically that people are going to be so overwhelmingly curious about this love. If we show this radical love of Jesus, and we invest in their lives, they’re going to want to know about this love of Jesus.”

To that end, FBC has turned its attention outside the church walls. It already has started a new ministry to feed homeless residents, and, later this month, the congregation will launch a campaign inspired by Jason Sowell, founder and president of the nonprofit organization, Current of Tampa Bay.

“For one day, we’re going to adopt a laundromat, and we’re going to pay for everyone’s laundry that day,” Dodd said. “We’ll have soap available, too, and we’ll send everyone home with clean clothes.”

As a high-schooler, Dodd succumbed to partying and drug use, and it wasn’t until tragedy struck the nation and then his life that he began to change.

“One week after 9/11, four of my friends were killed and a fifth went to jail,” he said. “I realized that that would be me if I continued down that road.”

Dodd completed one semester at Trinity Baptist College before returning home. At 20 years old, he took his first job as a youth pastor and later earned his bachelor’s degree from Luther Rice University and Seminary. Before becoming the worship pastor at FBC Midway, he served at First Baptist Church of Riverview.

And, now that he’s at the helm at FBC Midway, he plans to lead the church for as long as possible.

“My vision (for FBC Midway) is to be a body of individuals on a mission for Christ,” Dodd said. “I don’t care about money. I don’t care about buildings or being popular. I care about spreading the name of Christ through this city.”

Dodd is married to his wife, Nikki. They have two children, Dani, 5, and Roman, 3.



Robin Emery often jokes that she took one out of the seminary, so she had to put another back in. Emery’s late husband, Robert, had taken a break from his religious studies, when he met her serving as a eucharistic minister at a Clearwater Catholic Church. 

She stole his heart — but not his legacy. 

Now, their son, Jonathan Emery, will pick up where his father left off and be ordained at a priest on May 17.

“I’m 80% excited, 20% nervous entering into this new era in my life,” Jonathan Emery said. 

It certainly will be a new era for the faithful servant, who has spent the last nine years in seminary. He attended Saint John Vianney College Seminary, in Miami, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy. He then went on to work towards his master’s degree in divinity, which he will receive May 8. And although Jonathan Emery is following in his father’s footsteps, it wasn’t his intention. 

“We didn’t groom him for this,” Robin Emery said. “It was a calling little by little.”

From the moment of his birth, Jonathan was exposed to the Catholic faith. He was born on a Sunday morning. Robert turned on the TV in the hospital to watch Mass, because they couldn’t attend in person. When he was 8, he served as an altar boy at St. Clement Catholic Church, at which he has worshipped in his entire life. 

St. Clement, which runs its famous strawberry shortcake booth for the Florida Strawberry Festival, was like a second family to him. The congregation rallied around the family after Robert Emery passed in 2007.

“This is just the goodness he’s seen all his life,” Robin Emery said. “This community is filled with grace. We’re here to help each other and help each other in our humanity.” 

Because he has been so involved with St. Clement and Plant City over the years, his mother calls him the “Priest that Strawberry Shortcake Built.”

 And even though he had a strong religious heritage, he didn’t necessarily want to become a priest,. In his teen years, he thought about having a family and children. But when the time of high school graduation grew nearer, he felt a tug in the direction of priesthood — or at least seminary. 

“In church, I had always felt a sense of peace I didn’t get anywhere else,” Jonathan Emery said. 

So three years into seminary, Jonathan Emery decided to go continue his studies to priesthood. That meant no family. But, it also meant so much more. 

“(Because) I won’t have a family, there is a certain amount of love and devotion I can give that others can’t,” Jonathan Emery said. “I’m looking forward to being able to provide the sacrament and being able to celebrate Mass and confession.

“Through confession, you truly do witness the healing power of Christ,” Jonathan Emery said. “They walk away with a burden lifted and you know you can help someone.”



Plant City Seventh-day Adventist Church will welcome its new pastor at 11 a.m. May 10, at the church, 2203 Strawberry Drive.

The Rev. James Johnson and his family come to the church from Carrollwood Seventh-day Adventist Church, in Tampa (where he will continue to work while he begins his ministry in Plant City). Previously, he served as associate pastor at East Pasco Seventh-day Adventist Church, in Zephyrhills. 

Johnson received his bachelor’s degree in theology from Southern Adventist University, and his master’s of divinity, with an emphasis in youth ministry, from Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, at Andrews University, in Michigan. 

For more, call (813) 752-4694.

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