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Seville congregation takes church to soccer fields

Seville congregation takes church to soccer fields

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Seville congregation takes church to soccer fields

By Jenna De Marco | March 15, 2010 {1150}

Changing a seldom-used church baseball field into a community park transformed the community around Trinity United Methodist Church in Seville. It also changed the way church members see themselves in their community.

The Rev. Nelson Bonilla, pastor of the ethnically diverse church, says construction of the park and its three soccer fields helped meet the evolving needs of the church’s membership and surrounding community.

Church members plant trees in the community park, which used to be a seldom-used church baseball field that now includes three soccer fields used nearly every day of the week by children and adults in the community. “God was working out on those soccer fields, and that’s where we joined him,” said Kathy Jones, a long-time member of the church. Photo courtesy of Trinity United Methodist Church. Photo #10-1413.

It was a change brought about by several years of prayer by lay members on how to handle dwindling church membership, while serving local people, he said.

“If we don’t change, the church may die,” Bonilla said, expressing his appreciation for the church leadership’s vision.

“My church is a little church with a big commitment,” he said.

Appointed to Trinity in December 2008, Bonilla is the church’s first pastor who speaks English as a second language. His skills help him serve both the Caucasian congregants who worship at Trinity on Sunday morning and the Hispanic members who worship there Sunday afternoons.

For about 125 years of the church’s history, it was a mainly Caucasian congregation, but the influx of people from such countries as Mexico, Colombia and El Salvador has changed the ethnic landscape of Seville, Bonilla said. Many who live in this west Volusia County community work in the fernery or citrus industries.

During the six years that leaders prayed for guidance about the church’s mission, they noticed that Hispanic neighbors were often playing soccer on the church’s baseball field. While the leaders were “trying to fill the sanctuary on Sunday morning,” the crowd was filling up the field, said Kathy Jones, an 18-year member of the church.

With this realization, the group decided to “minister to the need at the place and the time,” Jones said. Members converted the space into three soccer fields and began providing a number of other amenities.

“God was working out on those soccer fields, and that’s where we joined him,” Jones said.

The park area, which covers about four acres of church property, includes the soccer fields, a volleyball pit, butterfly garden, pavilion/chapel, picnic facilities and walking trails. The space is open to the public. Architect and church member Jim Hanis designed the plans and applied for a Volusia County ECHO grant, which helped fund the project.

Grants from ECHO are given for improvement of facilities used for environmental, cultural, historical or outdoor recreation, according to the grant Web site at

“So far we have invested about $15,000, but it’s an ongoing project,” Bonilla said.

Families enjoy hamburgers, hot dogs and clowns after a soccer tournament in Crescent City. Four teams of children from Trinity United Methodist Church and a nearby Pentecostal church participated among a total of 12 teams. Many of the children from Seville practice on Trinity’s soccer fields. Photo courtesy of Trinity United Methodist Church. Photo #10-1414.

The church’s board of trustees and United Methodist Men worked with members of the community to perform the manual labor on the space, said Jim Register, a member of the church since the late ’70s. The project made many people “look outside the church walls to see what you can do to help your community,” Register said.

Another potential addition to the park is a vegetable garden. Until then, remaining needs include bleachers for seating, field lights, new sod and soccer goals in three sizes. The variety of sizes will accommodate the numerous age groups — children to adults — who practice on the fields.

“Every day of the week except Wednesday … there’s people over there playing soccer and volleyball, too,” said Bonilla, who coaches a group of preteen players.

With so much interest, church leaders hope to form a local soccer league, partnering with another area Hispanic church that already plays with Trinity on the fields. Still, many of the children and parents involved do not have a church connection. “The idea is to invite them to church,” Bonilla said.

In the meantime, the church ministers to the needs they already see in a community affected by the slow economy, Bonilla said. One way is by distributing leftover loaves of bread from a local grocery store to the Tuesday and Thursday soccer crowds. The church also continues its internally funded food bank once a month, feeding more than 30 families.

“We are an incredible outreach church, and the people in the community know where to come,” Jones said.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.