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Thrice retired pastor served during Florida’s historic eras


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PORT ST. JOHN (FBW)—Retired pastor Stephen Julian has been a part of Florida Baptist history since 1955, serving churches in the Miami Baptist and Florida Keys Baptist associations during some of the state’s most turbulent eras.

In the 1950’s, just six hours short of a degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Julian left Texas for Florida when J.T. Gillespie, director of missions for the Miami Baptist Association, told students of the need in the rapidly growing peninsula of the state.

“I was sent here to preach and never left,” Julian, now 89, told Florida Baptist Witness.

In 1955 he was called as pastor of Highlands Baptist Church in Miami and began a 15-year tenure in a low-income area of the city. The Anglo congregation ministered in African-American and Cuban neighborhoods and earned a reputation in the city as a church which welcomed all races.

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During the same years the nearby Miami Goodwill Center, a ministry of the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board, was a hub of activity the community’s children. The center’s directors, Rosalee Franks and the late Mildred Womack, worked tirelessly to care for neglected children and to teach the Bible to them and their families. Franks and Womack taught Vacation Bible School dozens of times a year in the center, and in nearby neighborhoods and parks. As members of Highland Baptist, they often brought families from the center with them to church, Julian said.

In those days, a multi-racial church service was such a rarity, it was deemed newsworthy by the local media, Julian recalled. A television news crew—another rare sight in the early days of TV—visited and filmed the integrated worship service and broadcast the film on the local station.

Julian said the church “never had a problem” with racial issues.

“Most people will follow the leadership of the pastor. If a pastor has no problem with integration, the people won’t either,” Julian reflected. “A pastor will lead people out of their prejudices.”

His peace-making abilities were recognized in his next pastorate—also 15 years—at West Hialeah Baptist Church. Between 1970 and 1985, the church and its neighborhood experienced a vast transition. The 300-member Anglo congregation ministered to Cuban refugees who flooded Florida‘s shores during the six-month Mariel Boatlift in 1980.

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CHURCH HISTORY Highland Park, Miami, circa 1955.

Some of the 125,000 Cubans who arrived in Florida settled in neighborhoods around the church, so West Hialeah Baptist began a Spanish-speaking mission with about 30 people.

“We saw our people move out as the Spanish moved in,” Julian said.

Eventually the mission of the church grew to 300 and the Anglo congregation shrank to 30, so the churches reversed roles. Julian became pastor of the Anglo mission of West Hialeah Spanish Baptist Church.

“We reversed things, and I have never been sorry we did it,” Julian said. “I think the Lord sent [the Cubans] there, and we followed the way we felt was God’s leading. I am proud that the people were willing to do this.”


Julian and the Hispanic pastor worked together four years before Julian retired in 1985. His retirement was temporary and that same year he was called to pastor First Baptist Church in Marathon. After two years Julian became director of missions in the Florida Keys, and he and his wife, Elizabeth, moved into the DOM’s residence on Marathon.

His ten-year service to the association primarily involved promotion and keeping the churches informed about the Convention, he said. He visited every pastor in the Keys every six weeks, and boasted that during his time there every pastor in the Keys “was a seminary man.” He retired the second time in 1995 and he and Elizabeth moved to Titus­ville to be near their daughter, Carolyn Bowers. Their sons, Archie and John, and daughter, Miriam Miller, are able to visit their parents easier in Titusville than in Marathon, he said.

His second retirement was interrupted by a call from Frontenac Baptist Church, where he served three years—until his third retirement.

“I really enjoy retirement,” Julian said. “Preparing to preach is not an easy thing to do.”

Now a member of First Baptist Church in Port St. John, Julian is content to not fill the pulpit, but he still fills in for his Sunday School teacher when needed, and both he and his wife of 64 years work at the church’s thrift store every Monday and Thursday mornings. He sorts donated clothes in the back room while she runs the cash register. Until recently, he mowed the church yard.


Young pastors, Julian said, should stay in a church long enough to become part of the community.

“It takes time to learn your people before ministering to them. You may want a bigger church, but it takes a while. Grow with them—marry their children and bury their dead. It binds you together,” he said.

Their children, 13 grandchildren and 11 great children visit occasionally, and, Julian said with a chuckle, “Mama thinks they are all grand.”

With free time to take care of the his dog whom he jokingly refers to as “half-human,” Jasper enjoys observing birds and cultivating flowers, especially Easter cacti. Like the churches he has served, he said he enjoys watching them “develop and bloom.”