South Metro church reopens after legal battle with FDOT

Congregation held first service Friday

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After a seven-year legal battle with the Florida Department of Transportation, a Jacksonville church celebrated its first service in its new building Friday.

Glorious Bethlehem Temple on Wister Street was in the path of the Overland Bridge Project that's making its way over Interstate 95 from South Metro through San Marco. The pastor didn't think the state's offer for the church property was fair to his congregation, so he fought back. 

Last month, he won, getting what he considered a more fair deal from the state, helping pay for the new church building just down the road on Ashland Street.

When this massive highway project began, the state bought out many properties in the area.

Glorious Bethlehem Temple, a church with about 70 members, didn't accept the offer because it was worried that if it took the state's money, it wouldn't be able to rebuild. The pastor didn't think the offer was right, so he went to court.

“I would see that pain and the anguish that he went through at times, behind closed doors,” said Derrick Richardson, whose father is the pastor of the church.

For seven years, Richardson had a front row seat to his father’s quest to receive what he deserved for the building.

“It’s definitely a relief seeing that weight lifted off of my father’s shoulders. It’s a true definition of a man. He stood by what he wanted to do. He had a vision that he set fourth, he didn't back down,” Richardson said.

With the legal battle over, the focus is on the future.

“We want to reach out to everyone. To not only connect people with the love of God but also to reach out to the community and be involved in that any way possible,” Richardson said.

His father, pastor Donald Richardson, told News4Jax on Friday night that regardless of the turnout, there is no bad blood.

"We did whatever we could to work with them," he said. "I guess it was all in the plan."

The church held its first service at its new location at 2051 Ashland St. at 7:30 p.m. Friday and will host a community festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. The church will also host a concert that night.

“This is a huge weekend for us,” the elder Richardson said. 

The mood was celebratory as the congregation showed the community its new church. The new house of worship has a spacious sanctuary and an upgraded sound system. 

Patricia Pearson told News4Jax she was a neighbor of the old church whose property was also purchased by the DOT for the Overland Bridge project. She said she couldn’t believe how nice the new church is. 

“Oh, I think it’s awesome. God is so good,” Pearson said. “If you have faith, and you keep the faith, you know God’s gonna work it out, and that’s what he did.”

On Sunday, there will be a dedication service at 4 p.m.

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Specializes in Clay County issues, general assignment reporting and stories off the beaten path and anchors weekend evening newscasts.