MILTON — Pastor Fred Rogers felt the calling to be a minister as soon as he graduated Milton High School in 1954. That feeling started him on a journey that would lead him to Milton's First Assembly of God, where he would spend the next 50 years serving them as the pastor of the church.
Rogers attended Bible college at the Southeast University of Lakeland. He first began his ministry in Eustis, Florida, where he started a church. He was pastor a several other churches around the panhandle before finding his way back to Milton, where he became pastor of Milton's First Assembly in August of 1969.
"During the last year I was at Panama City, God began to lay a burden for this church on my heart," Rogers said.
Rogers, who had been raised in the Bagdad Assembly of God, said he initially didn't expect to stay at the Milton congregation for as long as he has.
"My folks attended the Bagdad Assembly and I told them to keep on attending (because) I would probably only be here a few years and then I would be gone," he said.
That "couple of years" turned into half a century.
At the time Rogers became pastor, the church was located on Alabama Street. Rogers said they soon outgrew the smaller church and in the 1970s they bought property on Dogwood Drive where the current church is located. They first build the fellowship hall, which served as the church. About 10 years later, after they paid off the church, the congregation built the current sanctuary, which Rogers said resembled a dream he had regarding how it would look. In the 1990s, they built a gym to help with community outreach.
"We open it up to the children of the community one night a week," Rogers said. "We hope that this will provides something good for them to do (instead of) doing something to get them in trouble."
As he looks back on his years at the church, some of the most memorable moments include learning how to transition the congregation to the new church, being selected to be Man of the Year, and being invited to give the opening prayer at a Senate meeting in Washington D.C. Rogers said he was able to work at a radio station that gave him the opportunity to learn the needs of the community in a way he hadn't been able to see before.
"I was born and raised here and I saw it through one set of eyes," he said. "This gave me a chance to see it through a different set of eyes."
During his time as pastor, he was married to his wife Jackie and together they had two children who both are involved in churches of their own. Rogers said his wife was a strong force and always supported him in his ministry, working with the church teaching classes and the youth.
"Many people (who were children) come back not looking for Pastor Rogers but for Mrs. Rogers." he said with a laugh.
As Rogers approaches 84-years-old, he said he has had to slow down and step back from some of his duties. Two years ago he stepped down as the senior pastor of the congregation and became pastor emeritus. He said even though he knows he will not be able to continue forever, he plans to continue his mission of getting more people to live a more Godly lifestyle.
"I still do prison and home ministry," he said. "I read the Bible through every year. I make sure I stay sharp with it."