The following brief history of St. David’s by-the-Sea is according to the historical documents and vestry notes; letters; archival records in the Diocese of Central Florida and South Florida, newspaper articles, church newsletters; and Cocoa Beach/Florida historical documents.
In 1949, the semi-tropical barrier island where Cocoa Beach is located is rural. It has a population of 246 of which most are wealthy mainland residents who use the beach as a resort vacation area. There is a wooden church built by Mr. Gus Edwards, first mayor and tycoon developer of the area. The church which Mr. Edwards has built as a memorial to his mother in the late 1920’s has remained vacant. There are small groups of people holding Christian services in their homes.
On April 7, 1950, three residents of Cocoa Beach, Mrs Johnston, Mrs Aylor and Mrs LaRoche (wife to the present mayor), travel the narrow causeway over two drawbridges to attend the Good Friday Service at St. Marks in Cocoa. They are in agreement that a church is needed on Cocoa Beach.
St Mark’s Rector, Rev. Marland W. Zimmerman shows enthusiasm to the prospect and suggests they talk with Mr. Gus Edwards to see if he might be willing to lease the vacant church to use for Episcopal worship.
On June 25, 1950, Fr. Zimmerman opens the doors of the newly leased building . He becomes Priest-in-charge to a congregation of 22 Episcopalians bringing the Holy Eucharist to them on Wednesday mornings. The church is named by Fr. Zimmerman and the name is approved by Bishop Louttit of the Diocese of South Florida. The still informal mission is under the direct control of Bishop Louttit.
Fr. Zimmerman says to the newly formed Bishop’s committee “ Christianity began with one, then two, then four - so we’re not doing so badly. If we could get the 13 families that we now have interested to pledge $1.00 per person per week, we could support our church.”
The original church is located between Orlando and Brevard Avenues on what is now called 2nd Street South. Street numbers do not yet exist. Included in the lease are the electrical fixtures, 56 folding chairs and three rugs. The Women’s Auxiliary Guild raises funds to properly furnish the church. By the end of the summer, they have purchased an organ. A brass cross is donated by St. Mark’s Church in Cocoa; a wooden altar is purchased from St. Luke’s Mission on Merritt Island; a brass candelabra and hymnals are gifted. The women’s guild purchases prayer books.
The church interior is described by a parishioner: “The Church was situated east to west with steps leading up to the entrance on the east side. There were four small corner rooms. At the north-west corner was the Vicar’s office. At the south-west corner was the choir room. The organ was on the north wall. The altar was in the center west wall on a raised platform. East of the altar was a curved communion rail. A large replica of the Liberty Bell was on the outside south east corner of the church…” - (note: this bell was a gift to Mr. Edwards as a thank you gift from the city of Cocoa Beach.)
On May 22, the Vestry votes to purchase “the little church in the jungle” , as it is called by the Bishop, with an eleven year mortgage of $6,000.00. On April 14, 1952, an official Vestry is formed and St. David’s is admitted by the Diocese of South Florida as a organized Mission. Mr LaRoche, Mayor of Cocoa Beach is appointed Senior Warden.
The Space Race which begins with the opening of the Long Range Missile Proving Grounds at Cape Canaveral in 1949 changes the demographics of the island. The island's population changes so quickly that Cocoa Beach experiences a 1000 percent increase in its population from 1950 to 1960. In 1950, the Cocoa Beach population is 23,700. It grows to 111,176 in 1960. Space pioneers with young families settle into quickly built housing on the barrier island. They need the crucial support of a church.
In 1955, St. David’s receives a letter from North American Aviation, Downey, California. In the letter they state they will be having many families move to Cocoa Beach. They want to be sure there is a responsible Christian Institution for their employees. The Vestry replies:
“We are, of course, quite proud of our efforts and the progress to date. To my knowledge, St. David’s is, through the efforts of Rev. Hugh E. Cuthbertson, providing the only youth organization in the area with the exception of the Boy Scouts. We think that the field is wide open for our church to provide the center and the guidance for both the spiritual and recreational needs of the youth of this area. In addition to our youth organization, we hope to be able to in the near future organize a non-denominational men’s club to fill the social and spiritual needs of the mens of this area…” By the end of 1955, a Boy Scout troop is sponsored by the Mission. Plans are underway to include a Shrove Tuesday Pancake supper, children’s Christmas party, adult Christmas party and an Easter egg hunt.
On January 20, 1956, St. David's is officially incorporated as a religious institution within the city of Cocoa Beach. The little church is bursting at its seams. The Sunday School is taught at the Vicarage to an average of 40 children. Church services average 50 adults.
On April 6, 1958, ground breaking takes place at the congregation’s newly purchased land on 4th Street South. Later on April 22, St. David’s is admitted as a Parish at the annual Convention of the Diocese of South Florida.
On September 21, 1959, The Rev. Frank M. Butler is installed as Rector of the new St. David’s Church. On that same day, there is a Confirmation and Dedication of St. David’s by-the-Sea. Fr. Butler remains Rector for 22 years.
On May 19, 1991, The Rev. Stephen Morgan Gray oversees the groundbreaking for the much needed new Parish Hall.
Over the years, the salty beach environment takes its toll on the church. In 2010, the Rev. Scott T. Holcombe is called to be Rector. New programs, expanded outreach ministries and increased attendance and support make expansion and much needed renovations possible. The Rt. Rev. Gregory O Brewer rededicates the renovated facility on February 19, 2016.
On September 18th, 1956, St. David’s is struck by lightening. The Cocoa Beach Fire Department and Patrick Air Force Base Fire Department attempt to save the church; but the fire destroys the wooden structure.
Later, the Vestry votes to sell the remaining property and to obtain not less than three acres of property to build a new church. The congregation worships in homes as well as newly constructed office space.
Today, St. David’s by-the-Sea is a healthy congregation with a bright future. Our average Sunday attendance is 107. We have a healthy budget fully funded by the sacrificial support of our parishioners. Our outreach fundraisers, Fall Goods and Services Auction and Spring Yard Sale, provide significant additional funding for our many outreach ministries. We have a dedicated choir and music program and a 2 octave handbell choir.
Although we are predominantly a senior age congregation with part year members who call St. David’s their “Church home away from home”, we are beginning to see younger adults and youth returning to our church. We welcome this demographic change to St. David’s and also to our community.