BROOKSVILLE — Three years ago, Steve and Ellen Bilsborough decided it was time to start a new church that would cater to people’s spiritual needs and provide outreach to the community.
They negotiated a lease with the Hernando County Association of Realtors to hold services in its building off Sunshine Grove Road for the fledgling congregation of Great Life Church.
The church quickly outgrew the building, and the Bilsboroughs sought a more expansive site for the 200-plus member congregation.
One mile or so away they found their new spiritual home at one of the most recognized buildings in the county: the Brooksville Elks Lodge at 14494 State Road 50.
Both parties said the deal is beneficial because the Elks membership is declining as the Great Life congregation is increasing.
Last year the Elks voted to put the 33-year-old building — just east of the Suncoast Parkway interchange — up for sale due to the dropping membership, needed repairs and high utility and maintenance bills. Elks treasurer Paul Stark said the lodge was listed for about $1.37 million and the Bilsboroughs paid $1 million. A real estate closing is planned for Aug. 29
The Elks will move to a smaller location — an 8,000-square-foot building off County Line Road; the site of the Suncoast Dance and Party Center, which will continue meeting there.
Stark said he expects many long-time club members will be disappointed with the move. Change is difficult, he said.
“We don’t have a choice,” Stark said. “We just have to get out of it, that’s all.”
Stark said the lodge boasted 1,600 members in the 1980s. That number is down to about 500 and most members are elderly.
“Right now we’re all old, most of us,” he said. “I’m 78 and I’m probably one of the younger ones.”
He noted membership is declining in many civic and social organizations throughout the country.
“Every organization is having problems right now,” he said. “The people are so tied to other things. They don’t go out that much.”
With 8,000 square feet, the building on County Line Road is better suited to the lodge’s needs, even with modest renovations that will have to be done there, Stark said.
The final event at the Elks lodge will be a farewell luau party on Saturday, Aug. 9, that will be open to the general public — not just lodge members. That night, Stark said, he will hold a recruiting event, dropping the application fee from $25 to $1. Annual dues are $68.25 a year. He hopes to attract younger members, those in their 40s and 50s, he said.
Meanwhile the Bilsboroughs are enthusiastic about the pending move. The first Sunday service at the new site is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Sept. 7.
Ellen Bilsborough calls it a “leap of faith” and thanks God for the growth that has allowed this move to become possible.
“God has been with us through every step of the way,” she said.
The Bilsboroughs moved to Hernando County seven years ago from Toronto and felt “the call of God” to start Great Life Church. They have four children and two grandchildren.
Steve Bilsborough recently celebrated 30 years as a pastor and travelling evangelist.
“We just had it in our heart to launch a new church,” he said.
Ellen Bilsborough said she is a pastoral partner with her husband and both intend to serve the needs of Hernando County, through the church food bank and other events.
“We came into this together and we do everything together,” she said.