First Pentecostal Church’s founder, David Lamar (D.L.) Welch, was born on May 21, 1905. In 1924, at the age of nineteen, he became acquainted with Pentecost. He had heard that Pentecostals were holy rollers who would take their baptismal candidates to a hill and roll them into the water, so he paddled a boat down to witness a baptism, realizing very soon that the stories were not true. He watched the preacher walk down into the water and others following him. No rolling took place. The minister immersed the baptismal candidates in water in Jesus’ name and the people shouted and danced and praised the Lord. D. L. had never experienced a sight like that.
D.L. also noticed a lifestyle change among the Pentecostals. He often stated, “We were not overly religious at our house. In fact, we hardly ever had a prayer meeting unless a storm came up. Then mother did most of the praying and she would promise God anything if He wouldn’t blow us away. When the storm was over, we went back into the same old rut.” The Pentecostals were different. Their worship was noisy and they were happy.
Although he was opposed by his family, the pull of God’s spirit on his heart grew stronger and he eventually found himself in the altar, and after experiencing repentance, God gave him the Holy Ghost. Bro. Welch’s first job in the church was to build a fire in the potbelly heater and to sweep the floors. His excitement to work for God and his servant spirit continued throughout his life. Because of the difference of opinion in religion, D.L. had to leave home but because of his faithfulness, after many years in the ministry, his family also received this truth.
He married Lottie Mae Holloway on March 28, 1924, in a little church down on Bayou Mason in Louisiana.” It was a marriage that lasted until death parted them 70 years later. The Welches settled down in Kendricks Ferry, Louisiana, and soon God blessed them with a little girl, Sarah. Burning within Bro. Welch was a desire to preach the gospel, so they packed a few belongings in an old ambulance and began traveling and preaching the gospel. In Colorado City, Texas, tragedy came their way with the death of little Sarah, at the age of three.
The song that kept them going was, “Just Keep Smiling All the Way.” They smiled, preached and sang as they traveled into many cities and states, establishing churches. Their first two revivals saw no one saved, but Bro. Welch was sure of his calling. Then came a revival where 33 were baptized in Jesus’ name, then 100, then 150, and 175.
D.L. Welch would be quick to tell you, “Preaching is my business.” He pioneered churches in many states, including California, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. In the year 1933 he boarded a train bound for Pensacola, Florida, after establishing new church congregations in Montgomery and Andalusia, Alabama.
First Pentecostal Church of Pensacola was founded in 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression, with a “Revival of Truth” in a tent erected on “O” Street (now Pace Boulevard), between Strong and DeSoto Streets. About 75 people received this great truth and were baptized in Jesus’ Name. On August 30, 1934, property was purchased at “N” and Gonzalez Streets and a humble wooden building was erected. The floor was sawdust, the seats were crude and uncomfortable homemade benches.
Bro. Welch served as pastor for two years before the call of the evangelistic trail beckoned, and he left the church in the capable hands of Rev. Oliver Fauss. The pull of evangelism was great upon Bro. Welch, but the desire to do the will of God was stronger and in 1939 he returned to Pensacola, never to leave again. God blessed Bro. and Sis. Welch with six more children: five boys: David (deceased 1999), Paul (deceased 2019, wife, Shirley), Daniel (wife, Dixie), Abe (wife, Bobby), and Jimmy (deceased 2006, wife, Sue); and daughter, Joanna (husband, Charles Shell, deceased 1989). Bro. Welch was an astute student of the Word, spending many, many hours alone with his Bible. He became a renowned defender of the Oneness faith and was involved in more than 200 public debates. His trademark song became and always will be, “Who was He”.
Property was purchased at 1000 North Pace Boulevard in 1943 for $1400 and the original wooden church building was rolled to the new location with the help of logs and mules. An auditorium was constructed around the old church and Sunday school rooms and bathrooms were added. Much of the wood from the original building was used in the construction of the newer building and still remains a part of the building on Pace Boulevard. Remodeling of the Pace Boulevard Church occurred many times.
Bro. Welch served as District Superintendent of the Florida District, as a member of the Florida District Board, and as a member of the General Board of the United Pentecostal Church International. He also served as Chaplain of the Florida Senate under the administration of Governor Fuller Warren. Bro. Welch was honored by the Escambia County Commissioners as “being a role model exemplifying the finest values.” He also received a tribute from Congressman Earl Hutto that was included in the Congressional Record. He authored five pamphlets: Let Us Make Man, Delivering Up the Kingdom, The Right Hand of God, Water Baptism in Jesus’ Name, and Baptism of the Holy Ghost. The Pentecostal Publishing House combined the wealth of information from these publications into a best-selling book, Contending For The Faith. He also authored an autobiography, D. L. Welch: A Man Of War, and produced a recording entitled, The Gospel Pioneer & Friend, which contains many of his favorite songs, including, “Who Was He.”