Grace Episcopal Church of Tampa Palms recently dedicated and consecrated its new sanctuary building.
A special prayer was written for the occasion by the head of the Episcopal Church, The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate, who preached at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle last May.
In a message to Grace, Bishop Curry thanked God for, “the Love that connects us all and fills our lives with hope and meaning” and asked God, to, “be present in the ministry within these walls and beyond.”
The ceremony, held Jan. 12, was the realization of a dream that has been in place since nearly the inception of the church itself in 1992.
“It is now a place where Tampa Palms and all of New Tampa can have weddings and funerals,” says Warren Sponsler, a member of the church who serves as its senior warden, which is essentially the leader of the people of the congregation. “It is the church rededicating itself to Tampa Palms and the New Tampa community.”
The church’s original master plan called for a sanctuary to be built on the corner of Tampa Palms Blvd. and Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. But, in 2013, Hillsborough County annexed that land to widen BBD, paying nearly $4.5 million for the property.
With that land gone, the church’s leadership wasn’t sure if there was still enough space to build a separate sanctuary, but they started working on a new master plan, eventually breaking ground in June of 2017.
Church members worshipped for the first time in their new building the Sunday before Christmas a few weeks ago.
Rev. Benjamin Twinamaani, who has led the church since 2005, says the church community hopes to welcome people of all faiths to host their events at Grace Church.
“It’s time to honor our commitments and be the church of the community here in Tampa Palms,” he says.
“Our parish is truly diverse,” he explains. “We both gather and anchor the community, whether they’re Hindu, Muslim, or atheists. We have room for all.”
The design of the building is traditional, with wooden pews, stained glass windows and even a bell tower, but it also has modern and comfortable touches, such as cushions on the pews, space for the church’s youth band to play, and screens on the walls.
Bishop Dabney T. Smith, who oversees the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida, calls its design “purposeful.”
“The shape of the construction and the expansion is a very traditional shape that will be accepting of contemporary worship,” he said. “It’s a good combination —that tradition is a mooring in people’s lives, and contemporary means dealing with the real issues of today.”
Three stained glass windows have been installed so far, with each window sponsored by members of the congregation as part of Grace’s capital campaign, and an additional nine windows will be installed as they are completed.
“I hope the larger community will take the opportunity to check it out,” Bishop Smith says.
The beautiful, new sanctuary also includes an organ which was imported from the Netherlands.
“One of the features is a bell carillon, which can be played by the organ inside the church,” says Sponsler. “It isn’t just bells ringing. It’s designed so we can have a wedding outside and could have something customized playing on the bells during the ceremony.”
The new sanctuary is 3,600 square feet and seats about 300 people. This is comparable to the 290 people that fit in the previous space, but now both spaces are available to use for different purposes.
A Community Hall For Everyone
The new building allows the space that was previously used as a sanctuary to be converted to a community room that can now be used for events such as candidate forms, community meetings, bar and bat mitzvahs, anniversary parties, birthday parties and more.
The church also can now host a wedding in the new sanctuary and then a reception in the Canterbury Hall, as they call it.
Fees for community groups to use the church will be “very nominal,” says Karen Frashier, a member of the church (and New Tampa Rotary Club past president) who is helping with marketing the new space.
As the church’s original sanctuary, Canterbury Hall has windows overlooking the conservation area behind the church, modern lighting and a brand new commercial kitchen with catering available.
Father Twinamaani explains, “It is the fulfillment of a dream from the inception of the congregation of Grace Church to have a larger space. They made the decision to make a difference not only in their church community, but in the surrounding community as well.”
So far, Father Twinamaani says people are definitely showing an interest in both the community center and the church.
“People like new things,” he says. “We have more people visiting every week, and we have people who have been in the pews for years who are now asking what they can do to serve. The new sanctuary gives a sense of permanence that we are here to stay.”
Grace Episcopal Church, located at 15102 Amberly Dr. in Tampa Palms, holds services each Sunday at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Visitors are always welcome. For more information about hosting an event at the church’s Canterbury Hall or new sanctuary, visit GraceChurchTampaPalms.org or call (813) 971-8484.