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Wesley Chapel church offers relief for stressed-out Tampa Bay area

WESLEY CHAPEL

No praise band sang. No one preached a sermon. No one sought volunteers to bake cookies for the upcoming ministry fair.

Instead, those who walked through the doors of Atonement Lutheran Church on Wednesday night got a half hour of peace as Su Lindner took them through a guided meditation.

"You stand with your arms by your side, observing the sky above. You gently raise your forearms and hands, your palms facing away from you, and as you do, your body begins to float, and your feet lift off the floor."

The handful of people who attended the Night of Reflection closed their eyes. A man and a woman lay stretched across the row of chairs packed tightly together to make a pew. A woman wearing a ponytail sat in a chair up front near the candles with her yoga mat in hand and a bottle of water on the floor.

The meditation service was the church's response to a recent report in Forbes that ranked Tampa the nation's fourth most stressed-out city. The Tampa Bay area earned the ranking based on its high unemployment rate, long work hours, long commutes, limited access to health care, poor physical health and lack of exercise. (No. 1 was Las Vegas; Miami ranked sixth.)

"I was surprised," said Lindner, who is married to Pastor Scott Lindner. "It seems like a strange place for Tampa to be, but when you start looking at the economic problems and the jobs and foreclosures, it made more sense at that point."

The church membership has seen its share of stress, Scott Lindner said.

"Last year we lost our congregation president to the economy," he said. "He lost his job and had to move to Nebraska."

The Lindners decided to offer the service as a gift for the community to unwind. Except for a quote from Jesus — "my yoke is easy and my burden is light" — the program deliberately avoided appearing churchlike.

"The word 'prayer' may turn people off, especially those who are unchurched," Su Lindner said. This event "has a secular feel to it. My vision for this was for people to come in and literally take their shoes off."

Tea lights surrounded the sanctuary. Up front, pillows were stacked near the altar. Against one wall sat baby clothes, diapers and other items to be donated to migrant moms-to-be.

The only sounds were Scott Lindner's keyboard and Su Lindner's voice.

"A wave of exhilaration flows through you as you realize that you have the freedom to fly anywhere you choose. As you raise your hands, you float higher. When you lower them, you gently descend."

The pony-tailed woman sitting up front wiped away a few tears as Lindner finished her reading by telling everyone they were alert and refreshed.

"I have a 90-year-old father living with me and my husband for the past 6 1/2 years," said the woman, whose name is Salli Conover of Wesley Chapel. "My husband and I also lost our jobs in the same week."

Conover, 61, who had worked in sales for a greeting card company, said she and her husband have since found other work.

Still, she said the program helped her.

"It's a positive way to take time out of your day."

Fast facts

Join the meditation

Night of Reflection services will be at 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Nov. 10 at Atonement Lutheran Church on State Road 54 between Saddlebrook Resort and Boyette Road. Child care is available if requested in advance. Call Su Lindner, (813) 270-7606.

Wesley Chapel church offers relief for stressed-out Tampa Bay area 10/08/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 8, 2010 9:14pm]
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