Thursday, December 14, 2017
News Roundup

Downtown's First United Methodist Church expands with second campus in Kenwood

ST. PETERSBURG

What better day than Easter to launch a new ministry, the Rev. Robin Hager asked.

"Easter is the pinnacle of our faith," said Hager, who will preside over the birth of a new, high-spirited, come-as-you-are, flip-flop welcoming congregation in Historic Kenwood on Easter morning.

"Jesus' resurrection is a symbol and a sign of the hope that we all have in him, so we thought there's no better way to start a new church than a day when we celebrate a new life in Christ," the Methodist minister said.

The Foundry — the name of new church — marks the re-emergence of a Methodist presence in a neighborhood known for its historic bungalows and commitment to the arts. For a brief stint, Methodists ministered to those with addictions at the Red Brick Church, an apt description for the building across from St. Petersburg High School on Fifth Avenue N. Before that, it had been the home of Albright United Methodist Church.

For now, Foundry's Sunday services will not be held in the conventional brick church with its tower, high ceilings and arches. Instead, worshippers will gather in St. Pete High's cafeteria, a setting more in sync with the contemporary vibe of the new ministry.

Travis Jerome Goff, 38, an artist, singer, songwriter and producer from Nashville, will bring his "very raspy, Bruce Springsteen-type voice" to the effort. Goff, the Foundry's recently hired worship leader, said people should expect a "different musical experience every time."

"We're very contemporary, edgy, not just in music, but in the true come-as-you-are appearance. I have a big Afro and muttonchops," said Goff, who plays the guitar, banjo, mandolin and "anything strings."

"The music will be loud, authentic, just real," he said. "To put a style on it would be limiting. We are just going to have fun with this."

Goff and his wife, Misty, who has "a beautiful voice," have a 5-year-old son, Mason, and are expecting another baby in July. They initially moved to Shore Acres, but are looking for a place in Kenwood.

The neighborhood's new church is an extension of historic First United Methodist Church, a prosperous congregation across from Williams Park that has acquired all but one parcel on its downtown block.

"Our church's desire was to be relevant to our community and to our neighbors," the Rev. David Miller said of the new Kenwood campus. "We have to be willing to be in the neighborhood where they live and not expect them to come to us."

A week before Easter, a core group from the Foundry joined their Historic Kenwood neighbors at an Easter egg hunt, the church contributing dozens of Easter baskets to the event.

Phil Hill Jr., 51, who grew up at Christ United Methodist — the other downtown Methodist church where Hager had been pastor until recently — is following the pastor to her new ministry.

"It just sounded appealing," he said, adding that his grandparents had a home in Kenwood so it's also like returning to his roots.

Historic Kenwood president John Seibert said several members of the association belong to First United Methodist, the new ministry's founding church, which has been reaching out to the neighborhood for more than a year.

"What is still up in the air from our perspective is what is going to be physically happening to the Red Brick Church," he said. "Will it be renovated, will it be torn down, and if it is torn down, will a new church be built on that site? If it is too expensive to renovate, is it possible that it might be sold and repurposed?"

Seibert added that the neighborhood wants to have further discussions about the church since it is considered historic.

That will happen, Hager said.

"We know that it's important to the neighborhood, so we want their input," she said.

On another matter, the Foundry's pastor doesn't know yet how the new church will participate in the annual St. Pete Pride celebration, one of the largest in Florida and an event supported by Historic Kenwood.

"We really are in the beginning stages. We haven't made those kinds of plans," Hager said.

"We are coming as neighbors and we want to do that well and that means to receive and welcome people from all walks of life," said Hager, 51, a former hairstylist who became a minister in 2002. "We understand that diversity is a beautiful gift and that the church should reflect the community in which it exists. That's my hope."

For now, the Foundry is focusing on Sunday worship, forming small groups of believers and, this fall, introducing a Celebrate Recovery program for people with addictions.

And Easter Sunday marks the official debut.

"It's going to have a lot of ups and downs, but I can't think of a better day to start than this day that the Lord started this completed work of salvation," Goff said.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.

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