For Jessica Alley, Hyde Park United Methodist Church is more than a Sunday pit stop.
Alley, 40, met and married her husband there. In May, the couple will see their second child baptized in the sanctuary.
The first time Alley visited the church in 2002, she felt a connection. Today, she serves as a lay leader within the 2,000-member congregation. She actively participates in children's and adult ministries.
On Sunday, Alley and her family will attend the church's 115th anniversary celebration, which includes a reception following morning services.
"It's wonderful to be part of a church that has such history and continues to make such an impact," Alley said. "The people here really walk the walk. Everyone is dedicated to the church mission statement, to make God's love real."
The story of Hyde Park United Methodist Church, one of Tampa's oldest and largest congregations, began in a two-room schoolhouse.
In 1899, Methodists living in what is now South Tampa traveled east of the Hillsborough River to attend church. Because getting there meant crossing an old drawbridge by horse-and-buggy, a few families decided to gather closer to home, at a school at the corner of Magnolia and Platt Street. About 30 people attended the first meeting.
Hyde Park United Methodist's current sanctuary was built in 1907 and since remodeled.
The church now has about 100 ministries, including community outreach efforts, religious education and a campus preschool. To serve a diverse population, they offer traditional and contemporary services.
"It's really inspiring to look back, see the roots of our congregation and realize how many people's lives have been touched by this church," said Martha Chamberlain, communications director. "So many members went into ministry. Two bishops came out of the church."
Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey, a former member, will speak at Sunday's services. McCleskey, now retired, said Hyde Park United Methodist shaped his theology, giving him an open mind and an open heart.
Chamberlain said the Rev. James Harnish, now in his 22nd year of leadership at the church, will speak Sunday about the congregation's past, present and future.
"When people come here, there's a certain spirit alive in this congregation," Chamberlain said. "Wherever you are in your spiritual journey, our doors are open."
"Our church is strong because we welcome everyone," she said. "I know when I first visited I felt a sense of belonging right away."
Hyde Park United Methodist Church, 500 W Platt. St., invites all to celebrate 115 years. Services are at 9:30 and 11 a.m. Sunday. A reception will follow. For more information, visit hydeparkumc.org.