LUTZ — In the Bible, Bethany was a village in Jerusalem where Mary, Martha and Lazarus invited Jesus into their home with warm hospitality.
That village has loaned its name to a new retreat in Lutz where people can seek reflection and renewal, or take a spiritual journey seeking God's guidance in a place where the world is temporarily shut out.
Situated on the calm waters of Lake Mary, the Bethany Center provides meeting space, overnight accommodations and gourmet meals sprinkled with simple hospitality in a spiritual atmosphere year-round.
The facility, which is owned by the Diocese of St. Petersburg, is available for both day meetings and group overnight retreats.
"We tailor the usage to the programs," said John Lipscomb, director of the center. "We can handle groups as small as 10 and as large as 300 in our magnificent facility."
Built two years ago, it became fully operational in January. With no recreational activities available, except for a long, leisurely walk around the lake, it is a "retreat center," Lipscomb said.
The center also accommodates up to 72 young people and 12 chaperones. There are bunk houses, 53 singles and 106 doubles in the cottages that surround the lake. In each cottage there is a central meeting room.
Lipscomb said the center has a wealth of people to help facilitate the meetings or retreats.
"We can connect the right people to the right ministry," he said.
The dining room is bright and airy, and the food is wonderful, Lipscomb said. "We have one of the best food services available," he said.
The center has basic rates, but tries to work with individual groups in setting the prices for an event or a retreat, Lipscomb said.
"This is a ministry," he said, "not a business."
For a group of 25, for instance, it would cost about $175 per person for a two-night stay and five meals, said events coordinator Jennifer Fowler. But she noted that several factors, including whether the group is a nonprofit, are considered in negotiating the rates.
Volunteers are welcome to help in several areas, including the bookstore, the dining room and maintenance, and they serve as greeters. Such volunteers assist the ministry, the center's brochure says, by becoming the welcoming presence of Christ to all who come to the center.