Special downtown church services emerge weekly

DOWNTOWN — Gospel music escapes from a small meeting room at the Hyatt Regency just a few steps away from the bustling activity of an adjacent downtown office building.

A pianist serving double duty as worship leader gives instructions to a dozen people in the makeshift sanctuary.

Lift your hands, he tells them. Clap. Sing along: "Lord, I worship you because of who you are."

All the while, a clock with big red numbers ticks off the seconds. It's noontime, and most are on their midday break from work, so the lunch hour must be strictly honored.

The service is part of a program called Market Street Inspirations, a ministry for professionals. Since January, members of Bethany Christian Discipleship Church in New Tampa have hosted this downtown worship service every Tuesday.

When Pastor Richard Lockett Jr. stands to deliver his message, he paces across the room and makes grand gestures with his hands. It's as if he's delivering the sermon to a sanctuary of 1,000, not about a dozen people scattered in a hotel conference room.

His message is tailored to workers, especially those who feel underutilized, unappreciated or who are still searching for that perfect career.

One recent sermon focused on dealing with frustration. Lockett suggests a mixture of patience and hopefulness. Each person, he says, possesses the potential for greatness, but they sometimes hinder their own success.

"You limit your potential," he says.

The audience consists mostly of Bethany members, including some who drive downtown solely for the service. Visitors, however, are starting to trickle in.

Thomas Hester and a co-worker attended after someone handed him a flier. Hester, who works for the city but also serves as an associate pastor at his own church, said he appreciated Lockett's targeted message.

"He speaks to things that folks are dealing with on a personal and professional level," Hester said.

The church provides a free lunch of sandwiches and chips and Lockett adheres to an hour time limit.

First Baptist Church of Tampa has a similar outreach program, the Business Bible Study Luncheon, every Thursday.

Chris Haight, the church's associate pastor for evangelism, sometimes centers discussion on a topic or current event. But usually the focus is on a specific book of the Bible, he said, "starting at chapter one and going all the way through to the end."

First Baptist has hosted the Bible study for several years, averaging five to 10 attendees a week. Some are downtown workers, some are homeless people who stick around after receiving lunch.

Similarly, Lockett wants Market Street Inspirations to appeal to a wider audience than the members of Bethany, including people who don't go to church at all on Sundays.

Michele Patterson works in Brandon but drives into Tampa to attend the Market Street Inspirations service every few weeks.

The service allows her to feel connected to her Bethany church family and maintain her spiritual focus throughout the workweek.

"You're so busy with stuff, and this service allows you to reconnect with God and the Word," she said. "It actually gives you a pause from the busyness."

Tia Mitchell can be reached at tmitchell@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3405.

.Fast facts

Lunchtime worship

•Market Street Inspirations is held every Tuesday from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. It will be held at the Hyatt Regency Tampa most months, but other locations may be added.

For more information, visit bcdctheplace.org or call toll-free 1-866-756-2538.

•First Baptist Church of Tampa's Business Bible Study Luncheon is held every Thursday from noon to 1 p.m. in the church's dining room, 302 W Kennedy Blvd.

For more information, visit fbctampa.org or call the church at (813) 251-2425.

Special downtown church services emerge weekly 04/07/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 7, 2011 5:30am]

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