SPRING HILL — Gerald Miller was not happy about the news he had to deliver to the congregation of St. Paul the Apostle Church last Sunday.
Miller, the church's lay administrator, informed members that their meeting place for the past eight years would no longer be available to them.
"I was depressed about it," Miller said. "We'd been meeting at United Church of Christ and had a fantastic relationship with them. They always bent over backward to accommodate us."
Miller had recently learned that the church on Mariner Boulevard, from which St. Paul's had been renting a fellowship hall, had grown to the point of needing the hall and the accompanying parking spaces for its own use on Sunday mornings and would not be renewing St. Paul's lease.
"They didn't want us to leave, but they can't accommodate us on Sunday morning any longer," Miller said. "I can totally understand that. They're a growing community."
As an alternative, the United Church of Christ offered the use of another building. But under the terms of that agreement, services initially would have to be held on Saturday evenings.
St. Paul's pastor, the Rev. Jim Marsh, who works full time in the medical field, would not be available to conduct services on Saturdays.
"In addition, we have many elderly parishioners who would rather not be driving at night, nor do we want them to," said Anne Marquis, a member of the church leadership.
The church board had only one week to decide if they would use the smaller facility. It was a dilemma. So leaders decided to publicize their plight and see whether they could quickly find a new meeting place.
"It should be pointed out that we have approximately 35 parish members and do not have a huge bank account," Marquis wrote in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times. "Ideally, we would love to find a space in the vicinity of $500 per month with kitchen facilities if possible available. We understand this is not a lot of money to offer, but we also feel we are a safe and reliable tenant, looking for long-term comfort in a nice space."
Meanwhile, Miller told the church congregation the news.
"They were devastated to start with," he said. "Then they said, 'Something will come up, or if we have to, we can revert to meeting in someone's home until we find a place.' So they were very sad to hear that we were going to have to find another place, but they were very upbeat about us being able to."
Miller said the church members' attitude was an encouragement to him.
"Without a doubt, this is the most prayerful, faithful group of people you could ever meet," he said of the congregation that formed in June 2000.
The members' faith was not misplaced. On Wednesday, Miller and Marquis secured a new meeting place.
"We drove around and found places that looked like they were vacant and not particularly busy, and one of them was a place on Fort Dade Avenue," Miller said.
They found out, through the Realtor who had sold Marquis and her husband, Dennis, their home in Spring Hill eight years ago, that the building, Hernando Senior Center No. 1, at 8187 Fort Dade Ave., west of Brooksville, was available.
With verbal approval from board members and the pastor, Miller agreed with the president of the association that holds the building to terms for a lease, which he hopes to sign soon, after the board meets.
"I was pleasantly surprised," Miller said. "We kept it within our budget. It has a full kitchen in it, and we are able to serve meals. We can actually hold bingo there. We got everything we could possibly want."
Miller said the church will have Sunday morning services there, board meetings and special activities like bingo and their annual Community Fun Day, as well as community outreach events that benefit the needy, such as their work with the Salvation Army this past Thanksgiving and Christmas.
"This will definitely be better because we have access to it on a regular basis," Miller said.
Marquis said getting the new facility is "wonderful news." The intent of St. Paul's is to grow, she said.
"With our own space, we would then be able to put out signage for the public to see," she said. "It is our intent to hold dinners open to the public as a means of fundraising and also to encourage growth and help our community as much as we can. We are a small church but one with big hearts."
Miller says his feelings have done an about-face since last week.
"Today," he said, "I could walk on cloud nine."