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Bible study finds a cool remove

Follow the sidewalk around a small lake that reflects tall trees with white bark, surrounded by lavish landscaping with many-colored blooms.

Behind the lake is a lodge with 48 rooms for guests who come to the Moody Keswick Bible Conference Center for study programs.

Guests can fish in the larger Lake Kersey, go shelling at the beach, swim in a heated pool, walk on the nearby Pinellas Trail, play shuffleboard or tennis, make crafts, browse in a bookstore, attend concerts or just relax.

The center, begun in 1962 and now affiliated with the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, is as much a retreat as a study site. All meals are served in a dining room on the grounds at 5700 100th Way. Transportation to shopping areas and attractions is available. Special sessions are offered on topics like health care, financial planning and other concerns.

The emphasis, however, is the Bible.

Between January and April, about 50,000 people from throughout the world attend a series of Bible conferences offered on the 37-acre campus, said Philip R. Fogle, director of the center. Each week has different speakers and musical performers; guests may attend one week or all 13.

Chapel services are offered morning and evening each weekday.

"It is a retreat with a spiritual growth opportunity," Fogle said. "Those who come are taking a vacation with a purpose. It is great for empty-nesters and seniors to have a place like this where they can feel secure."

Speakers stay on campus, allowing for interaction with guests, mostly senior citizens, Fogle said.

"We stress meeting new people and developing bonds of friendship," Fogle said. "We try to get people to open up and ask questions. Discussions develop at the shuffleboard court, at the pool or walking from one place to another."

Even in the dining room, which seats 150 at round tables for 10, service is designed to reduce any interruption in conversation. A large Lazy Susan in the middle of each table enables diners to serve themselves; they need not ask for items to be passed.

Fogle, who is retired after 26 years in the Army, has been director of Moody Keswick since June 1991. The center is Protestant and non-denominational.

"We are not a church," Fogle said. "Our mission here is to support the local churches. Our center is to help people who know Christ find a deeper understanding of the kind of life he wanted us to lead."

Sunday services are offered, however, for visitors from out of state and for local residents who don't have activities in their own churches.

The center displays newspaper stories about the 108-year-old Moody Bible Institute, a scale model of Herod's temple (the last temple built in Jerusalem by Jews) and a 100-year-old Steinway grand piano that Fogle said would cost $43,000 to replace.

Many volunteers _ local residents and visitors from elsewhere who are familiar with Moody Keswick _ donate time in various ways at the center, working in the kitchen, at the lodge desk, in the offices and in the bookstore and helping with maintenance and housekeeping chores, Fogle said.

"These people aren't here for personal gain," he said. "They are here to serve the Lord in a very personal way. Last year the dollar value at minimum wage for volunteer hours was approximately $50,000."

The conference staff has only six full-time paid employees. Several other staffers are part time, Fogle said, working mainly during the 13 weeks of Bible conference.

During the rest of the year, other conferences are offered, primarily for local residents. They include a women's seminar, a men's conference and a parenting seminar. A four-week course is offered for students of Moody Graduate School, drawing students of all ages from throughout the world, Fogle said.

The buildings, including a chapel-auditorium that seats 550, are rented out to other groups for conferences and retreats, church picnics, banquets, weddings, receptions and even business seminars.

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