Pastors Svend and Katy Wilbekin share a passion for teaching.
The husband and wife team, who lead Lifesong Church in New Tampa, spent more than 20 years reaching youth at the Rock Church of Gainesville.
Svend, who also coached basketball at Santa Fe College, worked as a teen and college pastor. Katy taught at the Rock's private school. In a town famous for party life, the couple raised and home-schooled their three boys.
Scottie and Mitchell Wilbekin, now 26 and 24, play professional basketball overseas. The Wilbekin's youngest son, Andrew, 22, attends Husson University.
In 2016, the Wilbekins arrived in Tampa as empty nesters. Under the direction of the Rock, they opened Lifesong on property previously owned by Temple Ohev Shalom. The Wilbekin's redesigned the interior, worked on landscaping and put up a sign.
Business cards featuring a photo of Svend, who is black, and Katy, who is white, circulated the neighborhood.
"If you look at our picture, it's probably easy to assume our church is going to be diverse," Svend Wilbekin said. "That's important to us."
Lifesong held its first service Nov. 5, 2016. The church quickly attracted families living nearby. The congregation remains modest. About 100 people attended Easter Sunday programs.
Members, who volunteer as tech managers and worship singers, love each other like family, Katy Wilbekin said. "When church is over on Sundays, no one leaves right away."
In September, Lifesong will open its own preschool, Lifesong Kids. Katy Wilbekin, whose educational experience spans two decades, will act as director. The school will begin enrolling children from infancy up to 24 months in late July.
"We want to serve families in the area by providing a safe and loving Christian environment," Wilbekin said.
Everything from small class sizes to a turf playground will reflect the Wilbekin commitment to education excellence, she said.
Space will be limited but Lifesong plans to expand the school one age level per year.
"We wouldn't be opening this school if Katy wasn't leading it," Svend Wilbekin said. "I trust her vision. I know it will be the very best."
Lifesong Kids is currently accepting applications for teacher positions. Applicants should supply a resume and references. Assistants are also needed.
Lifesong Church meets 10 a.m. Sundays at 6460 Tampa Palms Blvd. For more information or to set up a tour, visit www.lifesongtampa.org.
Contact Sarah Whitman at email@example.com.