The Portico offers 'big reveal' in April




After three years of preparation, The Portico opened the doors to its renovated sanctuary and new coffee shop in April, as it strives to fulfill its mission of becoming a gathering place for the city of Tampa.

With its focus on “conversation, connection and community change,” the downtown campus of Hyde Park United Methodist Church drew almost 200 people to its “big reveal” of the sanctuary and Sunday evening service April 2, while The Portico Café opened its doors a week later, with employees coming out of situations such as prison and addiction.

Hyde Park UMC Senior Pastor Magrey deVega calls on those attending the April 2 service at The Portico to reflect God "not just in words and speech, but in truth and action." Nearly 200 people were present.

During the service, Hyde Park UMC Senior Pastor Magrey deVega called on congregation members to reflect God “not just in words and speech, but in truth and action.

“I’ve always thought of The Portico as being not just a geographical frontier of where the church needs to go, but sort of a spiritual frontier, reaching out to people who are spiritually seeking,” said Rev. deVega.

The groundwork for The Portico began in 2013, with the aim of presenting the campus as “a gift to the city,” said Rev. Justin LaRosa, pastor of the downtown campus.

Those who attend services at The Portico range from residents of nearby condo towers to residents of an apartment complex for senior citizens to the homeless.

“It embodies what we want the service to be, with a diverse body of people,” LaRosa said.

Along with traditional worship elements, such as communion and contemporary Christian music, as well as hymns, each service also includes a few minutes for congregation members to talk about a discussion question tied to the sermon and several minutes of silent meditation. The Portico’s community statement and benediction are read each week by different members of the congregation.

“The participatory nature of it encourages spontaneity in the sense of community involvement. There’s an authenticity,” deVega said.   

The genesis of The Portico’s worship service came from small groups that were meeting at the downtown campus. Originally, there were no plans to hold a worship service there. “The people gathering felt the draw and desire to do this,” LaRosa offered. “They wanted a different type of worship service that was contemplative and service oriented.”

A new beginning

The Portico took over the site of First United Methodist Church of Tampa at 1001 N. Florida Ave., which had been the oldest Methodist church in the city. It closed its doors in 2011 after a vote by the Florida Conference. The Conference transferred the campus to Hyde Park UMC, located a little more than a mile away.

The campus has undergone a $2 million renovation of the sanctuary and administration building, including construction of the coffee shop.

Portico member David Hendry, who was married in the First United Methodist chapel in 2008, said he was sad to see First UMC close its doors, but “glad to see the church come back to life. I like that there has been this revival.”

Member Jayne Cabigas, says she is drawn to The Portico’s “diversity—economically, racially, theologically. You can just be who you are. The people who are here are a little more open, progressive and accepting.”

The campus hosts regular lunchtime meditation sessions, small groups and yoga and has a monthly porch party. “One of the things I really love here is that we are really getting to know each other,” Cabigas said.

The Portico Café not only serves light food fare and coffee, it partners with the community to address social justice issues. Some of its employees are hired as they transition out of local nonprofit agencies representing drug abuse or those who have been incarcerated.

The Portico Cafe

Portico members and the community also are being drawn together with the opening of The Portico Café, which serves light fare and coffee.

The coffee shop serves the role of partnering with the community to address social justice issues, deVega said. Some of the employees are hired as they transition out of local nonprofit agencies such as the Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office (DACCO), which treats those with substance use issues, and Abe Brown Ministries, which assists those who have been incarcerated.

A portion of each purchase aids individuals coming out of those kinds of nonprofit programs, as well as The Portico’s homeless initiatives—which includes providing transition housing for those taking part in Open Arms, Hyde Park’s homeless ministry. Open Arms, located on the main campus, provides those who are homeless with a hot breakfast Sunday mornings, as well as clothing, haircuts and other services.

One of those employed at the Portico Café is 49-year-old Reginald Battle. The St. Petersburg native has been in prison five times. With the assistance of a career training program at Abe Brown Ministries, Battle says he sharpened his job skills, helping him land a job working as a café barista.

Battle, who loves working in the kitchen, developed culinary skills while studying at what is now known as Pinellas Technical College in St. Petersburg. “This is really one of my dreams, to become a chef.”

At the café, “I like the environment and the people. We work together back there as a team,” he said.

Battle, who has six children and seven grandchildren, says he wants to show them “never lay down. Just keep on fighting.”

--Susan Ladika is a freelance writer based in Tampa



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