Temple Terrace UMC had its first meeting in 1957 in the Temple Terrace Civic Center. The service was led by Rev. Edwin S. Davis, and the church continued to meet at this same location for two years as it grew. Obviously, many things have changed since our humble beginnings, but one thing has remained -- a love of our community and a passion to share the gospel of Christ in the community and in the world around us!
Learn more about the history of Temple Terrace UMC by reading the following account. (This story is dedicated to the memory and based on the work of Bill Wofford, a founding member and an original church historian.)
It's 1956. The man is looking for something. He’s driving his automobile down Temple Terrace Highway. And he’s looking to the left. He’s looking to the right.
And then—imagine this—he sees it. He pulls over onto the grassy side of what will someday become Busch Boulevard. He opens his car door and gets out, staring. Now you see him walking away from his car, into an empty field, into a field of promise. Let’s follow him.
A Ten-Acre Vision
The man was Dr. Allen—Dr. R. L. Allen, the District Superintendent of the Tampa District of the Methodist church. And what Dr. Allen found that day was a place to plant Temple Terrace Methodist Church—on a 10-acre site, on the north side of what would become Busch Boulevard. But first, of course, there were a couple of obstacles to overcome. First of all, the 10 acres that Dr. Allen had picked out was owned by a St. Petersburg couple named the Weavers. And Melton and Olive Weaver were not really interested in selling that 10 acres. But somebody—whether Dr. Allen or someone else—talked the Weavers into it, and the Weavers finally agreed to let the land go "since it would be used for a church." Beyond getting Weavers’ approval, there were other obstacles, primarily the size of the lot and its price—$27,000. Some people felt that the church would never need 10 acres and could therefore sell half of it. A suggestion was that a cemetery be built on five acres with plots sold to individuals.
Smudge Pots and Moulin Rouge
On March 1, 1957, Dr. Allen appointed a man to pastor the new church, Rev. Edwin S. Davis. Ed Davis wasted no time in getting started. Just four days later, Rev. Davis convened a meeting in the home of Mr. and Mrs. James Connel by saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, I have asked you to meet here tonight to discuss plans for organizing a Methodist Church in Temple Terrace." Counting the Reverend and his wife, there were just ten people in the room that night to hear Ed Davis speak those words. But the first service was held only five days later, on March 10, in the Temple Terrace Civic Center, and the new Methodist church continued to meet there for more than two years. It was a memorable time. The Catholic Church held early mass in the Civic Center before the Methodists. Burning smudge pots provided the building’s only source of heat. The Catholics and Methodists shared the responsibilities of lighting and putting out the smudge pots. The building was shared not only with the Catholics, but with Saturday night partiers who sometimes left the building in disarray or still decorated for their events. One Sunday morning, golfers received a shock when they reached the ninth hole and heard church music coming from beneath an awning that read “Moulin Rouge”—the theme of the party from the night before.
Sunday School classes began meeting in homes that Autumn. Enrollment grew, and on Oct. 27, 1957, classes began to meet in the old school. Church programs required communication, but there was no church office. Letters and bulletins were typed and printed in an office in the Civic Center. Obviously, these pioneers were ready to do whatever it took to meet and worship together.
Umbrellas and Spades
More than two years after finding his empty field, Dr. R. L. Allen returned to it, in the rain, on Jan. 25, 1959. All around him, excited church members stood under umbrellas as Dr. Allen and other church officials broke ground for the buildings that would some day house Temple Terrace Methodist Church. How do you think it felt when the spade in Dr. Allen’s hand bit into the earth of his empty field?
Less than six months later, the Fellowship Hall was completed, and the congregation moved from the Civic Center to conduct the first service in the building. It was June 14, 1959. When they sang, they were accompanied by a borrowed piano. The Fellowship Hall was their Sanctuary. It was their everything. But it was not the lap of luxury. In hot weather, tall windows provided the only "air conditioning." In cold weather, heat was provided by six gas smudge pots. And while the smudge pots were lighted early to let the heat penetrate the room, worshipers still congregated near the smudge pots on chilly days. With only one building, all parts of it were utilized. During Sunday School, classes occupied every corner. And during worship, the adjoining library did double duty as the nursery. While Rev. Ed Davis preached, the children in the nursery experimented with novel ways to make noise against the adjacent wall.
Hammering at Night
And the church grew. The men of the church constructed a nursery building, with most of the work done late at night, disturbing the church’s neighbors but bringing the men closer together. By the end of December, 1960, the church had grown from 52 to 329 members, 159 preparatory members, with 255 enrolled in Sunday school. The first of three "educational wings" was completed in October of 1962, and a second service was added at 8:45 a.m. (Pastor Ed Davis had enjoyed conducting an early service at a previous church and was anxious to try it at Temple Terrace as well.) All in all, it was a time of exciting inconvenience and hubbub and change. The entire church was anxious to claim new times and new territory for Christ.
A Chapter Ends
In 1963, Ed Davis received life-altering news from the Bishop: Ed could not serve at the Temple Terrace church longer than 1963. Ed decided to enter the Chaplaincy of the U.S. Air Force. The Bishop assigned Rev. Barbour Flewellyn to the church, and the initial chapter of the church came to a close.
A Story of Hard Work and Change
Our existing Sanctuary seems such an immutable aspect of our church, it’s interesting to realize that Ed Davis never got to preach in the current Sanctuary during his time as pastor here. In fact, Ed’s replacement, Barbour Flewellyn, never preached in the current Sanctuary as pastor either. It was not until 1970, 13 years after the church was founded, that the building we know as our Sanctuary was completed. During those 13 years the Fellowship Hall was the Sanctuary, and underwent remodeling to make it more suitable for that purpose. The original tall windows were mostly sealed up to reduce traffic noise and "so we couldn’t watch the neighbors put out the garbage and hang out the wash during the pastoral prayer," as TTUMC’s third pastor, Trall Heitzenrater, wrote.
Remembering the hard work and can-do spirit involved in some of the remodelling, Rev. Heitzenrater wrote, "...Palm Sunday we announced the pews would be torn apart on Monday and rebuilt for Easter and we would need man power to do it...." As volunteers put in hundreds of man and woman hours of work, including working all night Saturday night, the carpet was laid, the pews were shortened and padded, the windows were covered. In just a week, all the work was finished to renovate the Fellowship Hall and make it more welcoming for Easter worship.
What caused the early church members to be so willing to work, so willing to put up with inconvenience? Writing on the occasion of TTUMC’s 25th anniversary, Ed Davis speculated, "Perhaps willingness to work and serve is characteristic of those who join new churches. In a sense they know what they are getting in to. There is no comfortable place to hide their talents. But for whatever reasons, it should be recorded that those who were this church during those early years were among the most capable, dedicated, and willing people who ever served in Christ’s kingdom."
The Rest of the Story
To really tell the rest of the story—from that day in 1970 when the church moved to the new Sanctuary—until today would take hundreds of pages.
And most of it would be about service and ministry and people, not buildings. We’d have to tell in detail about the 3800 members over the years, the organ recitals, the bell choirs, the nativity scenes, the community Christmas concerts, the Stephen Ministry, the SHARE food program, the relationship with our sister church in Cuba, the Appalachian Service Project, the innovative youth worship services, the founding of the Journey worship service, the Noah’s Ark preschool, the work of United Methodist Women circles, the small groups, the Bible studies, the Sunday School classes, the choir concerts and Christmas dramas, the kids’ programs, the technicians and actors and singers and musicians, the volunteers who usher and greet and serve on Sundays, the Celebrate Recovery ministry, the Youth mission trips, the Angel Tree event, the innovative worship and messages, the Wonder Walks, the Senior Home Improvement Ministry, the prayer ministry, the Habitat for Humanity involvement, the older adult ministry—and so much more.
Some of these ministries have naturally ended; many continue. But the real point of "the rest of the story" is not that it is something to be told and put on a shelf and forgotten, but that it’s something to be lived. By us. Right now. They took a risk. They made a difference. They followed a ten acre vision into an empty field and claimed new times and new territories for Jesus.