Church History

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A 115-year-old Tradition of Faithful


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What began as a Sunday school meeting in a schoolhouse at Platt Street and Magnolia became a long line of faithful Christians committed to living out the words of Christ.

United Methodist Church History

John Wesley (1703-1791) and his brother Charles (1707-1788) mark the origin of the Methodist Church. As their movement grew in England, it became apparent that Methodism also was successfully spreading to America as a lay movement. Because of that, Wesley sent leaders including Francis Asbury to help strengthen Methodism in the colonies. Asbury become the single most important figure in shaping American Methodism. The church was founded as The Methodist Episcopal Church in 1784.

By the 1800’s, the denomination grew through the introduction of revivals and camp meetings. This new style of Christian faith and discipline was very agreeable to the Methodists, United Brethren and Evangelicals. In addition, the Sunday School movement and the establishment of secondary schools and colleges became prevalent. The United Methodist Church represents the merging of three streams of tradition: Methodism, the Church of the United Brethen and The Evangelical Association. The union was created in 1968. At Hyde Park, we worship in the liturgical tradition of the Methodist-Anglican branch of the Protestant Reformation.

Hyde Park United Methodist and Tampa History

On the threshold of the 20th Century, many children grew up along the sandy streets south of Grand Central (now Kennedy Boulevard) and along the streetcar line that ran along South Boulevard, Bayshore Boulevard and out to Ballast Point. Methodist families went to First United Methodist Church on the east side of the Hillsborough River, when they could travel, by horse and buggy, across a rather undependable drawbridge. One Sunday afternoon three families met together to start a Sunday School for neighborhood children. On March 12, 1899, 30 people gathered for the first meeting in a two-room schoolhouse on the corner of Magnolia and Platt Streets where the Fire Station now stands. The congregation was officially organized in 1900 with 29 charter members. Several of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are active members of our congregation today. The newly renovated church sanctuary was originally constructed in 1907 with a “half-round” worship space and two story classrooms.

In 1953, the Sanctuary was totally remodeled so that the chancel and choir loft were located on the south end away from Platt Street in the area that had been classrooms. Straight wooden pews were added to the new and enlarged Sanctuary space. The entrance and narthex were up a flight of steps on Platt Street. The original Education Building was constructed in 1922, with a fellowship hall on the ground floor and classrooms on the upper floors. The Fellowship Hall and Chapel were built in 1954. The Chapel was dedicated to the memory of Dr. Laurie Ray, who led the congregation in the building program of 1953-54. The Fellowship Hall was named in honor of former pastor J. Lloyd Knox when he was elected to the Episcopacy in 1984. Major renovations were done in the 1970s, and then, as part of the Forward in Faith campaign, the building was demolished in March 1999 to make way for the expansion of the Sanctuary and creation of the new Courtyard.

Hyde Park's History

Millennial Renovation and Expansion

In 1993-94, the 21st Century Task Force led the congregation in defining God’s mission and vision for our future. Later in 1994, the Facilities Task Force began work in defining our building needs in relation to our mission and vision. A master plan provided for facilities to help our congregation to effectively fulfill its mission in the 21st century. Construction work began in 1997. In 1999, we consecrated the new Wesley Center, Activities Center and Ministry Offices, and removed the old education building.  The renovated Sanctuary was dedicated August 9-10, 2003, attracting more than 1,500 worshipers. In sum:

  • The Sanctuary was renovated and enlarged to seat 660 worshipers. As part of the renovation, the Chancel was relocated to the Platt Street end of the building, providing a larger, more flexible Chancel area. A balcony was added along with a large Narthex (lobby) and Courtyard, the sound and video systems were greatly improved, and the pipe organ was relocated and expanded.
  • The Wesley Center contains 26 classrooms and houses Children’s Ministries, a nursery, our Small Blessings preschool.
  • The multi-purpose Activities Center encompasses 6,000 square feet of space for fellowship and recreation. Ministry Offices are adjoining.
  • J. Lloyd Knox Hall, originally built in 1954, was renovated to include new adult meeting rooms, music rehearsal rooms, a media center and the Aldersgate Corner Bookstore and Coffee Shop. The adjoining Laurie Ray Chapel was reoriented and enlarged with the Chancel now on the Platt Street end of the building.

The new and renovated facilities cost approximately $11 million and serve as the hub for worship, education, caring, and ministries of witness and service in support of the church’s mission of Making God’s Love Real.

In May 2003, The Rev. Dr. James A. Harnish, who began his ministry here in 1992, received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary and is now in the 16th year of his ministry (2008), having served Hyde Park United Methodist Church longer than any other minister in the church’s history.

New Imperatives: Find Your Path, Cross the River, Claim the Future

In 2004, the Acts 2 Task Force was organized to identify the actions the church should take to continue to Make God’s Love Real in the context of the community we will serve in the 21st century. From that process, members identified and embraced three “Acts 2 Imperatives:”

  • Find Your Path–encouraging each to take the next steps in their faith journeys
  • Cross the River–intentionally focusing on sending members out in ministry in our community, especially downtown
  • Claim the Future –planning proactively to ensure that facilities help us expand God’s kingdom.

On April 15, 2007, the church dedicated and opened the Magnolia Building which will serve the Youth Ministry and various church and community meetings. The two-story, 9,000 square foot facility is located just south of the main campus, and was once the site of a neighborhood tavern and laundromat. The opening marked the fulfillment of dreams dating back decades.

Through 2007 and 2008, our congregation focused on identifying an intentional framework for discipleship, which resulted in what we call the Discipleship Pathway.   Our members embraced the structure and practices of the Pathway, and in 2012, that framework was published as “A Disciple’s Path” by the Rev. Jim Harnish and the Rev. Justin LaRosa. “A Disciple’s Path” has been used by hundreds of congregations nationwide.

In September 2011, Hyde Park’s newest worship service, informal and interactive, was launched in the Magnolia Building, inviting a modern contemporary worshiping congregation to “come as you are” to informal worship.

In late 2012, members voted to accept from the Florida Conference downtown property ( formerly First United Methodist Church) for use in expanding Methodist ministry downtown, affirming the vision and present opportunity to “Cross the River,” to minister to and with new downtown residents, as envisioned in 2004. In 2013, a Downtown Launch Team began to work and pray together to engage a new community and discern God’s call on this congregation for downtown.

Jim Harnish Retires; Interim Senior Pastor Appointed

In January 2014, the Rev. Dr. James A. Harnish announced his retirement as Hyde Park’s longest-serving senior pastor, 1992-2014.  On Jim’s last Sunday at Hyde Park, June 8, 2014, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn declared it “The Rev. Dr. James A. Harnish Day” in Tampa in honor of his contributions to the community.Jim Harnish

The church’s Activities Center, the hub of campus ministry activities, was renamed the “Harnish Activities Center” in honor of the 22-year ministry of Jim and Marsha Harnish at Hyde Park.  Hyde Park’s Staff-Parish Relations Committee and Duke Divinity School have established the James A. Harnish Scholarship for seminary students in his honor. Jim’s ministry impact extends far beyond Hyde Park, through his connectional leadership, speaking and numerous books, Bible studies and articles in use by congregations nationwide.

Bishop Kenneth Carter appointed the Rev. Roger Scholtz as Interim Senior Pastor, effective Sept. 1, 2014. The appointment will be in effect until June 30, 2015, when a new Senior Pastor will be appointed.