BRANDON — Brian Brink, pastor of Port Tampa United Methodist Church in South Tampa, has lived in Brandon since 1976; his wife, Diana Brink, has lived in the Brandon/Seffner area her whole life.
Ten years ago, he was called to become the sole pastor of the church, after having received his calling to the ministry at a spiritual retreat in 2000. This is the first and only church he has pastored, and he expects to become a licensed minister when he graduates next year from Florida Southern College.
Since the church does not have a parsonage and the Brinks own their own home, they have continued to live in Brandon, where they have raised their children, Jason, 22, Jeremy, 20, and Jenna, 17.
Port Tampa United Methodist, begun in 1894, is a small, white, wooden church “that has stood in the same location doing the same mission it was built for — proclaiming the word of God,” said Brink.
To put things in perspective, the church is older than the one at historic Cracker Country on the Florida State Fairgrounds, said Diana Brink. That church was not built until the early 1900s.
In the initial years, Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Southern Methodists took turns using the Port Tampa United Methodist Church building. Former Methodist members included stevedores, dock workers and some of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.
Coal oil lamps were replaced by electric light bulbs in 1927, and in the 1960s, the church added a choir loft, new pews, extra Sunday school rooms and a fellowship hall.
The 50-member congregation recently celebrated the 120th anniversary of the church under a big oak planted in 1941 on the grounds. Rick Cornwell, who pastored the church from 1982-86, came and shared a message and meal with members and former members, said Diana Brink.
Gwen Smith, who has attended Port Tampa United Methodist since she was a child, said, “It’s such a grand time gathering together and remembering how far we came and how far we are still going. We are small, but mighty.”
“The best thing about being a pastor of a small local church is that you get to see all the kids and adults grow up and grow closer to Jesus,” said the current pastor, Brink. “You get very close because of the membership and attendance being so small.”
Church youths have transformed classrooms into a special hangout, the Port Tampa Players put on two shows a year, Sunshine Seniors get together monthly, and Bible studies and small groups encourage Christian growth.
Brink said, “This little church is still alive and thriving. It’s a joy to serve here.”
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