WESTCHASE — What sprouted in 2005 with a few people gathering in the living room of a home to study passages in the Bible has since blossomed into a 350-member congregation worshipping in a new, 12,900-square-foot church.
Members of the Westtown Church, part of the Presbyterian Church of America, began worshipping in their new facility at 13521 Race Track Road in June after eight years of meeting in homes, elementary and middle schools and the YMCA.
It’s been a journey of dedication and faith and it’s a testament to the church parishioners’ will and drive that has brought a feeling of accomplishment and pride, members say.
“I think back and we had eight people in our living room,” said Westtown Pastor Frank Taylor. “Then that grew to about 15 people and any more in your living room just felt ridiculous.”
Sitting next to the 2,000-square-foot foyer of the $3.2 million church, Taylor, 39, said the membership has grown to about 350 members and about 450 people showed up for the opening day.
“We’d invite people to our group meetings and relationships grew,” Taylor said. “We’d get the word out through softball and soccer teams and they’d come and tell others. We’re filling a need in this area of friendship, community and hope during trying times.”
Taylor, who holds a master’s in divinity and a master’s in counseling from the Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, said he’s pleased in the support the church has received, not only from members, but from the community in general. At a “Big Gift Banquet” held in June 2010 when the church met at the Westchase YMCA, members raised $10,000 and a single, $20,000 check donation.
That money helped finance one of the only obstacles to building the church: completing a $350,000 bridge over the adjacent Double Branch Creek which runs through the 35 acres of church property. It was part of about $800,000 in infrastructure needed for the site.
Since opening, Westtown has formed a session of Elders which guides the church’s day-to-day activities and programs. Jim Pratt, the current Ruling Elder, has been attending Westtown functions since its beginnings. A member for five years, he said the new church offers the area another way to receive the world of the Lord. He hopes to see the church continue to grow in the Westchase area.
“I’ve attended with my wife first at the elementary school cafeteria, then the middle school’s cafeteria and now we’re excited about being in the new building,” he said. “But wherever the location was where we met, the message has always been consistent. It’s a consistent message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That message resonated with us the first Sunday.”
As he stood in the 390-seat sanctuary, surrounded by woods, Taylor pointed out new church band instruments. Taylor is a pianist and said music is integral to worship at Westtown’s 9:15 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. Sunday services and the church is equipped the latest public address and sound systems. Sermons also can be heard online.
“We wanted it to be nice and simple, but classy. It’s nice to have the woods outside; if I get boring, people have something to look at,” he said with a smile.
Besides regular church services, Westtown has a youth group and “Life Group” clubs – such as a book club – at which groups of five to ten people meet for community outreach programs.
As for the future, Taylor hopes to get a pre-school started within the next two years, add a new youth building and install sports fields.
“I hope people feel welcomed here. I want them to feel like they’ve been helped by the scripture but at the same time I want them to feel challenged to grasp how big the greatness of Jesus is,” he said.
For information, see www. Westtownchurch.org or call (813) 855-2747.