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Florida church accepts Matthew 25 invitation

Vision includes joyful worship, powerful prayer, life-changing ministry

By Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE – On World Communion Sunday (Oct. 6), members of Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church (TTPC) in Florida will lift a loaf of bread from a country where they have lived and recite the words of institution in the language of that country — Arabic, German, Spanish, Greek, Tamil and others.

Members of Temple Terrace serve one of their triannual community dinners. Photo provided.

“TTPC is a culturally and politically diverse congregation that celebrates different backgrounds of members and participants contributing to a stronger body because of our diversity,” said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Robert Shaw. “See 1 Corinthians 12:4–31.”

The New International Version of 1 Corinthians 12:4–5 states:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Shaw said that celebrating that diversity is one reason they answered the invitation to become a Matthew 25 church.

In today’s politically charged environment, he describes his congregation as bright purple. “We have people who are politically active on both ends of the spectrum and they get along, which is great, but sometimes it makes preaching interesting.”

Shaw, who has been with TTPC since 2015, said one of the things that drew him to this active church, where about 80 worship each Sunday, is that it is very mission-oriented. “In other congregations where I have served, they have said they can do one mission project each month. This congregation says, ‘Do we only have to do one? Can we do more than one?’ There are so many things they want to get involved with and highlight, it’s just amazing.”

TTPC is north of Tampa and both the church and the city are diverse. The church is on a golf course, in a more affluent area, but to the west is subsidized housing. The University of South Florida is down the road.

Sensing a need, the church began a community barbecue on the last Friday of the month, three times a year. “We recognized that for some people, their income may not have lasted as long as the month. Some tell us it’s the only meal they will get for the weekend,” said Shaw.

But those community dinners have had a far greater impact on the community and his congregation than just feeding those who are hungry. Shaw said it has added to the congregation’s vitality, had a very positive impact in the community and helped people feel that the church was more accessible.

TTPC’s ministry page is full of the logos of its partners, including Metropolitan Ministries for Homeless in Tampa, a Wear It-Share It clothing campaign, Meals on Wheels, a sewing class for refugee and migrant women, and a diabetes clinic they support that was founded by a church member who is a physician. TTPC runs a small emergency food pantry for people who need help that day, and then connects the individuals with larger pantries and additional resources.

Recently spurred by a Presbyterians Today article about “ditching the boring sermon,” the congregation took that idea to the next level with a day of experiential workshops. One family created a workshop on how to make a prayer book, taught by their second-grade daughter. But the second-grader also asked them to get involved with collecting school supplies. It hurt her heart that some children might not have crayons.

Although the congregation has not participated in any mission trips, they have sent money to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance so money can be used where it is most needed.

As a pastor, Shaw feels one of his areas of primary focus is congregational vitality. “I feel an important part of my job is to help develop a variety of leaders, so they are equipped with the skills to do the things they feel called to do. The Seven Marks of Congregational Vitality will be topics for 2020.”

Shaw’s career has been diverse, too. After earning a bachelor of science in physics and natural sciences from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, he became a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. He later became a systems engineer with General Electric, supporting sonar design for the Navy. That’s when he became ordained as a deacon and later an elder at First Presbyterian Church of Liverpool, New York, and a pastor’s heart was born. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he earned a master of divinity from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Before coming to TTPC, he served as pastor of a congregation in western Pennsylvania, an interim pastor for two congregations in Southern Indiana, moderator of the Synod of Lincoln Trails and pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in northwestern Indiana. 

Matthew 25 is an invitation from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that calls on congregations to actively engage in the world around them. Congregations accepting the invitation agree to embrace one or more of three areas of focus in their communities:

Your congregation can join us on this journey. Learn more.

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