TAMPA — The prayers of a church in Tampa Heights have been answered — by a church in Tampa Palms.
The two churches, Grace Episcopal Church in Tampa Palms and St. James House of Prayer in Tampa, have long enjoyed a close bond. Both are parishes operating under the Tampa Deanery of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida.
But neither could have foreseen the blessings that were recently bestowed upon both churches.
When a quadrant of the Grace Episcopal property at 15102 Amberly Drive was expropriated by eminent domain for the purpose of building a retention pond, the church was compensated $4.18 million. Parish Rector Canon Benjamin Twinamaani said the payout was a surprising windfall considering the church paid $400,000 to purchase the land some 20 years earlier.
It also was a boon to the church leaders who initially planned to build the sanctuary on the site but could not get the approval of the Tampa Palms Homeowners Association due to concerns about traffic congestion. The group also denied the church’s subsequent proposal to sell the property to a drug store chain.
The monetary disbursement enabled church officials to pay off the remaining debt on the property as well as the mortgage on their sanctuary. It also left Grace with $372,000 in the bank, 90 percent of which church officials earmarked for deposit into both its endowment and general funds.
The remaining 10 percent was tagged for the church’s “fresh fruits” ministry, meaning it would be used in some fashion to benefit the diocese.
It didn’t take long before church leaders found what they deem the perfect beneficiary of their $37,200 gift.
The decision was made easy after Twinamaani met with rectors from other parishes during one of the diocese’s monthly meetings. It was there he learned of the need for a new roof at St. James House of Prayer, built in 1926 in what has since been named the Tampa Heights Historical District.
The conversation that followed between him and the Rev. Ernestein Flemister, rector of St. James, and the subsequent gift to her parish was also an answer to its parishioners’ longtime prayers.
Twinamaani recently presented Flemister with a check in the amount of $37,200 to help cover the estimated $140,000 cost of a new roof at St. James House of Prayer. The church was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1991.
“It’s a simple thing from our congregation because it’s about giving 10 percent to God off the top, no matter what,” Twinamaani said.
But it meant the world to Flemister because without it the roof’s replacement would have had to be put on hold until the money was raised by other means.
While St. James was awarded a $65,000 Hills- borough County Preservation Tourism Challenge Grant, it required a matching amount on behalf of other donors.
The congregation was able to raise more than half the amount through various fundraisers but, until receiving the donation from Grace Episcopal Church, they had fallen short of the mandated amount.
“We are deeply grateful for the gift from our sister church,” Flemister said. “They were blessed and, in turn, blessed us.”
Ken Rollick, St. James senior warden and parishioner, who works closely with Flemister, called Grace’s contribution a “Godsend.”
“We’ve been struggling for quite a few years with the roof leak and last year’s bad weather did more damage to it,” he said. “Maybe God was telling us you can’t just patch it anymore.”
As charming as the neo-gothic church building is, it has had design problems since its inception, said architect Roger Grunke, a St. James member who serves as its junior warden. The church’s outer walls were built of flint stone, formerly used as ballast on freight sailing ships that were cast overboard when the vessels were moored in the Tampa Harbor. Their uneven surfaces made it difficult to properly align and attach the roof’s flashing.
“Consequently the roof, along each gable end and wherever the roof shingles meet the stone, have been prone to leaking for the last 88 years,” Grunke said.
That issue will be corrected, he said, by cutting the flint rocks’ protruding edges and filling the uneven spaces between them so new, modern flashing can be installed. Also, because the building lacks roof insulation, the top surface of the roof shingles will be raised a few inches to create a continuous flow of air.
“Neither the interior ceiling nor the exterior could be noticeably altered without losing funding eligibility,” Grunke said.
Lynn Grinnel, a Grace Episcopal Church deacon, took a recent inside tour of the building and saw the damage the water leaks have caused.
“I just feel honored to be able to help,” Grinnel said.