Our History

Organized in 1927, we are the oldest ELCA Lutheran church in Tampa, the “Mother Church” of the eleven others. Our first home was Room 303 at the YMCA building in downtown Tampa. Sixty-six people attended the first service in December of 1926. At our seventh service – in January 1927 – we were formally organized as a church.

After investigating several possible homes (and asking Peter O. Knight to donate a lot on Davis Island!), our church leaders decided in 1930 to purchase a lot in Seminole Heights, across the street from Hillsborough High School, at the corner of Wilder and Central. At the time, this 145′ X 275′ lot contained a large two-story frame farmhouse in the middle of an orange grove.

We took out a mortgage, purchased the property, and began re-modeling the house. Our first worship service at our new home was held on Pentecost Sunday, June 3, 1930. The brickwork from the front porch of that original farmhouse has been preserved behind the sanctuary.

We struggled, as did the rest of the country, during the Depression, but by 1942 we began a “Buy a Brick” campaign to raise money for a permanent church building. In addition, during the war years, St. Paul sponsored a Thursday evening social night for soldiers at the USO. By 1942, our membership had grown to 181 members.

The Building Fund campaign launched in 1943 was generously supported; and by 1946, we had purchased the lot adjoining our property. We hired an architect and by 1949 obtained bids for construction. The cornerstone for the Sanctuary was laid on January 22, 1950, as construction started. The completed building, furnished and landscaped, was dedicated September 3, 1950 at a cost of $79,889.29. The oak pews were fashioned in Hickory, North Carolina, and kneelers were later installed in the early 1980’s. Our carved oak altar, which matches the pulpit and lectern, dates back to the original design and construction of the building.

In 1953, we purchased the house and lot adjoining the expanded church property for $15,000. The ‘50s were a time of great growth for St. Paul.

We saw our Sunday School enrollment grow to 260 people, underscoring the need for an education building. We broke ground for the Snyder Memorial Building (behind the sanctuary) on March 24, 1957. It was completed at a cost of $44,998.29.

The parsonage, just north of the church, was built in 1967 for $32,000.

The steeple was painted and repaired in 1960, the tenth anniversary of the sanctuary. Then, in 1988, extensive refurbishing was done in preparation for the installation of the freestanding Heissler pipe organ. A tile floor was laid in the chancel, the nave was painted, and a contrasting accent line was added. As the organ was installed, the altar was moved further away from the rear wall and now occupies a central position in the chancel.

St. Paul celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1977. By this time we had a stong history in Seminole Heights. In the 1980’s we ran a day care center, and continue to serve our community by allowing our buildings to be used by many groups – for example, neighborhood organizations, other church groups, Boy Scouts and Narcotics Anonymous groups. We have been a precinct-polling place since 1978, and are proud to be one of the founding churches of Metropolitan Ministries.

The antique stained glass windows in the nave were cleaned, restored and re-leaded in 2002. The window colors of red, blue, green, gold and purple are liturgical colors of the church year. The Trinity stained glass windows, high in the east wall, carry the Christian symbolism of Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending of the Greek alphabet.

In 2010 we designed, planted and dedicated a Memorial Garden. It is a beautifully landscaped private area in the back with an outdoor lectern, benches and room for remembrance plaques. Also, in 2010 we installed in our sanctuary an Allen Renaissance digital computer organ with oak cabinets and a façade of gold tone organ pipes. We love the new look of our chancel area!

Memorial Garden
Amen for air-conditioning, warm memories

By STEVE OTTO | The Tampa Tribune
Published: September 14, 2012

Church events don’t usually show up in the column because there are so many of them. Write about one Christmas pageant or bake sale and you have to hear about them all. And, having been a shepherd and even Joseph for many years, I already know the story.

But when Jimmy Dunn called to tell me about “Throwback Sunday,” which is going to be Sunday at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Central Avenue (right across the street from Hillsborough High School), he had me in his pocket.

Yes, I mean the former Gator quarterback Jimmy Dunn. He said his church was going to hold a service where you were supposed to dress like you did in the “good old days.” He said that meant kind of a ’50s look with the women wearing dresses and hats and the men coats and ties. He promised an ice cream social outside after the 11 a.m. service.

As he talked, my mind drifted back to being a 7- or 8-year-old kid when we were staying with my grandparents in South Tampa.

This was the Tampa you hear stories about from longtime residents. It was a simpler time when most people didn’t have air conditioning and the only relief was in a few stores or a movie palace. It was a time when Sundays really were days of rest. It was a time to go to church and come home to a big Sunday dinner.
For me the Sunday treat was going with my grandfather in his Studebaker to St. Paul’s, which at the time was not air-conditioned. Lutherans have these long liturgical songs and prayers at the beginning of the service that I wasn’t fond of, but it didn’t matter.

The good news was my grandfather made it a point to be late. I think he only liked the sermon. I never thought we were really missing anything because he had some church service with gospel music going on his AM dial.
He was also part of the group that counted the money, so we would always find a place in the back of the church and then slip into a smaller room when it was over. From the back you could see the constant flutter of dozens of those little fans sponsored by the local funeral home being waved, mostly by women who were wearing hats. I don’t know that it made it any cooler, but it was louder — like a great flock of birds in hats all ready to rise and take flight.
I had a suit on and one of those clip-on bow ties that never stayed clipped to your collar for an entire morning.
Counting the money was a big deal. Half a dozen men, and a mix of pipes and cigars in the room, and they let me feel important counting the loose change and putting it into those coin sleeves.
Driving home, Grandpa would still listen to his gospel hymns, although we would always stop at the store to pick up ice cream or a dessert for the afternoon dinner my grandmother was already working on back home.
It might be nice to stop by this Sunday for “Throwback Sunday,” especially now that I know the church is air-conditioned. I only wish my grandfather could be there, too, even if we were late.

• Our Memorial Garden was featured in the Tampa Tribune, on Sunday September 16, 2012, in the Gardening section. See the article on the MEMORIAL GARDEN page.