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What Do We Want?

While I was away on vacation in Tampa Bay, I went to the Henry B. Plant Museum. Now, I’m guessing not many of you have been there, but it’s a massive building on the edge of the University of Tampa campus. Its website says, “The Henry B. Plant Museum is housed in the former Tampa Bay Hotel, which was a Victorian railroad resort that operated from 1891 - 1932… Unlike most museums dedicated to lifestyles of the past, it contains the actual furnishings enjoyed by the first guests to visit here. The Museum accurately reflects the opulence of turn-of-the-century America and the vision of American transportation pioneer, Henry B. Plant.”

It had beautifully curated collections of art and pottery, and plenty of rooms where you could see what it would have been like to visit there when it was operating. It was impressive; a time capsule of a level of opulence that is not seen these days.

The baseball from Babe Ruth’s longest hit home run, signed by Babe Ruth

An exhibit about the unique tradition of Gasparilla

But it’s a huge building, and there just isn’t enough memorabilia to fill the whole space. And so, the entire remainder of the building is in use by the University of Tampa. It houses classrooms and science labs. It’s a common space and has performance venues for the music program. It’s the home of the financial aid office and the admissions offices.

Sports Management Department Meeting

It’s not in bad shape but when you walk around the place, you can really tell it’s used. There was never a bottle filling station back when it was a hotel. The flyers for various clubs and performances make the stately interior columns look a bit like a bulletin board.

The museum is nicer. The hall is more fun. There were people milling about, classrooms and lecture halls that you could feel were part of something large and active. You could see the cheesy jokes that professors often put on their doors.

What is the Church?

I’ve been thinking about the Plant Museum lately as we’ve been transitioning our space for the incoming tenant. I’ve been thinking about other churches I’ve served. I’ve been thinking about the churches my friends and colleagues serve. I’ve been thinking about how churches make decisions, and what those decisions mean about the church’s identity. Something will define us no matter what. Do we want to choose that definition, or do we want to passively accept one?

What is the Church?

That’s something that only we can decide, so we must be intentional about the decision. Are we a museum or are we a campus hangout?

We can choose to be a museum. Museums are beautiful and interesting. You can be transported to another time or place in a museum. Things are set up in the way to communicate exactly what we want. We can set everything behind glass, preserve things as they were, and welcome people to visit.

We can choose to be a campus hall. There are more people that go through the hall every day, and they don’t always care about the historic value of the hotel. Kids run through the halls. People eat and drink in the halls. They do science experiments in rooms that are precious and historical. Things are messier, a little shabbier, and things break.

But here’s the thing about museums. People can visit, but they can’t be members. People can admire things, but those things will only ever belong to the museum. Museums show us what was; intentionally freezing a moment as a preserved space.

In the college halls, there was something new happening. There were people learning and preparing themselves to live their lives. People are changed on that side of things. Lifelong relationships are formed. Events happen there that excite and intrigue both members of campus, and the broader community.

What is the church?

Are we a museum, existing to demonstrate an immutable past?

Or are we a campus, existing to teach, gather and transform people?


Rev. Jeff Fox-Kline

Twelve Corners Presbyterian Church



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