Visit a downtown treasure

Peace Memorial exterior 2The pink Peace Memorial Presbyterian Church on Fort Harrison Avenue has been a downtown icon for 90 years.

We met with its new pastor, Reverend Bob Scott, to discuss not only his Church but also his thoughts about downtown in general, including his views on the CMA proposal and what it’s like to be next door to the sizeable facilities of the Church of Scientology.

History

Peace Memorial has a long and rich history. It started out in 1891 as the “Little White Church”. After World War I, an army chaplain took over the Church. He had a vision of building a memorial to peace. Construction soon began on the big pink Church and it was completed in 1922. The dedication ceremony was led by William Jennings Bryan.

Pastor Bob

Pastor Bob

Pastor Bob

Reverend Bob Scott prefers to be known as “Pastor Bob”. He arrived here in March of this year after serving in Palatka, Florida (30 miles southwest of St. Augustine). His wife and daughter joined him in June.

Membership

The Church has 250 primary members along with many unofficial members. Every Sunday they pray for peace. Pastor Bob says: “That’s what we are. The people of peace.”

Downtown

Pastor Bob loves downtown. He told us: “It’s such a beautiful place. I walk around the area almost every day. I’ve tried to eat my way through downtown! In Palatka, I was a member of the Main Street organization, and our goal was to make downtown a place where locals and residents want to go. Hopefully this will become a destination place for the wider area. Our Church wants to be a partner and participant in what’s going on here. We like seeing life and vibrancy downtown.”

Aquarium

Pastor Bob is no stranger to the challenges of reviving a downtown district. So we asked him what he thinks about the proposal to build an aquarium directly across the street.

He responded: “I would love to see a million visitors to downtown. Our parishioners are asking about the potential impact on our Church, though. Traffic is already backed up and I worry about the infrastructure. And there’s the concern that our parking spaces would be taken by tourists. It already happens during special events. But I want downtown to succeed.”

He expressed another concern: “Our Church is a destination and our members don’t live in the neighborhood. Many of them drive a long distance to get here, and they might pass ten or twelve churches on the way, including one or two other Presbyterian churches. My worry is that our members will feel that it’s too hard to get down here.”

Scientology as a Next Door Neighbor

When Pastor Bob arrived, he heard the talk about Scientology’s presence, and it was one of his biggest concerns. So he walked over to the Fort Harrison to introduce himself and he was invited to lunch. He toured the hotel and asked questions about Scientology and answered questions about his own Church.

Mick Jagger at the Fort Harrison in 1965. Peace Memorial is in the background.

Mick Jagger at the Fort Harrison in 1965. Peace Memorial is in the background.

His thoughts about the Fort Harrison: “We were received graciously and hospitably. It’s an absolutely beautiful building. I’m sure that many of our members would enjoy touring the hotel because they have such fond memories from their youth.”

As for being next door to Scientology: “They are good neighbors to us, and there’s room to grow. We see each other in the street and alleyway all the time. Rather than close our eyes and ignore each other, we’re developing a cooperative and collegial relationship. We need to be engaged with our neighbors. We all share common interests and concerns, and we should work together. There’s no sense in being combative. I’m respecting of what others believe.”

Visiting Peace Memorial

Peace Memorial Tiffany windowIf you haven’t been inside Peace Memorial, you’ve got to see it! It’s gorgeous, and it’s a downtown treasure.

The church features a multitude of stained glass windows and doors including two Tiffany originals. Each window tells a story, particularly about peace and the cause of bringing peace.

Peace Memorial organIt also features the second-largest organ in the Tampa Bay area, with almost 3,000 pipes, according to Pastor Bob.

A monthly concert series, open to the public, takes place every 2nd Sunday from October through May, starting at 3:00pm.

A great time to stroll through the church is on a Sunday morning. The doors to the Church open at 9:00a and close a little after noontime. The weekly service starts at 10:30a and lasts approximately an hour. All are welcome. Sunday school starts at 9:00a, with separate classes for adults and children.

During the week, tours are available, often on just a moment’s notice. The office entrance is in the rear of the main Church building. They will be glad to show you around and answer questions.

The function room is available for a reasonable charge to outside groups for meetings, banquets, receptions, etc.

The Church’s website is www.peacememorial.org.