New Lakewood Ranch church focuses on love, service

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- For many, the word "church" is associated with the building itself, but the newly formed Shoreline Church in Lakewood Ranch is taking a contemporary approach as it focuses on love and service to the community beyond the space contained within four walls.

"We are the church, not the building," said Pastor Pilgrim Benham.

Shoreline, a non-denominational Christian church, began holding services Jan. 11 at the Lakewood Ranch YMCA after several months of meetings in a local warehouse to prepare the church's missions and goals, which are focused on love and service.

Benham said he couldn't be happier with their meeting place.

"I like to call it 'a third space.' You have your home

and your work space and then there is that 'third place,'" he said.

Originally from Bradenton, Benham moved to Tampa in 2009 to start a church downtown. In July, however, Benham and his wife decided to move with their children back to Bradenton and he handed the church over to his associate pastor.

When they announced on social media their plans to return and begin a new church, they immediately had a couple dozen people interested in breaking away from their various churches and joining the new efforts, he said.

Lisa Ith and her husband were among those who were excited when they heard the news about a chance to be part of Shoreline.

"My husband and I said, 'We are there,'" she said. "We definitely were excited and felt like God was calling us to be involved and to be part of Shoreline."

For Ith's family, Shoreline has been the perfect fit of studying scripture with modern worship.

"Even though the Bible was written thousands of years ago, it is an integral part of life today; it applies today," Ith said.

Her three children, ages 5, 7 and 8, are also involved and look forward to attending every week, she said. They come with cards that have the subject they learned in their groups, she said, which allows her to continue the conversation at home.

"We are so excited to see what God has in store for Shoreline," Ith said. "I know it's going to an amazing experience."

Looking down that road, growing and having their own facility is certainly something Benham looks forward to, but he said it's not his focus.

"We are open to where God leads us," Benham said. "Our mark of success is not going to be, hey we made it and have our own facility but rather are we making an impact on the community?"

Already Shoreline has begun serving the community with its laundry project.

"We found that there are a lot of low-income families that have to go to laundromats," Benham said.

What the congregation found is that many of the laundromats were unclean and often too expensive for people who are struggling financially. So what the church does is go to a local laundromat and set up decorations such as balloons, provide donuts and most importantly pay for the washing and drying of clothes for everyone who comes in.

"We are not going in pushing literature," Benham said. "If they ask, we will tell them we are doing it because we love Jesus and Jesus loves you."

Anyone interested in attending Shoreline's service is welcome. Services are at 10 a.m. Sundays at the Lakewood Ranch YMCA, 5100 Lakewood Ranch Blvd.

For additional information about Shoreline, visit its web site at calvaryshoreline.com.

Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.