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Seminary will teach classes at Lyceum

The new site the seminary will use is a city landmark, the former Mirror Lake Christian Church.

Published August 13, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG -- In a little over a week, the 23-year-old St. Petersburg Theological Seminary will begin offering classes at the Mirror Lake Lyceum in the city's downtown. The small seminary, now located on a campus near Madeira Beach, eventually may hold most of its weekday classes in several third-floor Lyceum rooms.

The Lyceum is a 1926 Mediterranean revival landmark that is a popular venue for weddings, meetings and other events. The seminary's classes will be held in previously unused space, said Brian Wilder of Munro, Wilder and Taylor, the partnership that bought and restored the property about six years ago.

"We're looking forward to the seminary being here," Wilder said. "It's an ideal space for their purposes."

The Rev. Manuel Sykes, who became the institution's fifth president in January, said the move will bring the seminary closer to achieving one of three goals laid out in his inaugural speech. At the time, Sykes said, he announced his intention to make the college accessible, available and affordable.

The school will sell its current property, about 1.5 acres, with three classrooms, a library and a chapel, and use most of the money to establish an endowment, Sykes said.

The move from 10830 Navajo Drive to the Mirror Lake Lyceum, at 737 Third Ave. N, will be more convenient for students who leave jobs to attend evening classes, Sykes said. When the fall term begins on Aug. 22, the seminary will offer classes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at the Lyceum, he said. By spring, most classes will be downtown, he added.

Sykes, who also is pastor of Bethel Community Baptist Church, said he wants to make the seminary more accessible by offering classes through teleconferencing. The plan is to hold classes at churches in Brandon, Tampa, Bradenton, Sarasota and other locations in the Tampa Bay area, he said. At present, he said, students commute from throughout Pinellas County.

The seminary's president also wants to keep tuition low and to make scholarships available for students. He'd like to see enrollment increase, he said. The past couple of years, the institution, accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools in 2003, averaged about 65 students. This fall, enrollment is expected to rise, based on a higher number of inquires and applications, Sykes said.

Founded in 1983 by the late Rev. Gordon G. Cross, the seminary was known for a short time as St. Petersburg Baptist College. Today it is "transdenominational," Sykes said. "We educate, we don't indoctrinate," he said. "We provide the tools that we believe that every person needs to conduct ministry in a multitude of settings."

A sacred music program will be added as part of a liturgical studies degree, he said. "We're hoping to collaborate with other colleges in the area to make that a very strong program," he said, adding concerts and guest artists from around the country will be scheduled at the Lyceum.

"It has a beautiful auditorium and the acoustics are perfect," he said of the facility, which originally had been the Mirror Lake Christian Church.

The seminary's first graduate was the late Bishop John L. Copeland of Macedonia Freewill Baptist Church. Copeland also was a president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, an umbrella group of mostly African-American churches. He was the sole graduate at that first graduation. Local author and lecturer the Rev. Jan McCray earned both a master's and a doctor of ministry degree at the school. In 2004, the seminary honored the late Peggy Peterman, former columnist and editorial board member of the St. Petersburg Times. She was a member of its board.

[Last modified August 12, 2006, 11:43:05]

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