Grace Community United Methodist Church in Lithia was excited to welcome Juan Marcos Garay to serve as the new pastor this past summer. Garay was born and raised in Caguas, Puerto Rico, but moved to the United States when he was 10 years old. Both of his parents are retired, ordained ministers in the United Methodist Church.
“I received my calling to ministry when I was 21,” said Garay. “At the age of 23, almost 21 years ago, I became a pastor in Pasco County.”
After graduating with his degree from Southeastern University in Lakeland and his Master of Divinity from Claremont School of Theology in California, Garay is currently in the ordination process.
Most recently, Garay was successfully pastoring a Latino/Hispanic church in Orlando.
“My district superintendent asked me to consider a change of parish to FishHawk,” said Garay. “After much prayer, consideration, my family and I decided to make the change as we knew it would be a great opportunity for us. We have been so moved by how our church has received us and the community.”
Garay said that his favorite part of being a pastor at Grace is the people. “I have had the wonderful opportunity to meet some of the friendliest and most helpful people,” said Garay. “I have met a lot of people in over 20 years of ministry, but the leaders here are top-notch and make work and ministry enjoyable.”
The church aims to build a vibrant ministry that loves to serve the community. In just a few months, Grace has accomplished many successful community outreach programs. Most recently, Grace donated 1,200 meals to Seeds of Hope, collected more than 60 pairs of shoes for Pinecrest Elementary School and provided Thanksgiving meals to 15 families through the Ministry of Hope. The church also partnered with the Migrant Education Program/You Matter to Me to donate 15 hope boxes for children.
Some upcoming community service projects include Hope for Her, a women’s resource center in Brandon; beautifying the church grounds through ‘I Love My Church’ activities; collaborating with the Restoration Hem Project to provide girls in Zimbabwe with menstrual supplies and information; and partnering with organizations such as Homes for Heroes, Burney Elementary School and Everyday Blessings.
Grace is also offering a prayer-centered yoga class on Mondays and a water aerobics class focused on community. There is also an amazing youth program with various weekly activities as well as a children program. In addition, a young adult program has been formed and meets twice a month on the second and fourth Sundays at 7 p.m.
“All we want to do is love and serve people, and having leaders and people in the church who are excited to move forward makes a big difference,” said Garay. “At Grace, we want to be more than just a church that meets on Sundays. We want to be a community that supports each other and positively impacts the world around us.”
Grace Community United Methodist Church is located at 5708 Lithia Pinecrest Rd. in Lithia. For more information, visit https://mygraceumc.com/ or call 813-661-8858.