January 26, 2015

Religion

On the Move

Amy Keller | 6/1/2006
Three years after purchasing and renovating two old cigar factories in Ybor City to house a headquarters and an information center, the Tampa Church of Scientology is expanding eastward.

In April, the Scientologists paid $620,000 for an 11,000-sq.-ft. building in downtown Plant City. The church plans to create a "Life Improvement Center" there, where individuals can study Scientology and participate in "non-religious social betterment programs."

Some residents are skeptical. Rev. Ron Churchill warned his parishioners at the First Baptist Church in Plant City to steer clear of the "cult," the St. Petersburg Times reported, and local retailers hung up "No Solicitation" signs to discourage Scientologists from passing out information. Plant City Mayor John Dick says many residents are taking a "wait-and-see approach."

In an open letter to residents, Tampa Scientology Executive Directors Wayne Fuller and Lynn Irons invited their new neighbors to "stop by" for a visit.

Based on the philosophies of L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology teaches that humans are "spiritual" beings and "not a body or a bunch of chemicals" and that man is "basically good" and "seeking to survive." High-profile followers include Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley.

About 12,000 Scientologists live in and around Tampa. The church's international headquarters is in Clearwater. But the Clearwater location, founded in 1975, doesn't minister to the local population, and the Tampa church has grown tremendously over the last couple of years.

Spokesman Ben Shaw says the church is seeking to build more branches in other parts of central and north Florida.

Tags: Tampa Bay

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