Inside Innovation: The Portico Hosts M-LAB


By Sybil Davidson

M-LAB (Movement – Learning Action Board) was created to bring together outwardly-focused United Methodists to incubate and prototype new ideas that will shape the future of our church. (Read about M-LAB here.) 
The location of the January and September M-LAB events, The Portico in Tampa, Fla., was itself inspirational.
The building was the long-time home of Tampa First UMC. Founded in 1846 by a circuit rider, Hyde Park UMC pastor Rev. Magray deVega said that circuit rider prayed a vine would be planted on that very land and spread.
A few years ago, Tampa First UMC closed. Hyde Park UMC, located two miles away, was asked to take over the building.
“This space has always been on the frontier,” shared deVega. “Not the geographic frontier right now, but we are on the edge of a spiritual and cultural frontier.”
The church transformed Tampa First UMC into The Portico (, a gathering space for conversation, connection, and community change.  
The Portico is the fulfillment of a dream of the people at Hyde Park United Methodist.
There are some things you’d expect of any church building, such as worship and prayer times. But it is also a community hall. A cafe on site helps fund homeless initiatives. There’s office space for non-profit and ecumenical outreach. And it’s a hub for artists, the walls a rotating gallery. In short, the building is a gift to the community for the purpose of social change.
One of the most powerful messages in the space is the sculpture out front: “Homeless Jesus.” The bronze sculpture by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz depicts Jesus as a homeless person, sleeping on a bench. The sculpture sits directly in the entryway to The Portico. The artist has created dozens of replicas of this sculpture and placed them in carefully selected locations around the world. There is no more than one in a city. The artist heard about the work of The Portico and selected this as a location for his piece. (
Future M-LAB events will be held in North Georgia and Tennessee, but experiencing The Portico has made an impact on hundreds of participants in the M-LAB movement.