POWERHOUSE OF MISSION
Rev. Denise Bell-Blakely has been Associate Pastor at Meadowbrook United Methodist Church (MUMC), Fort Worth, for less than a year. Even after this short tenure, she says: “I have never seen a people so sensitive, so flexible to the Spirit’s moving.”
Our Director, Suzy Yowell, visited the church earlier this year and was equally amazed. This is why we feel compelled to tell the story of their powerhouse mission.
In 1928, two smaller Methodist congregations in the Meadowbrook area merged to form MUMC. Like so many urban congregations, the church experienced dramatic demographic changes in the 60s and 70s, with large groups of African-American and Hispanic residents moving into the neighborhood. Unfortunately, this caused some “white flight,” cutting into the church’s budget and membership.
However, the result was ultimately positive. Gary Cumbie, a long-time Lay Leader and past Board Chair at Meadowbrook says, “The folks that have stayed really believe that this is where we need to be.”
Several years ago, the church adopted this mission statement: “We are a Christian fellowship embracing our community with hope, acceptance, and unconditional love. We understand that true community change can only occur when we open our doors and hearts to those outside of the congregation.” It sounds lofty, yet believing something and actually putting it into action can be vastly different realities. MUMC lives out this creed by sharing its huge physical plant, including the sanctuary, fellowship hall, scores of classrooms, and their Community Life Center (a gym/multiuse facility).
This is an amazing example of opening your doors! These facilities are active nearly every day of the week with a breathtaking variety of community groups. Here is a partial list: the local neighborhood association, the East Fort Worth 4-H Club, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Tarrant Actors Regional Theater, karate classes, Early Childhood Matters of Fort Worth, Upward Basketball, Cheerleading, Soccer, a Games Day for older adults, Rotary Club, a Bible Study aimed at women who have been homeless and/or victims of abuse. This summer the church will host Project Transformation, a residency for college students who will serve elementary school children in the neighborhood.
Understandably, the neighborhood loves MUMC, and like many sacred places that anchor their communities, it is often taken for granted. The congregation faces two dilemmas.
First, how will they provide the volunteer labor to oversee all these outreach programs? Their membership is relatively small and aging; they have the will, but many of them are worn out.
A recent event might foreshadow a solution.
The Young Men’s Leadership Academy (YMLA) is a male-only school of the Fort Worth ISD, providing a rigorous college-prep curriculum. When their basketball team had no place to practice, MUMC’s Pastor, Rev. Marilyn Jones, saw an article about the problem in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Exemplifying this church’s openness, she contacted another congregational leader and proposed that they offer their gym. Once again, MUMC opened its heart and doors.
Simultaneously, Upwards Sports, a Christian organization which also utilizes the gym, experienced a need for coaches to guide their elementary school children. Rev. Jones suggested that the older boys at YMLA take on this task as a way of “playing forward” the gift they have received. They agreed, and all nine of the varsity players are now serving as coaches.
Is this a harbinger of things to come? Will the many groups that converge at MUMC learn to support each other with volunteers and resources? True to its nature, MUMC is flexible and sensitive to future opportunities.
But there is a second dilemma, one faced by most historic churches. Where will they get the funds to maintain the facility so many of their neighbors enjoy? They currently have a large debt from upgrading their heating/cooling system, and there are needed upgrades to the sanctuary as well as deferred maintenance on the roof.
Gary Cumbie and Rev. Denise Bell-Blakely
MUMC is preparing for a capital campaign, and they approach it with their customary optimism.
“This church’s mission has been transformational for me,” says Cumbie. “I have learned that Christianity does not primarily provide a comfort zone. It gives us the opportunity to stretch.”
Rev. Bell-Blakley adds, “We are all committed to the evolution of this church, the next incarnation of what Meadowbrook is to be. With God, all things are possible.”