This community of faith began its journey together in 1853 when the first members of a Methodist Society in Fort Worth held its services in homes and the old Masonic Hall on Weatherford Street.
That journey of faith led those Methodists in Fort Worth to purchase their first property and build the first Methodist church building, a wooden structure at the corner of Fourth and Jones Streets. It was the Panic of 1873, at that time the worst economic downturn in the history of the United States, but our church moved forward, completing the building in 1874.
Fourteen years later our church had outgrown its building, and, during the worst drought in Texas history to that point First Church once again stepped out on faith. A new brick structure was erected in 1887 at the same site and expanded four years later. You can still visit the site of our beginnings and read the historical marker on that spot. Even as people were leaving Texas in droves because they could not make a living on the parched land, our church continued to thrive.
The 1908 generation of our congregation found themselves landlocked, and new City fire safety regulations meant First Methodist had outgrown its building. Our leadership then made the decision to relocate and built a large, beautiful new building at Seventh and Taylor Streets downtown, just in time to provide spiritual support to World War I soldiers stationed at Camp Bowie. Church membership continued to grow.
Just 21 years later, as new buildings surrounded that bustling 7th and Taylor location, we were unexpectedly landlocked once again. With courage and foresight our church leaders chose our next site — at Fifth and Florence — where our church broke ground on its new facility, on October 29, 1929, at 4:00 in the afternoon — the day of the stock market crash that signaled the beginning of The Great Depression. “Those courageous and visionary leaders continued with the construction, and we have them to thank for the majestic place of worship we enjoy today,” Tim reflects. “With faith and courage in a difficult time, our congregation has pulled together to build the building that has enabled the ministries of this church to thrive over the past 90 years. In every generation of this congregation, church members and leaders have dreamed big dreams and moved forward on each new vision in a changing world.”
So, it seemed only fitting that we marked the 91st Anniversary of that 1929 historic groundbreaking with another “big thing in tough times” — breaking ground on our Next90 Building Expansion project on October 29, 2020, also at 4:00 pm amid a worldwide pandemic.
We staged this “groundbreaking” through loads of dirt hauled into the Justin parking lot, just across Fifth Street, with the doors of our history-making Sanctuary as backdrop. With masked and socially distanced leaders and First Church families gathered to bear witness, our First Church leaders symbolically broke ground on our Next90 years of ministry. “Now it’s our turn,” Tim emphasized, addressing the crowd gathered around the historic plow, donated to the church in honor of Tim’s leadership in this expansion project that would culminate his legacy as senior pastor of our church. “It takes all of us, pulling together, to accomplish what God calls us to do in our time.”
“I am proud to say that in our time we have taken the baton from those who went before us to ‘run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith’ and as we run the race, ‘we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,’” he continued, “In this groundbreaking we symbolically pulled a plow through the earth on our campus, demonstrating our commitment as a faith community to pull together, even in hard times, to accomplish what God calls us to do in our time.”
A Brief History of Our Future
The project began with the formation of our Building Study Committee in 2014, and Tim asked longtime church member and leader of the TV Ministry Barry Hudson if he would accept nomination as the committee’s chair. Barry, who is a firm Associate and Senior Discipline Lead in planning and works with Dunaway and Associates’ Civil Engineering group and the Planning + Landscape Architecture group where he has contributed land planning expertise to engineering development teams in the areas of site design, municipal requirements, zoning and platting processing, and coordinating development issues with adjacent property owners. In other words, Tim couldn’t have picked a better or more dedicated person for this enormous job.
The Building Study Committee was formed to study the building and facility needs in anticipation of the future expansion of the church. “There was a critical need for expansion in the children’s ministry,” Barry remembers. “It was the most vibrant and growing ministry of our church at that time and there was just not enough space to hold all those kids.”
With Tim’s leadership and the unanimous support of the Church Council and Trustees, the Children’s Wing Expansion opened in the summer of 2016, and in the fall of 2017, parents could drop off their children for Academy Sunday School, and then stop by this new parent gathering area for a cup of coffee or tea and a visit with other parents, or just to take some time to read and relax while waiting for children for complete their Academy rotation.
Fast forward a few years. First Church had even more growth in our children’s ministries, and The Gathering, a worshipping community led by Co-Senior Pastor Rev. Lance Marshall was bursting at the seams. In addition to the continuing growth, an aging infrastructure (HVAC, elevators, plumbing, electrical, and other essential systems) were in need of update.
When Focus First identified facilities as its top area of focus, Tim, Lance, and our church leadership officially embarked on NEXT90 Building Expansion program that would add much needed facilities for our ministries into a new era.
The preliminary plan called for the infrastructure, a two-story children’s addition, and re- orienting Wesley Hall, plus a multipurpose space (to house The Gathering and large church functions and events) — with a central rotunda to connect all these spaces and provide much needed casual Sunday morning gathering space.
In November 2018 we held a churchwide information session for the congregation to answer questions, clarify details, and field concerns about the proposed expansion project. One month later, Tim and Lance called a church conference in which the congregation was asked to vote on three things: first, to authorize the architects to move forward with construction documents, second, to design and launch the NEXT90 capital campaign, and third, to convert the building study committee to the Building Committee, enabled this committee to seek and obtain all the approvals dictated by The United Methodist Book of Discipline to move forward.
Almost exactly one year, after evaluating the planning, projected costs and timeframes of this project, our church leadership led by Tim and Lance voted to split the NEXT90 Building Expansion Project into two phases to address the most immediate needs more quickly. This strategy would allow us to keep working on the fundraising that would allow Phase II to follow as closely as possible.
NEXT90 Phase I would include addressing all the urgent infrastructure needs, building the Children’s building (to accommodate continued growth and to build the structure that would hold the new central plant), and to renovate Wesley Hall with flexibility to accommodate contemporary worship, hospitality space, and church events. Phase II would add the central rotunda and the multipurpose space.
In February 2020 the Capital Campaign was launched, just ahead of the COVID 19 pandemic. A church conference was previously scheduled for March 29, in which the congregation would have opportunity to vote whether to move forward into construction on our $16 million NEXT90 Phase I expansion. When the pandemic shutdown prevented us from gathering, Tim, Lance, Barry, and the Building Committee were able to hold a Church Conference via Zoom Webinar, with the help of our communications and media ministries, on September 13, 2020. The vote to move forward with the building was 92.4% in favor.
A Threshold Built by Seven-Generations
With continued planning and careful oversight by the Building Committee, NEXT90 Phase I construction began. Once again, a longtime church member with a stellar track record in exactly the field of expertise needed to supervise the details of this enormous construction project emerged, and the church added Mark Sorley to our staff as Construction Administrator.
“Mark Sorley is the perfect person to serve as Construction Administrator,” Tim adds, “He brings to his ministry here a wealth of experience and expertise, having served as project manager for the new American Airlines headquarters. He also brings to his job a deep love for this church. What a gift!”
After months of construction, on Sunday, April 3, our faith community gathered for another milestone celebration — the consecration of the Edward and Maxine Baker Children’s Wing.
This family-friendly outdoor worship service was led by Co-Senior Pastors Dr. Tim Bruster and Rev. Lance Marshall and assisted by Mister Mark Burrows. Louella Martin, the fourth generation of the Bales/Baker/Martin family to be a member of First Church, addressed the crowd, sharing the story of her family’s legacy that spans seven generations — and began when Louella Dorris and Charles Stacker Bales began attending the Fourth Street Methodist Church located in the downtown Fort Worth area in the 1870’s. In recognition of the dedication and generosity of this great First Church family, our new Children’s wing was named the Edward and Maxine Baker Children’s Wing in honor of Edward and Maxine Baker, Sr.
“I am grateful for so many things in my life,” Louella said, “But most of all, I am grateful for the fact that I was born into the United Methodist Church.” She now has three great-grandchildren of her own, the seventh generation of her family in our congregation.
Full Wesley Reboot
The reimagined Wesley Hall is now a renewed place of worship for The Gathering. Aldersgate Sunday, May 22, 2022 became the perfect backdrop for the rededication of the hall bearing John Wesley’s name. The Gathering concluded worship early in the sanctuary and did a new historic walkover, recreating the historic 1930 “walk over” from our Church’s 7th and Taylor location to its current site. Our congregation gathered to witness and bless a new NEXT90 milestone, consecrating this new space.
Incoming Senior Pastor Rev. Lance Marshall marked the conclusion of the Next90 Phase I construction and renovation program, adding that because of the generosity of our members, the First Methodist Church of Fort Worth Foundation, and estate gifts, First Church “is completing this project and opening it all up with no long-term debt, allowing for 100% of our focus to continue to be on ministry.” Nancy Fisher, Director of Stewardship concurred in her blog the following week: “In March of 2020, close to 400 First Church households endorsed the Next90 Phase I building project by making a financial commitment to raise one-third of the $15.4M projected construction costs.”
“Tim’s calm and thoughtful leadership has kept us moving forward in our time,” Barry reflects. “With his courageous leadership our church has thrived. The successful completion of the NEXT90 Phase I Building Expansion project in a time like this is both testament to his leadership and affirmation of who we continue to be as a church and faith community, remaining focused on our mission and ministry to share the gospel and “go out and be God’s people in the world.”