A Message from Senior Pastor Dr. Tim Bruster
When protesters arrived on the steps of our church last Sunday, it was clear they really had no idea of the depth of this church’s legacy of compassion and social justice. Even though they accomplished their purpose of creating a hubbub and generating quite a lot of media coverage, it is important to note that these weren’t members of our homeless community; with the exception of only a few, we didn’t know them and they obviously didn’t know us!
I say all this to you now to emphasize the answers to the questions this small group of Dallas-based protesters didn’t bother to ask as they wielded signs and shouted accusations this past Sunday morning during our second-hour worship services. It seems only fair now to take a step back from the chants, rhetoric, and baseless accusations of indifference we heard on our own steps last Sunday and remember and honor all our faith community does to live out our mission and commitment to “Love God, Serve People, and Transform Lives,” especially in the areas of homelessness and domestic violence.
In our ministries with people who are homeless and with victims of domestic violence, FUMCFW operates two non-profit organizations, the First Street Methodist Mission and the Methodist Justice Ministries. In addition to the Mission, our church’s long and deep commitment to welcoming and helping our homeless neighbors includes Charme Robarts, our Community Advocate whose full-time job is to work with our homeless community to help them find housing and the services they need. Several years ago, our church also donated one-third of Rev. Brooks Harrington’s time as a staff minister for two years to serve as chair of the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Homelessness. This is the group that authored Directions Home, Fort Worth’s official plan to end chronic homelessness in ten years. The force behind that plan and Fort Worth’s efforts to end homelessness in our community was Mayor Mike Moncrief, a member of our church with whom Brooks worked closely on the Directions Home plan.
In addition to our ongoing weekday ministries, each Sunday morning starting at 7:15 we serve breakfast to the homeless community in Wesley Hall prior to DiscipleChurch, our unique and close-knit worshipping community rooted in communion and social justice. As far as I know we are the only downtown church that actively invites our homeless neighbors into our church buildings every Sunday and welcomes them as members of our worshipping community. During the home-cooked breakfast prepared and served by 20 volunteers each week, Brooks also offers a brief devotion and serves communion almost every Sunday, creating an additional worship experience for those who don’t also attend DiscipleChurch. I know that Brooks has served communion to Vanessa many times, and the church members who make and serve breakfast with the homeless every Sunday also knew Vanessa well.
While we do not know whether these protesters will be back on this or subsequent Sundays, I want to assure you that your church staff and security team led by Ron Hicks (and supported as needed by the Fort Worth Police Department) is well-prepared to handle any future protests with as little disruption as possible. Even with the very short notice they received regarding last Sunday’s protest, I am very proud of the outstanding job Ron and his team did of dealing kindly and firmly with these protesters in order to preserve the sanctity of our Sunday morning worship.
To me, the most unjust and upsetting thing about the appearances of these protesters on our campus last Sunday was not the things they said or the signs they waved or the ridiculous accusations they hurled. It was the indifference they extended to this faith community who was grieving Vanessa’s death personally and deeply when they showed up to demonstrate nothing more than their sheer ignorance of who we are, what we have tried to do to help Vanessa and so many more like her, and the depth of our grief.
As always, I am so thankful to be in ministry with you all and for the legacy of compassion we share.
P.S. I want you to know that we did send a rebuttal to the local news media along with contact information that will help these reporters understand more about the background of these protesters and their leaders. We also sent a fact sheet that I want to celebrate and share with you now. Reading it just makes me proud all over again to Love God, Serve People, and Transform Lives here alongside of you.
First Church by the Numbers:
Mission and Ministry Facts of First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth
Last year 200 hundred individual church members offered up 15,727 volunteer hours to empower the First Street Methodist Mission to provide food, clothing, shelter, as well as collaborating with other local agencies to offer free medical, dental, and legal services to people who are homeless.
For hungry families and individuals:
26,790 Individual Grocery Visits
11,503 Sack Lunches
88,673 Bottles of Formula
10,007 Food 4 Kids Bags
800 Thanksgiving Baskets
For those in need of clothing and personal care:
4,283 Clothing & Hygiene Kits
383 Winter Coats
422 Loads of Laundry
For those trying to get back on their feet:
204 Career Closet Visits to help gain or maintain employment
426 Home Start-up Kits
$16,481 in grants of Emergency Financial Assistance
For those who need shelter during the hottest and coldest times of the year:
294 stays at Room in the Inn
The Methodist Justice Ministry (MJM), founded in 2006 is led by Rev. Brooks Harrington, a trial lawyer, former federal prosecutor, and ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. Since then Brooks and his team have worked tirelessly to assist more than 2,000 women and children in imminent danger with free legal protection, counseling, and help toward a loving, stable home environment, often for the first time in their lives.
In 2018 the MJM’s four staff attorneys, two administrative assistants, and 1 legal intern helped provide legal protection and new hope for 480 women and children with free legal counsel and advice and 162 separate litigations involving family violence and/or child abuse. In monetary terms, in 2018 alone MJM’s work amounted to contributions of:
$39,486 to serve court documents, obtain medical records, DNA testing, fees, and citation by publication
$18,263 in filing fees, court costs, translation services, certified copies, and other court related costs
$28,463 in professional counseling service fees for clients and families;
$38,135 in emergency financial assistance grants to help clients escape dangerous and abusive situations
Above and beyond providing these services, the MJM surrounds each of its clients with love, support, friendship, encouragement and prayer.