This is Pastor’s Report to the Charge Conference delivered last night to the Church Council by Dr. Tim Bruster, Senior Pastor.
It is a privilege to serve as Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth. I am grateful for the extraordinary giftedness of our community of faith: in resources, talents, lay leadership, community influence and many God-given gifts. I am grateful that we now have a gifted Co-Pastor in the Reverend Lance Marshall and a succession plan in place. I am pleased to report that the state of the church is strong and growing in strength, even during this very difficult year when we have had to learn to do things in a different way while navigating the pandemic. We are looking to the future in trust and faith and great hope — all based on what God is doing in the present.
There are many great things that are happening in the life of our congregation as God is at work in the lives of people in and through the ministries of this church. People are growing in their discipleship in online Bible Study classes, special Wednesday evening GROW Bible Study program, Virtual Sunday School classes, worship that has been virtual for seven months and is transitioning to a hybrid of virtual and limited in-person worship, music ministries that have found creative ways to continue and even thrive, children, youth, and young adult ministries that have been amazingly creative in reaching people, Congregational Care Ministry that has maintained contact with those who are most isolated, virtual Senior Adult ministries, and pastoral care that has continued in spite of being unable to make personal hospital and nursing home visits. We have learned that our reach has expanded in this virtual world where geography no longer matters, with participants in our studies and worship joining us from all over the US and even globally. Lives continue to be transformed through the ministries and outreach of our community of faith.
Our Next90 building program is in process and is a testament to the faith and faithfulness of our congregation. We had planned to hold our Church Conference on March 29th to move forward with our $16,000,000 Phase One building program, but then the pandemic hit. Commitments and giving to the capital campaign have continued throughout the pandemic and we were able to hold a Church Conference via Zoom Webinar on September 13th. The vote to move forward with the building was 92.4% in favor. This program will provide the needed space for The Gathering to continue to grow, for hospitality and wayfinding, and for additional space for children to accommodate our outstanding children’s program.
We have moved our confirmation program to the youth ministry to strengthen the ties and the transition to youth ministry for our confirmands. This year we had one of our largest confirmation classes we have had during my 16-year tenure.
Our Grace Group ministry continues to be strong — mostly virtually at present. It is through our Grace Groups and our Healthy Plate Discipleship that people are becoming disciples and growing in their discipleship.
We had 88 professions of faith in 2019. Only half of those were confirmands.
We are living out one of the important values that we identified in our Focus First process, namely diversity of worship styles and opportunities. During the pandemic, we have moved The Gathering worship service into the sanctuary at 9:30 and only have one traditional sanctuary service at 11:00 am. They are live-streamed. The 8:30 am DiscipleChurch and the 11:11 service are pre-recorded. We also have a Wednesday morning Dementia Friendly worship service that is prerecorded and has grown ten-fold during the pandemic! It makes sense because people with dementia and their caregivers don’t have to travel to the chapel for the service anymore. We are now running about 275 in that service, which used to have about 25 or so in attendance pre-COVID.
To better facilitate online worship, we have just completed a $750,000 project to put in new lighting and all-new HD video equipment in the sanctuary and the TV studio, greatly improving the quality.
During the past decade or so we have developed four 501(c)3 organizations under the umbrella of the church for outreach. All have a strong spiritual component: The First Street Methodist Mission, the Methodist Justice Ministry, Dementia Friendly Fort Worth, and Roots First. We formed Roots First during this past year to provide permanent housing for women and children transitioning from homelessness.
Our Focus First process yielded clear goals that we are continuing to pursue with Innovation Teams providing the leadership, accountable to the Church Council. The goals are as follows:
Small groups: “Life-giving groups”
We envision a church in which every member is connected to a group of people that connects them to the body of Christ and facilitates spiritual growth and discipleship. New members and visitors of our church will be invited into participation in a group that fits their schedule, interests, and phase of life through a streamlined and clearly communicated process. Our church will regularly recruit and equip lay people to lead and facilitate these groups and will launch new groups on a regular basis. These groups will exist both within and outside the Sunday School model, creating a culture where church members view small group participation as an important and enjoyable aspect of life at FUMCFW.
As reported above, our Grace Group ministry continues to be strong — mostly virtually at present. It is through our Grace Groups and our Healthy Plate Discipleship that people are becoming disciples and growing in their discipleship.
Physical facilities: “A building that connects the church”
We will make changes to our existing physical church plant that facilitate connection among our congregation, our ministries, and our community. We will leverage the strengths of our beautiful, historic campus while making the changes necessary to provide for the ministry needs of the 21st century. FUMCFW’s physical campus will provide opportunities for strangers to meet each other, friends to connect with each other, and new worship communities and congregational events to grow unhindered. We will create gathering spaces and a space for the Gathering. We will create an environment that draws ministries together and promotes greater unity in the body of Christ.
We will break ground on the new facilities exactly on the 91st anniversary of the historic 1929 groundbreaking: October 29, 2020, at 4:00 in the afternoon.
Youth ministry: “Our leading-edge”
We will support and encourage the work of our Youth Ministries by deeply committing our congregation to ministry with teenagers. We will be a church in which teenagers are welcomed, encouraged, and empowered by the entire congregation. Our ministry with youth will be a strength of our church, providing Christian community and discipleship for young people and connecting them to life in our church in ways that acknowledge their needs, gifts, and unique voice as the youngest members of the congregation.
We affirm the gifts and graces of our existing youth ministries leadership and commit to supporting the Youth Ministries’ vision and goals currently in place. Our goal is to strengthen ministry with youth by continued and improved integration with the rest of the FUMCFW church community. Under the capable leadership of Kat Bair, our Director of Youth Ministries, our youth ministry is directly assessing and addressing the needs of today’s youth and their families with amazing creativity during this pandemic.
Increased diversity: “The kingdom of God”
We asked ourselves “who is our neighbor?” and we came to realize that our neighborhood is growing. Looking deeply at ourselves, we feel called to broaden our horizons, grow our circles of influence, and open ourselves to others in new and compelling ways. We envision a church community that helps members meet people from other walks of life than their own, and that connects people from different walks of life with the gospel.
We celebrate our church congregation articulating a vision of an increasingly diverse community, and we give God thanks for this spirit of outreach in our midst! We also humbly acknowledge that there is not a clearly articulated answer to the question, “What do you mean by diversity?” We have formed, under the leadership of Reverend Linda McDermott and Reverend Tom McDermott, a long-term committee to explore the desire for diversity in our congregation and to provide our leadership with a clearer understanding of this vision for our community.
We are committed to the full inclusion of ALL people into the life of the church.
While we face enormous headwinds in these stormy times, I’m hopeful about the future of First Church. It is a vibrant downtown congregation with many significant assets for reaching people in the years to come. We are located in the area of downtown that is in the process of expanding. Before long we will be located at the center of downtown.
Moving forward with the building program and all the ministries of our church during the pandemic and all the tumult of 2020 is yet another chapter in the remarkable story of this congregation. Founded in 1853, the church built its first building — a wooden structure at 4th and Jones — in a terrible year. It was the Panic of 1873 — the worst economic downturn in the history of the United States to that point.
Fourteen years later, the church has outgrown its building and built the first brick structure in yet another terrible year. It was the drought of 1887 — the worst drought in Texas history to that point — when people were leaving Texas in droves because they could not make a living on the parched land.
They became landlocked and relocated to 7th and Taylor in 1908 in a large, beautiful building. Church membership continued to grow and new buildings surrounded the 7th and Taylor location, so the congregation became unexpectedly landlocked. A new site was selected at Fifth and Florence — the current location — only 21 years after the last relocation. Imagine the courage and foresight of those leaders at that time!
The church broke ground on our current facility in yet another terrible year! The groundbreaking was held on October 27, 1929 at 4:00 in the afternoon — the day of the stock market crash that signaled the beginning of what would become known as The Great Depression. In spite of that, the church moved forward and built the building we enjoy today. Those church members and leaders dreamed big dreams and had a new vision for a changing world.
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.”