Our Worship’s “Big Tent”

By April 8, 2022

From message to music to liturgy and prayer, worshiping God at First United Methodist Church makes Sunday mornings a truly sacred time of connection with God and one another. Worship at First Church is and has always been an awe-inspiring experience.

On Sunday morning, September 7, 2003, Dr. Tim Bruster’s very first Sunday as Senior Pastor of this church, our First Church worshiping community looked quite different than it does today. For one thing, there was only one style of worship offered on Sunday morning in two services in the sanctuary.

“I’ll never forget that first Sunday,” Dr. Bruster remembers. “I processed down the aisle with the choir singing the opening hymn ‘All Creatures of Our God and King.’ Our beautiful, majestic sanctuary was full, and the music was glorious. My heart was full of gratitude for the privilege of serving this great church. I felt a lightness in the worship, even as I felt the weight of my new responsibility.”

Here are a few of the most noteworthy changes to First Church worship under Tim Bruster’s leadership that brought us to where we are today.

From “plug and play worship” to integrated seasonal planning

Going from “hey, can you do the pastoral prayer this Sunday” to an organized system of designing and coordinating the elements of each week’s worship was another aspect of First Church worship Dr. Bruster empowered, enabled, and encouraged through the leadership of Rev. Linda McDermott. Working closely with the multi-ministry worship team she created, Linda led our church into a new era of worship that brought into play a system for detailed planning and cohesive delivery of the Sunday message through all the elements of worship.

Calling upon special training led by worship design experts, each service, sermon series, and seasonal theme was designed and orchestrated to involve and embrace mental, physical, and emotional impact calling upon visual (light, decorative elements, colors), auditory (music, sound), and kinesthetic (movement and flow) elements to create an experience of worship rather than just attendance of it. Today, with Rev. McDermott’s decision to lead Adult Education and scale back her workload to ¾ time, the work of the worship team continues with the leadership of our worship coordinator, Elaine Johnson.

Total Sermons Preached

1,539

Weddings

56

Infant Baptisms

709

Funerals

108

New Members

3644

Professions of Faith

1710

The First Church worship tent begins to expand

A second style of worship, called Round Table, also met on Sunday evenings in Wesley Hall for people with a need for a less structured, less formal, and less traditional worship experience. To reach the “nones” (people who prefer not to affiliate with any particular religious tradition) and “dones” (people who have been damaged in some way by unhealthy religion), Tim fully supported the work of Rev. Linda McDermott, Dr. Jim Conner, and Charles Gaby, who founded this unique service, to meet this need and offer a worship service that featured non-traditional spirituality and popular, accessible music.

Soon after his arrival, and with Tim’s interest and support for broadening the “tent” for worship at First Church, Round Table Worship was rebranded as eleven:eleven and began meeting on Sunday mornings in Wesley Hall. Eventually, Charles became leader (Jim left the staff in 2004 to become senior pastor at Genesis UMC), and Linda maintained a close relationship with this service. When Charles left the staff, Rev. Tom McDermott, who originally served eleven:eleven as its band leader, assumed leadership of the service with Brad Thompson (and now Elizabeth Wills) assuming leadership of the band. Under Tom’s leadership, eleven:eleven moved back into a more progressive Christian format while maintaining this vibrant worshiping community’s tone and focus on spirituality and community. “My role has always been to be supportive of that service and see its value,” Dr. Bruster says, “and to champion it as needed to make sure it is successful and thrives with its intent to reach people who had not found a place in the church or who had had a bad experience.”

Worship at the heart of discipleship

In early 2007, Dr. Bill Longsworth and Rev. Brooks Harrington identified the need for a service fully devoted to service and discipleship. They decided to do it early, starting at 8:30 am, to give people an alternative to the more traditional worship times, and to serve communion every Sunday. As an outgrowth to this service, and because their early arrival to campus on Sunday mornings showed them an opportunity to offer hospitality to people living on the streets surrounding the church, they set up a small, tented table outside the chapel to serve coffee, then coffee and donuts, before entering the chapel.

This early morning hospitality soon expanded to a full breakfast, home-cooked by volunteers, and served in room 154 prior to the service. As word spread among the homeless population — and the volunteers seeking ways to build their own discipleship, the breakfast moved to Wesley Hall and eventually grew to serve more than 100 guests each Sunday morning. With the breakfast as its driver, DiscipleChurch flourished, involving dramatic growth in the volunteers, guests, and community formed around this unique discipleship and hands-on service-oriented worship experience.

A new kind of service for informal, learning-based, contemporary worship

What began as a hybrid between Sunday School and Worship that catered to young adults, young families, and young professionals was an outgrowth of the “satellite campus” called First7th. Conceived as a Sunday night off-campus worship opportunity to reach the growing population along the burgeoning West 7th corridor and urban developments on both sides of the bridge, the next expansion of First Church worship offers a prime example of Tim Bruster’s responsive leadership that encourages, empowers, and enables talented people to do what they do best.

Rev. Lance Marshall, who will take the reins as senior pastor upon Dr. Bruster’s retirement at the end of June, guided the evolution of First7th into what would eventually become the First Church’s highest-attended contemporary worship service – The Gathering. While The Gathering is contemporary in style including a full praise band and teaching style messages, the service is also rooted in the weekly receiving of communion and long-standing Wesleyan/Anglican liturgies.

“The success of the Gathering is a testimony to Tim’s willingness to support new things and give good ideas second chances”, Lance explains. “It took us two or three tries to eventually land on the formula that gave us the Gathering, and Tim was its biggest cheerleader and advocate at every step of the journey. It would have been easy to give up after a few false starts, but Tim believed in the vision and gave the Gathering a chance to succeed when many others might have quit.”

“My philosophy of worship is that people have different needs and different musical affinities and appreciation,” Tim says. “Different kinds of music speak to different people, different styles of worship reach different people, and so a church needs to have a variety of worship experiences to reach and connect with the maximum number of people on several different levels.”

“I think the growth and development of new styles and ways to worship, connect, and learn prepared us for how we responded to the pandemic,” Dr. Bruster reflects. “We were able to continue to worship, reaching new people and others with whom we had lost touch. It is amazing how we have extended our reach far beyond our area—even globally,” he adds. “All of our worship opportunities navigated the challenges of the pandemic well — and some services, like our newest addition, a Dementia Friendly Service, and DiscipleChurch, even grew exponentially because of how their digital availability met a great need of people trying to cope with isolation, uncertainty, and fear.”

Today, several major Sanctuary renovations later, installation of a premiere pipe organ, and choir loft and chancel redesign that also outfits this historic space for growing and evolving ways to reach people in our local community and around the world. Our 2020 media ministries upgrade featuring new stationary and moveable HD cameras, studio equipment, sound and lighting upgrades make all worship experiences also available online via livestream and YouTube archive. Because of these upgrades done to enhance online worship, our church is now enabled to produce choral, orchestral, and other concerts, organ recitals, and elaborate productions including a “Living Last Supper.”

With these sound, lighting, and digital studio and camera upgrades, our church was  enabled and empowered to mount a robust and effective response to Covid 19 shutdowns. Today, these upgraded capabilities that allow even greater flexibility and special enhancements such as professional sound mixing, lightscapes, and other contemporary worship features, perfectly position our church to continue its legacy as a breathtaking historic cathedral and to move into its exciting future. With the visionary leadership that increased our worship capacities in all areas, First Church is well prepared and equipped for nimble response to God’s call on our faith community to create meaningful opportunities for worship that meets a variety of needs.

“Because of all we are and all we do as a church — and all of the growth and flexibility and variety of our worship offerings that brought us to where we are today,” Dr. Bruster continues, “we have been able to be there for people when they needed us most — and in the ways they needed us most. That’s something I will always be very proud of.”

During the past 18 1/2 years of Dr. Tim Bruster’s leadership as senior pastor of our church, he has consistently worked to enable growth in our ministries, empower the talents of staff and lay leaders to reach new, creative, and effective heights as we follow God’s call on our faith community, and encourage continued discernment of this call with ever-evolving approaches to living out our faith. In doing so he has provided rock-steady leadership in key and pivotal times in our church history that has positioned our church well for its next era of leadership and ministry under Rev. Lance Marshall. Congratulations, Tim and thank you for your unwavering commitment to our church and all we serve!

read next article

The Man, The Ministry, The Music

Retirement Celebration Honoring Dr. Tim Bruster

Friday, May 6, 2022
6:30 pm | Check In
7:00 pm | Dinner and Program
The Worthington Renaissance Fort Worth Hotel
learn more
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