A Message from Senior Pastor Dr. Tim Bruster
As you may have heard or read in the newspaper, Vanessa Mayfield, a member of our faith community who often attended the DiscipleChurch breakfast and was a First Street Mission regular, was found dead on our campus — outside our buildings but on our grounds — this past Saturday morning. Vanessa, who was reportedly homeless for the past 10 years and was a frequent participant in the ministries of our church, was the apparent victim of domestic violence at the hands of a man, described by some as her boyfriend; by others, her fiancé.
This man, identified in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as Jared Seavey, was arrested on a charge of murder in connection with Vanessa’s death. While much has been said and speculated about the circumstances of this horrific incident, the Fort Worth Police Department states that the investigation is still ongoing. In that respect, I think it is extremely important that we all stick to the facts we know for sure. Unfortunately, there may simply be no answers to how and why this tragedy befell this mother of five, the youngest of whom is a 6-month-old baby.
Because our church campus remains open and welcoming to the entire downtown community — devoid of the high fences and locked gates that would convey the opposite message of our mission and ministries — it is not possible to provide 24/7 security on all our grounds. While we have taken great measures to provide safety and security for our extended faith community for weekdays, special events, and Sunday mornings with a robust and compassionate Security team directed by Ron Hicks, this isolated incident of domestic abuse occurred after hours, on a weekend, and at a time when our campus was unattended by our staff or security team.
In the midst of this awful tragedy, however, I do want to share with you how our church responded and extended compassion and care for those who mourn Vanessa’s death and needed to come together to express their grief and honor her life. In hosting an impromptu vigil and memorial service on Tuesday evening from 7:00 to 9:00 pm, we saw a glimpse of First Church at its best — providing space and care for this community and their need to grieve as we all do when someone close to us has died. This service, held in the parking lot and followed by a brief reception and simple refreshments, was attended by approximately 50 people. During this time, those gathered remembered Vanessa, one by one, just as you would expect at any memorial.
In substance, this was a very normal emotional response by those who were close to Vanessa and shocked and horrified by her death. In the bigger picture of all of the events of this past week, I am reminded that ours is a faith community of compassion and trust — we are all human, we all love, grieve, and need the support of others. I am so proud to say that our church provided that space for Vanessa’s friends.
In the coming days, weeks, and months ahead, you may encounter people in the church and in the local community who express fear and increased worry that something so horrific has happened on our campus. It is difficult to know how to respond, but at least part of our response needs to be to listen with compassion, acknowledge fear, and then express our own trust that our church is a safe place to be. This was a tragedy that offers no explanation of why one human would take the life of another.
Vanessa was a victim of domestic violence. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence observes that domestic violence is an epidemic that affects individuals in every community regardless of age, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality — and that homeless women are particularly vulnerable. While we know that Vanessa’s death had absolutely nothing to do with our church or its ministries, I am deeply grieved that this happened to Vanessa at all and particularly on our campus. This devastating personal example of that national statistic also points to the need for our continued ministries to help the homeless find safe housing.
In short, Vanessa is a child of God whose life was precious and needs to be cherished. Whether or not you knew Vanessa, I think it is important that we all mourn her violent and untimely death and the senseless violence of domestic abuse. Please join me in prayer for Vanessa’s children, her friends, and the community so deeply devastated by this loss.
I am exceedingly proud of our church, its ministries to this community, and the compassionate response of all who participated in the care we extended as a church this past week.
Grace and Peace,