I am Evan Stanfill the new Middle School Program Coordinator with Youth Ministries over at the Justin Building. I thought I would take a few words to introduce myself to y’all! It has been quite an adventurous start to this position as my first day was also the first day of Middle School Mission Blitz with forty middle schoolers staying in the Justin for two nights and doing mission work around town. Immediately after that was High School Mission Trip out in the hundred-degree heat headquartered out of Lyle Lodge. It was a very intense way to meet and get to know many of the wonderful youth here at First UMC Fort Worth.
During the high school mission trip, one of the first icebreaker questions that we asked was, “what would your autobiography be titled?” I enjoyed the answers to that question from my small group and shared that my title would be “Somehow, I Wound up Back in Texas.” You see, I was born and raised here in Fort Worth. I have many fond memories of this city all the way through graduating from Paschal High School- more years ago than I’d like to believe. From there, I figured I would spread my wings and never look back. I could see my high school from TCU’s campus so that was too familiar and too many of my high school cohort were going to the other schools in Texas so that wasn’t far enough either. In the end, I chose LSU for college, which surprised almost no one, as my parents are both alumni and I had been wearing LSU gear since before I could walk. I made some fantastic friends, had a full college experience, and thought I had this grand plan for how my life would play out. As we all know, that’s not really how life works, so after a few unfulfilling years, I found myself moving to St. Louis for a service corps year designed around intentional community and discernment. During that year I worked with several faith-based nonprofits doing work with folks I will always carry on my heart and heard my call to ministry. When choosing a seminary, I could have easily chosen to come back to Fort Worth. Brite Divinity School is here in Fort Worth and I have many friends and connections there. Yet again, I flung myself even further in a different direction. I spent my seminary journey in the North Bay of San Francisco at San Francisco Theological Seminary. During my studies — at what was essentially a castle on the side of a mountain — I learned from both the professors and the community, felt my call deepen and broaden, and near its conclusion met the love of my life (We’re getting married in October!).
After all that, and after spending a significant amount of effort looking for work in ministry that would keep me almost anywhere else, opportunities and hospitality showed up in Fort Worth that I could not ignore. I returned to this city I continue to call home. I moved back in October of 2019 and even through several job changes, moves, and a pandemic I am glad that I have made my way back to this city that has given me so much over the years. It is an interesting, quirky, vibrant city that manages to feel much smaller and tight-knit than the very large city that it really is.
Over the years I used to get asked the question “why do you do so many middle school church camps?” and after starting this position, I have been asked, “why do you want to work with middle school students the whole school year?” The answer is still very much the same. Middle school is hard and strange. School is changing, they are changing, they are beginning to see themselves and the world in new and wild ways. Middle school students ask the best questions, because they still have some childlike wonder and because some bits of the real world have started to emerge in their lives. It also allows me to give back a similar environment that I had as a middle schooler. A place in a youth group, with a group that embodies the radical acceptance of Jesus, one that knows that life in those first years of being a teenager is awkward and difficult and confusing. A group that through all that can come together and be a place for every one of them to thrive and experience God’s love. I know that my experience in youth group and church camp was so important in my growth in faith and life that being a part of that for others gives me great joy.
I hope that this has given you a little insight into where I’ve been and who I am. I am looking forward to what this journey has in store for us, and I’d love to get to know as many people in this community as I can. Grace and Peace to you all.
Middle School Program Coordinator