The Hemphill Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth was declining in memebership and monetary resources. It was absorbed by First Presbyterian Church on Penn St. Eventually, the struggling congregation sold its building. This is where I came in to the story. They moved the ministry a block down the street, bought a building that had over the years been a restaurant, towel supply company, an ice cream parlor, a home appliance dealer, a vacuum cleaner shop, a used car lot, a bar and a liquor store among other things and decided to turn it in to a community center.
I attended the dedication of the Community Crossroads center today. The Honorable Betsy Price, Mayor of Fort Worth was on hand to cut the ribbon with Pastor Karl Travis and Associate Pastor Robyn Michalove. Community Crossroads houses First Hand clothing ministry, First Hand food pantry (they currently feed 300 households month) and holds a community dinner and worship every Wednesday (WOW – Worship on Wednesday). They are currently installing the equipment to provide free dental and eye care to neighborhood children and homeless men and women. WOW, indeed. The dedication ceremony included a reading of Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used to say of this parable that although it is well and good we should care for the man left for dead by the side of the road, it is more important to change the nature of the road, so that it is no longer dangerous to travel. Community Crossroads is not just a group of people offering ministry to the people left on the side of the Jericho Road. This is the type of ministry that changes the nature of the road.
“Remind those who serve and those who are served that all we have we receive as gifts, and that we are stewards entrusted to each other’s care.”
– From the Litany of Dedication of Community Crossroads
Community Crossroads is an example of what is possible when a congregation gets over its edifice complex and realizes that money is best spent serving the community, not paying rent and utilities for a small group of like minded people to gather for worship and coffee on Sunday morning.
I attended Worship on Wednesday this past week and loved the community atmosphere. Neighborhood residents, homeless men and women, and formerly homeless men and women mixed with members of First Presbyterian and complete outsiders such as myself. This is what the beloved community looks like.
Community Crossroads is what mainline missional church looks like in the context of the today’s urban parish. It’s reconnecting to the city, bringing people together across neighborhoods, income and denominations.
Perhaps the Hemphill and First Presbyterian example is a possible solution for Unitarian Universalist congregations around the country, especially in the urban northeast. How many struggling, small congregations could affiliate or become part of a bigger church, sell their building and start a community center meeting the unmet needs in their neighborhood? Are there any UU churches out there doing this in this type of model? I’d love to learn about them.
How might we turn the bumper sticker into congregational reality? Live simply so that others might simply live. It might mean giving up a beloved building or a separate congregational identity, but instead of focussing on what might be lost, do we have the courage to imagine what we might gain, who we might serve, what we might learn, and what gardens might grow?