For the past seven years, I have served at Meadowbrook, a church in the heart of East Fort Worth, TX. When I came to Meadowbrook, I was hired to oversee the children and youth ministries. I was later appointed as an associate pastor, and when our pastor retired, I was appointed as the senior pastor. In every transition, I doubted my ability to lead this congregation in this setting. The congregation looked different than the neighborhood. The neighborhood seemed to not notice all that the church was trying to do for the community. Many, many times, I have felt as if our efforts have been too little, too late.
Meadowbrook has been a community church since 1928. The church has stayed in the same place in the midst of transitioning communities, rises in crime, and increases in urban poverty. The city of Fort Worth centered a majority of services for the homeless not far from the church. Still, in the midst of these dynamics, Meadowbrook remained in the community as other churches came and left.
In the last several years, the congregation and the clergy leadership of Meadowbrook have been working hard to realize God’s new vision for our place in the community. We have seen the addicted delivered and the homeless sheltered. We have also experienced the strength of a necessary church family as folks were hurting. Even though our worship attendance has decreased, the heart of compassion and service that has carried Meadowbrook through trying times still beats strong today.
When we were presented with the vision and dreams of Project Transformation in the Central Texas Annual Conference, we knew Meadowbrook was a perfect fit. We have many folks who are passionate about education and we have plenty of space to utilize. So we filled out our application and began to pray that we were chosen as a host church. In early 2017, we found out that we were chosen and the whole church was ecstatic!!
We began to formulate plans on how to get children registered and we we began to pray for a powerful summer of ministry. We began to pray for the interns that God would send to serve in our church. We prayed for our partner churches and the volunteers that would be on our campus daily. We prayed for books to show up for the library. Before we knew it, the interns were moving in, children were registering, books were labeled, and volunteers were signing up. This was really going to happen! This ministry that we had prayed for nearly a year in advance was becoming a reality!
Every Tuesday, Meadowbrook UMC volunteers, along with some others from McMillan UMC and Polytechnic UMC, spent time reading one-on-one with the children. In a summer that saw an average worship attendance of 75, ONE-THIRD of our congregation volunteered to read with THEIR kids. Some of the volunteers were so impacted that they came to read nearly every day of the program.
As a pastor, I could just sit back and watch in awe as God worked in the lives of our congregation. People of all ages and abilities were able to touch the life a child for an entire summer. Some found a new love for working with children. The children loved being a part of the program and they enjoyed being in a safe place with people that cared about them. It was a beautiful thing to experience.
Now, we are looking forward to following up with the children and their families. Just recently, over 20 gift baskets were delivered to some of the Project Transformation families to let them know that we loved them and were praying for them. In September, we are sending volunteers to read with children and the local elementary school, which we haven’t done in years! We have a full roster of volunteers, some that read this summer and others that didn’t have the chance. We are looking forward to regular family reading nights in our new, child-friendly library.
Through the experience of this summer, I have learned that if a congregation can get unified behind a common, singular purpose, then God can move in powerful ways. Lives can be changed. People can be encouraged. An entire neighborhood can feel the effects of such a vision. I feel this is even more important for the smaller churches with limited people and resources. I can’t wait to see where God leads us next in this great adventure.
Rev. Marilyn Jones is the senior pastor of Meadowbrook United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, TX. She is married to Clint, who is also a pastor at First UMC in Cleburne, TX. Marilyn loves traveling and the Jones’s are looking forward to welcoming their first child in January!