Bill Carl’s preaching and the work of The Stewpot attracted me to First Presbyterian Church after I moved back to Texas in 1991. I liked the combination of theological seriousness and social compassion. Susan Stephens was kind enough to introduce me to people, so I finally joined in 1993.
Jennifer and I were married in the chapel in October 1999, and we have been a chapel-going family ever since. Our twins, Annie and Douglas, were baptized there and the four of us are part of the chapel ushering routine.
We have also loved going on the family mission trips that Miatta Wilson leads. They are a great way to learn about a community’s needs, engage in service, and get to know fellow FPC families.
During the 1990s, I occasionally served meals at The Stewpot. Then, in 2002, Bruce Buchanan invited Jennifer and me to serve as hosts of The Stewpot Talent Show. We were honored to do so, even getting to wear formal attire (with twins in utero!).
Now, as chair of the Community Ministries Committee, I have more opportunity to be involved with Brenda Snitzer and her team at The Stewpot. This ministry is central to our church, but also to our city. I love our motto “A Heart for the City,” and The Stewpot captures First Presbyterian’s heart for Dallas.
We live in a city divided by poverty, including the poverty we see on the streets. To close our eyes to that reality would be to ignore the truths of life in Dallas, not to mention the realities on our doorstep.
But the beauty of The Stewpot is that staff and volunteers approach their work as partners with the clients they serve. This is not a hierarchal arrangement, where one group of people is doing something for the other. The Stewpot is doing this work with their clients as they together try to recover and repurpose lives.
The relational aspect of service is part of other FPC ministries, too. I have been privileged to go on several Mexico mission trips, and there as well the emphasis is on serving with others, not doing for others. As a result, relationships develop across cultures and even borders. When Pastor Felipe Barandiaran visits from Juarez, I feel as if I am visiting with an old friend.
In fact, we are.
Nor are our various missions charity work. In the case of The Stewpot, the commitment does not expire after a holiday season or after the inclination to do good disappears. The ministry is committed each and every day to working with residents in various states of homelessness. And it has been doing so for more than 40 years.
During college, I had the opportunity to live and work one summer in a housing project in Denver with other students. We worked in churches in the area, and the experience taught me that as Christians we have the responsibility to love and care for the poor and forgotten. But we are to do so in humility, not in a way that is to lord any privilege over another. It’s about spending ourselves on behalf of the hungry, as Isaiah put it.
Our church’s commitment to this approach to ministry is one of the main reasons our family remains a part of FPC. Our children participate in those ministries, and we do too. To me this is part of being a “restorer of streets with dwellings,” as Isaiah also said.
Of course, how those streets with dwellings are restored is often complicated. And we might all have conflicting views on how to repair them. But we are called to be part of the search for that end.
God’s love for us calls us there. May we continue expressing God’s love in that way through the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas.