Embracing Our Mission as a Downtown ChurchEmail This Share This Tweet This
By Rev. Monte Marshall, senior pastor, Travis Park United Methodist Church, San Antonio
Serving the needs of the downtown community is not new to Travis Park United Methodist Church. We’ve been in San Antonio since 1883, just blocks from the Alamo. And we are blessed to worship in such a diverse and dynamic neighborhood.
In 2012, downtown San Antonio began to see an influx of young people wanting to live and work in an urban environment. Our church leadership felt that this was a good time to review and re-assess how we could best serve our evolving community.
We knew that TMF facilitated Holy Conversations with congregations trying to discern their purpose, and we reached out to them for assistance. Eric McKinney, TMF Area Representative, led us through TMF’s Holy Conversations process. It was a remarkably effective and rewarding experience for our church.
Eric had us concentrate on discovering the answers to three crucial questions:
- Who are we as a church and congregation?
- Who are our neighbors?
- What is God calling us to do to best serve our neighbors?
He also encouraged us to “go wide,” and boldly consider ideas and possibilities beyond our normal comfort zone. We came to the conclusion that we needed to fully embrace our role as a downtown church, which meant finding new ways to reach out to everyone in our diverse community.
While our effort is still very much a work in progress, we are inspired by what we’ve experienced to date.
In an effort to reach out to our new, young neighbors, we organized a kickball team that plays in a local league. One result of this distinctly “non-churchy” activity has been the creation of a Bible Study group that meets in team members’ homes. While some team members have never been to our church, they are active participants in learning and sharing the word of God. Kickball helped us find disciples for Christ.
Another aspect of being of a downtown congregation is serving our neighbors who spend much of their lives on the street, or in poverty. Our Holy Conversation led us to redouble our efforts with Corazon Ministries and with Deborah’s House, a ministry that works with women fighting addiction.
Corazon Ministries with the poor has been in operation since 1999 as an outreach mission of our church. Corazon serves "the overlooked and ignored" (Matthew 25) with dignity and respect, providing clothing, health care, and substance abuse counseling to anyone who seeks help. We even recruited local barbers to come in and give free haircuts to our neighbors who couldn’t afford it otherwise.
Deborah's House supports women in their ongoing recovery from addiction by providing a safe sober-living home, spiritual mentoring and modeling of life skills for their continued success. Volunteer mentors, trained specifically for this ministry, provide support and personal attention to each resident.
Lastly, while Travis Park UMC has always been welcoming to everyone, church leadership made the formal decision to become a reconciling church. We’ve made it a point to embrace all of our neighbors, and we’ve been fortunate to see our attendance grow as a result. We’ve not only had an increase of congregants from the LBGTQ community, but also from individuals and young families who share our beliefs on inclusiveness and social justice.
All of these efforts are a direct result of the Holy Conversations process - clarifying our unique identity as a congregation, identifying our ministry context, and discerning how to best live out God's call for us to serve.
Through our work with Eric, we have been able to rediscover our role in the community, and do everything in our power to serve those around us more effectively, more compassionately, and more “neighborly” than ever before.
Editor’s note: Our TMF blog shares stories and essays inspired by our purpose: to help individuals, families, congregations and like-minded organizations achieve their God-inspired potential. Guest blogger Rev. Monte Marshal shares how a Holy Conversation with TMF’s Eric McKinney helped Travis Park UMC find new approaches to serving the needs of their diverse, evolving neighborhood.