By Alexandria Lopez
The exterior beauty of Broadway Baptist Church’s Gothic-style architecture is difficult to overlook. But, what truly makes the church beautiful is its commitment to ministering to its neighbors and the resulting relationships that have formed.
Established in the 1880s in Fort Worth, Texas, the congregation faced the decision in the mid-20th century whether to move to the suburbs or remain in the city. The church chose to stay in its present location. Today, situated about a mile from Fort Worth’s homeless shelters and services, Broadway is known in the community for its offerings of hospitality, help and hope.
Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:35-36 sum up Broadway’s community ministries: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me.”
By providing adult and children’s clothing, running a mobile food pantry and the May Street Market, supplying day workers with sack lunches and offering men without homes a place to sleep in inclement weather, Broadway is helping to meet the physical needs of its community. But, physical needs are not the only needs being met. Broadway also provides an environment where individuals can experience God’s love.
“There’s a lot in Jesus’ teaching and in his example about caring for those at the bottom of the social ladder — the least of these,” said Brent Beasley, who serves as Broadway’s senior pastor.
“It seems to me that Jesus met people’s physical needs but did so in a way that broke down the social and cultural barriers between people. That’s the way we try to do our ministry. We try to put people in a position to build relationships as opposed to just handing out food and clothes.”
The Agape Meal, Broadway’s most well-known ministry, exemplifies this relational orientation. Since April 1995, this weekly banquet dinner held in the church’s Fellowship Hall has allowed guests to break bread together at eight-person tables alongside volunteer hosts who share the meal with them. The tables are covered with white linens and centerpieces. Additional volunteers serve food and drinks to 170-180 guests every Thursday.
The crowd grows in the summertime and in the latter-half of each month when food budgets are tight. Toward the end of the hour-long meal, David Grebel, worship leader for the Agape Meal, holds a 20-minute service that includes a Scripture reading and brief homily.
Yet, as Beasley stressed, the Agape Meal is not intended to be a tool to get folks to attend a worship service. “Sharing a meal together is central,” Beasley said.
For Grebel, the highlight of the Agape Meal is hearing what’s going on in the lives of the guests. He cited one attendee who recently confessed to him, “I have been living in the midst of chaos, and I’m glad I found this beautiful place.”
“I think that sums it up for all of us at the Agape Meal,” Grebel reflected. “It’s easy to fall into a helping mindset, but we are receiving as much as we are giving. We bring valuable resources to people who are economically disadvantaged, but they bring something of great and inestimable value to us as well. Together, we are trying to create a community in which the Spirit of God
In 2013, Broadway served 7,064 guests at the Agape Meal and did so with the help of several partners, including the Tarrant Area Food Bank, which also provides food for other Broadway ministries. White’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake and Marine Creek Community Church in west Fort Worth regularly supply some of the 75 volunteers required weekly to host the meal. “It would be very difficult to maintain the necessary volunteer pool without these great partners from other denominations,” said Dan Freemyer, director of community ministires for Broadway.
Through partnerships with churches and other nonprofit organizations, Broadway is able to increase the number and variety of services it provides to the community. For instance, Broadway and First United Methodist Church take turns distributing sack lunches five days a week. The two congregations also coordinate their annual coat drives to ensure that each of the new and used coats they distribute go to a different individual. This collaboration allows more
than 600 people to receive a coat in
Several years ago, Broadway began participating in Room in the Inn, working with local congregations and the Day Resource Center for the Homeless to provide 15 emergency beds at the church on Monday nights during five of the coldest and hottest months of the year. The church also opens its doors to host the monthly meeting of the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition, while serving as a regular meeting place for local service providers, such as Catholic Charities Street Outreach Services, and their clients.
Both Freemyer and his assistant, Judi Glover, are employees of Buckner Children and Family Services and receive partial financial support from Broadway. This is another example of the constant collaboration that goes on between Broadway and other area service providers. Freemyer and Glover coordinate these community ministries on behalf of both Broadway and Buckner.
“Each of our ministries has a strong core of supporters who are passionate about that ministry,” Freemyer said. “Because they are the ones intimately involved in meeting the needs through their volunteer service, they are generous and passionate about supporting the work financially.”
Volunteers contributed 13,563 hours of service to Broadway’s community ministries last year. Although it cannot be measured numerically, the most meaningful aspect of Broadway’s ministries is the relationships and sense of community that they create. Freemyer recalled the relationship between Tom and Don, who met through the Agape Meal and have been friends for years. Tom recently advocated for Don to secure an apartment through an innovative housing program and then celebrated with him as he moved into his new home on the coldest day of the winter. Many of the guests at the Agape Meal come on a regular basis and sit with the same friends and family every Thursday.
“Our staff and regular volunteers know the people we work with,” Beasley said. “And that makes all the difference.”