New Faces, New Spaces

A country church started a Celebrate Recovery ministry for victims of opioid addiction.

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A county-seat church brought its church bus out of the garage for the first time in two years and started transporting children to Wednesday night events at their church.

A suburban church started a young adult ministry called “GAP” that meets over dinner in restaurants.

A dying church opened its doors to its Korean neighbors and started hosting Korean worship services.

These stories and more were shared at the North Texas Annual Conference over the past few days in celebration of the theme, “New Faces, New Spaces.”

Every year, the annual gathering of local United Methodists focuses on a different theme, and this year’s conference zeroed in on the effort to reach new people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was encouraging to hear how our brothers and sisters have attempted to do exactly that over the past year in a variety of creative ways.

This was at the heart of the work of the Vision Task Force over the last few months; the group was deeply concerned about how to be a vibrant church home for people who are not yet here.

And frankly, this is my own personal passion, too. I want the people of north Oak Cliff to discover the joy and fulfillment of following Jesus, and I want them to join us in our journey. I don’t think I will ever be happy or content to “rest easy” with the status quo.

There will always be room for one more worshipper or one more new member. There will always be a need to feed another homeless person, or to read with an elementary school child. There will always be an injustice to fight, or another wrong to right.

I get really excited when I see people doing creative things for the sake of God’s mission. That’s why Annual Conference is so much fun. We get to hear about the real practical work on the ground in North Texas.

But I think it’s time for us to also think about the meaning of “New Faces, New Spaces.” Because new spaces are springing up all around us. We’ve seen an unprecedented rise in the number of apartment units available in the area — up and down Singleton Ave., Ft Worth Ave., and Davis St, not to mention throughout the Bishop Arts District. The new spaces are already here.

Which means the new faces are on their way. Each new face represents another beloved child of God who is in need of community, friends, support, and inspiration.

Kessler Park UMC exists for each new face. That’s why we’re here. As the body of Christ, we literally represent Jesus to and for them. The stories at Annual Conference reminded me that we need to think seriously about these new faces. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions about our own spaces.

Can we make space for the new faces?

Do we need to create new spaces?

What do we have to offer the people of Oak Cliff?

Remember, the day that the church stops thinking about how to reach new people is the day that the church starts dying.


Why Go Overseas?

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Has the international mission trip become irrelevant, unnecessary, perhaps even unseemly and immoral?

I know that some people wonder, either privately or not so privately, why it is that some Christians feel the urge to do good in faraway places when, as we all know very well, there are plenty of people in need in our own cities and neighborhoods.

I’m sure that some people feel this way about my current trip to Lebanon; I get it. After all, there is always a bit of tourism that goes on when I’m visiting another country, meaning that I am spending some time seeing beautiful historical sites, eating wonderful foods, and taking a break from the work I normally do. In that sense, it is a kind of vacation, or at least a respite from the usual list of things to do.

I confess that I love visiting different countries and encountering cultures which are foreign to me. It’s something which I thoroughly enjoy; I like trying to discover how to fit in, or at least how to tread lightly in a place that is not my natural home. 

And I understand that some people, particularly those who are my church members, might even feel that my overseas travel is distinctly not a part of my ministry at home. They might say that I am shirking my duties by spending time outside of my appointed office. 

I would respond to this complaint by arguing that this is part of my ministry; this is part of the whole call of God on the life of Wes Magruder. I haven’t come to Lebanon to engage in work that competes with or detracts from my church job. It’s one and the same work; the same gospel that compels me to proclaim the word on Sunday mornings and lead a congregation in north Oak Cliff also compels me to serve the displaced Syrian children of God.

Even so, there is still a practical question left when it comes to international mission work: does it make good sense for Americans to travel to a foreign country to do work which could just as well be done by others in that country?

This is certainly a legitimate question that must be answered honestly in every circumstance and context. It is true that a survey of American mission efforts over the last century might reveal a mixed bag in this regard; Americans have built and donated things that were irrelevant and unnecessary; Americans have gone into countries like imperialist invaders and bullied the residents around with arrogance and impatience; Americans have often been bad actors in other countries; Americans have also been guilty of doing work that benefitted their own egos and psyches rather than the people they ostensibly came to help. All of that is true.

But that doesn’t mean that Americans — or anyone else, for that matter — should stop their interest in international mission work. It means merely that we should do it better! 

We no longer have the luxury of sitting back and saying to ourselves that we should take care of our own poor and suffering first; we cannot afford to adopt an “America first” policy regarding the kingdom of God. This attitude may have been acceptable in the past, but our globe is infinitely smaller now, and a crisis in one small corner of the world will have repercussions elsewhere, whether we like it or not.

When I’m in Lebanon, or Greece, or Cameroon, I feel like I’m doing work for the only “place” that really matters — the entire planet. Because when we talk about “the kingdom of God,” that’s what we mean; God’s kingdom is that which God’s rule of shalom, love, and community encompasses. The kingdom of God is not limited to this planet (it includes the whole cosmos), but there is no part of this globe which falls outside of God’s reign.

If we really believe this, then we must act like it. As Christians, we can never subscribe to an “America first” mentality; nor must we succumb to an ideology which proclaims that our country is more divinely blessed than any other.

The world is full of diverse peoples, each of whom we are commanded to love as our neighbor, whether they love us back or not. And the only way to love our neighbors is to get to know them. 

In the end, that is the reason why I think international mission trips are urgent and necessary for the Christian. We have to get to know the real people who live in our world. It no longer suffices to send a little money here or there to address a need. We can’t fall back on our State Department or a large, impersonal non-profit organization to do our work for us. And we certainly cannot afford to let large media conglomerates tell us what the rest of the world is like, even if they have impressive video footage. 

No, I am convinced that the only true change in this world will take place when we all actively seek friendships with people around the world, when we nurture relationships with people who are not like us at all. You don’t have to leave America to do that, of course, but it certainly helps!

The world would actually be a safer place if we got out of our comfortable enclaves and opened our hearts to the world around us.

Thats why I’m here in Lebanon this week. Not simply to found a non-profit, which will do some great work. But to see my friends Ghaleb and Reyna Charif, and Tarek and Mouhar. Yesterday, I saw a woman who I met back in February; I didn’t remember her name, but she remembered mine and warmly greeted me back to her country. 

Today I met a young 23 year old woman named Shaza, who works as a facilitator for Save the Children. I watched as she led Syrian refugee children in playing Musical Chairs, Red Light/Green Light, and another game with a ball that looked like a cross between dodgeball and tag. She is the same age as my oldest daughter, and I thought of Rachel as I watched her.

All I could think was that I wished Rachel could meet Shaza. I think they would enjoy each other’s company. I think they could be friends.

But that’s what I always think. And that’s what I think about all the people of the world. We really could be friends if we just took the time to be with each other, even if only for a simple dinner. 

Truly, when you boil it all down, the international mission trip is worth it for that one simple event — the meal. That is where relationships begin; that is where God’s kingdom begins to peek through; that is where mission work hits its stride.

Goin' to the Chapel


KPUMC is currently undergoing an internal conversation about what to do about the chapel.

Wait … did you even know that we have a chapel?

On the second floor of the education building, down the hall from the choir room and sanctuary entrance, is a large room with twelve pews and a stage with an altar and lectern. An upright piano sits in the corner next to the stage.

In times past, this chapel has served as a place for (very) small weddings and funerals, as well as occasional special worship services, like Blue Christmas or Ash Wednesday. But these days, the only ones using the space consistently are The Kessler School students, who use the chapel to gather in the morning before class.

To be honest, the chapel is not currently in very good shape. The pews are uncomfortable, and beginning to get a little wobbly. The chandelier lights are the same as we used to have in the old fellowship hall, and just as unattractive. It’s not a very sacred space at the moment.

It’s time to address this space, and ask the important theological question, “What does God want us to do in this place?”

In my opinion, there are three other questions to answer first before we can discern the way forward. Let’s spend a little time reflecting on these.

We should begin by asking the question, “How can we love our neighbors better with this space?” Last Sunday, I preached about our neighbors, and I pointed out that, though we understand that everyone could be defined as our “neighbor,” we certainly have to begin by loving the neighbors who live closest to us. So it doesn’t hurt to ask how our chapel space could best benefit the people in our neighborhood. Is there a service or program that we could be offering in that space which we currently aren’t offering? Is there a need that exists in the community which we could meet by using the chapel differently?

A second helpful question to ask is, “What could happen here, in this space, that couldn’t happen elsewhere?” This question helps us identify what is unique about a particular space, in order to take advantage of its particular qualities. For example, one helpful feature of our chapel space is that it is on the same floor as the sanctuary. Members of staff have been musing about the possibility of turning the chapel into a Sunday morning welcome and fellowship space, where people could more easily mingle, converse, and have coffee. Some staff have also pointed out that it might be helpful to have a nursery on the same level as the sanctuary; thus, the idea of converting the space into a new nursery has also been broached.

Perhaps most importantly, however, I recommend we also ask the third question: “How can this space be used to be a catalyst for creative change in north Oak Cliff?” This question emerged from our Holy Conversations process three years ago, and I find it extremely helpful as we pray and plan for the church’s future. I would encourage us to be creative when we think about this space and its potential. This requires outside-the-box thinking. Could we turn it into a TV studio, where services are regularly broadcast or streamed live? Or a goat yoga studio? Or a coffee shop?

Yes, these are crazy ideas … or are they? The point is to spend some time dreaming about what God might be up to in our midst. Why not dream a little, throw some oddball ideas out there? You never know what might stick and catch hold of our imagination.

The world is in need of some shalom right now, and we’ve got a big empty space where we might be able to make it happen. The only thing we’ve got to figure out is what and how.

Come, dream with us, and let your imagination loose.