Chapters in the Journey

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When I started collecting the stories of First Methodist earlier this year, I never knew what I might discover or where these stories would lead. I never expected to hear tales of cowboys and cattle drives, model Ts and firefighters, lions and monkeys in Beaumont, and POWs at Tyrrell Park. Bob Brandes at 91, is full of memories and he gave me a time traveler’s glimpse into the past. 

His family has been a part of First Methodist for generations with membership in its steeple, dome, and spire churches. Bob was baptized in the dome church in 1929 and married there several decades later. He has been a part of this community for most of his life, and I couldn't help but think of the sermons we have heard these past few Sundays because Bob's journey has included lots of good food shared with many of God's people. These people grew up together, played together, and became God's people together, sharing their stories and their lives along the way. 

There are accounts of beach trips and badminton, coffee club and cake, young love and marriage, of children, work, church and growing older together. The experiences in life that make us who we are, the things that bring us joy and the events that make us sad, the collective memories that make up the narrative of our lives.

Bob spends time in the archive room upstairs at least once a week, and if you haven’t experienced that room, you really should plan a visit. It reminds me of a case file room like the police have on tv. There are boxes on top of boxes all neatly organized and cataloged with their contents, each box a witness to the history and story of our community, a tribute to the people that the Spirit brought together. 

Bob and I talked most of the morning, and he said there really wasn’t anything exciting or unusual about his life, it was just living each day the best that he could. I thought about all that he told me and all that I learned that morning and I realized that each day may not seem exciting, but when you add up the days that make up your life, you understand that each day is another chapter in your journey. A journey as one of God's people, and being a part of that story, well that is about as exciting as it gets.

By Michelle Holland


Listen in as Michelle sits down with Bob and he tells stories of growing up here in Beaumont. 

The Inspiration of a River

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Fred Simon has a booming voice, is an impeccable dresser, and never meets a stranger, but did you know he is an excellent storyteller? I listened to Fred’s stories and I learned about a man who loved his wife deeply, who rose above the racism of the times and made his own way in the world. Fred has been singing “Old Man River” for a long time, and he reminds me of a river. He just keeps rolling along with his big, kind heart and a twinkle in his eye, trusting in God and spending time in prayer. 

Here are some things you may not know about Fred:

He had to play a statue in his 4th grade play because if he sang, he drowned out everyone else.

He traveled with an evangelist to sing and warm up the crowd when he was a teenager.

You did not pick on Fred when his sister was around. She always had his back.

His grandmother sent him and his sister to NY and DC during Beaumont's 1940's race riots, and while playing on a rooftop in NY, he witnessed martial arts exercises for the first time. 

Fred is a 10th-degree black belt and is known as grandmaster Simon.

He attended Huston Tillotson on a choir scholarship where he met his wife, Gene. It was love at first sight.

He shook hands with President Lyndon Johnson at a Beaumont restaurant, and Fred was speechless when the president said, "You have a good grip son!"

Fred and Gene joined FUMC in 1970 and were the first African American family to join the all-white congregation in downtown Beaumont. The day they filled out the membership card, Pastor John Wesley Hardt came to their house to welcome them. The congregation of FUMC embraced diversity with Rosa Dieu taking the lead to make sure everything went well for the Simons. 

Fred and Gene didn’t take the easy road. They followed the Spirit when it led them to this congregation, and they didn't let racism get in the way of serving Jesus. Fred’s stories reveal a man who took the troubles that life handed out, dealt with them and kept a beautiful, positive outlook. He is an inspiration, and I am grateful for his example. Share a meal and some stories with him sometime and I promise you will leave with a smile on your face and hope in your heart.

By Michelle Holland

A Match Made in Heaven

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One thing you can always count on at First Methodist is spectacular music. We are blessed each Sunday with beautiful, holy music to inspire us and draw us closer to God. I always look forward to the music each Sunday. You never know if the choir will be singing from opposite sides of the sanctuary, marching in to some upbeat tune, or ringing handbells from the balcony. There are hymns, anthems, praise songs, and you may even hear “Jesus Loves Me” mixed in among these. 

I asked Renee to talk with me about what it was like to lead the chancel choir. She reluctantly agreed, and I know she was secretly hoping I would forget. I already knew that Renee was a modest person who would rather have others in the spotlight. She works hard behind the scenes and is perfectly happy doing that. She gives all the credit to the choir and their incredible talents. I thought this was interesting because when I talked with choir members, they gave her all the credit for bringing out their best performances. I believe that is what makes our choir and their leader so unique. They simply click.

Music was just a part of life growing up. Renee began playing the piano when she was 6, and her parents always had music playing in the house. She knew at an early age that it would represent a significant part of her future. Renee loves the piano and if you ever watch her play, you know she has been given a wonderful gift. That little girl could never have known that her path would lead her to where she is today, but God knew all along where she would be, and I know we are all thankful He put Renee and our chancel choir together. 

I asked about the different specials the choir performs and wondered if she had a favorite. I wasn't surprised to hear that each Sunday service was her answer and that is her focus. The other things they do are for variety and are wonderful, but she is passionate about each Sunday. She wants to give back to her church family and God by making each Sunday special. She likes to showcase the full range of talent this choir has. They bring out the best in each other. They share a desire to do the best they can with their gifts, treat each other like family, pray together and share the joys and sorrows of daily life. I also heard that a lot of birthday cake is involved.  I think they have a good thing going.

By Michelle Holland

The Spirit Knows

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Pastor Jon told us a few weeks ago that gifts are manifested in many ways, and that everyone has a gift to be used in building up the body of Christ. He said the Spirit knows what is needed for a gathered body to do whatever it is that needs to be done. The Spirit must have been working in the fall of 1959 to bring Robert and Bonnie Madden to Beaumont. Robert with his artistic talent and Bonnie with her theater and production skills were just what First Methodist needed to stage some spectacular performances.

In 1970, Don Ford, the Director of Music, asked Bonnie to stage the one-act opera, Menotti's Amahl and the Night Vistors. The request was not unusual because plenty of productions had been done in Rothwell Hall, but this one was to be performed in the sanctuary. Could it be done? The altar was moved into the narthex to make room for sets and stage lights. Robert, Lyle Bohrer, and H.L. Taylor designed and built the sets and even made stage lights from coffee cans. I wondered how the two of them worked together and how Bonnie could communicate to him what she needed in her set designs. She didn't hesitate when she told me he always made it work. I saw a few of his set sketches and they looked like an architect’s rendering. Very impressive!

The orchestra was placed in and around the communion rail and was directed by Don Ford. Fred Simon sang the part of Balthazar, and a young Randy Crim sang the lead. For two nights in December, the sanctuary was filled with standing room only crowds. I wish I could have seen it. I didn’t know this opera and had to do some research. It tells the story of a poor crippled boy, Amahl, who is visited by the Magi on their way to see the Christ child. Amahl has nothing to give as a gift to the Child, so he offers his crutch. He gave what he had, and for this gift, he was miraculously healed and went with the Magi to see the baby. The story touched my heart and to think of it performed in our beautiful sanctuary was powerful. I imagine it was spectacular. A gift of performance from nearly 48 years ago that still inspires and encourages is reason enough to believe the Spirit knows.

Robert and Bonnie enrich the life of our congregation. They use their gifts to provide art and theater, to teach, to serve on committees, and to faithfully contribute their talents in many ways. They indeed are an example of the Spirit knowing what is needed and bringing everything together as only He can.

By Michelle Holland

The Gift of Stories

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Listen in as Michelle sits down with Tom and Mary V. as they share stories of their life at First Methodist in the 1960s, choosing the stained glass windows for the new Spire Church sanctuary, and the beginning of ministry at Some Other Place in Downtown Beaumont. 

One afternoon in April, I had the opportunity to visit with Tom and Mary V. Engelking to hear stories about the Spire church and the people they have known. They arrived at First Methodist in 1959, the same year as John Wesley Hardt. What a spectacular time to become a part of this church. The planning, building, and moving were all on the horizon. The new pastor and his family became close friends of Tom and Mary V. They spoke of inspiring sermons that captured your attention and kept you focused on the message.

If you have spent much time with Mary V, you know she is full of energy and enthusiasm. Considering her 91 years, I can only imagine the energy she had in 1959. She became chairman of the annual turkey dinner, secretary of the building committee, and the children’s coordinator. Tom at 97 is full of wisdom and the details of a well-lived life. He was chairmen of the committee on Education, children’s Sunday school teacher, and you could find him in the church kitchen every Wednesday night. He helped their good friend Freddie Mae Scott prepare and serve meals for all the members who were attending Wednesday night activities. Freddie Mae meant a lot to the Engelkings, and they were sad to learn that she passed away this year on Tom's birthday.

The years spent as members of the Spire church are full of beautiful memories. Memories of people like Hilliard Henson and Grace Lindsey, good friends who have since passed on. I questioned Tom on what the Spire meant to him after all these years. He told me it symbolizes growth and a continuous presence downtown. It provides a place to take God’s love to the world by starting in the heart of Beaumont.

When you talk with the Engelkings, you can feel the love they have for their church family and the pride they take in the Spire church. You can sense the loss when they speak of friends who have passed away. Their faces beam when they talk about their daughter Beth being one of the first children baptized in the Spire church. They speak with pride about the stained-glass windows and the sensational choir. Charlie Morgan playing the keyboard, Fred Simon's incredible voice, and Silverio and Lindsay singing together have been some of their favorite musical moments.

My time with the Engelkings was a delightful glimpse into the past, and their enthusiasm in the present is contagious. The stories handed down to us are gifts. They are overflowing with the impressive history of a beautiful church filled with faithful disciples, and a legacy of serving Jesus in downtown Beaumont.

By Michelle Holland

Loving Beaumont for 50 Years

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A heartfelt appreciation for the Spire church requires a little reading about the story of the people and the decisions they made to build a beautiful, modern, artistic church designed for the future. It was not an easy decision, but one based on a commitment to serve God in the place they found themselves. They stood firm in a declining downtown Beaumont when most were abandoning it for the suburbs. Each debate and discussion always ended with a decision to remain downtown because “this church is and should remain a downtown church”.  

The Spire, First Methodist’s fith home since 1840, has been watching over Beaumont for the past fifty years. I thought about all the changes it has been witness to. I took some time to think of all the people who watched this church come to life. People who surely gazed in wonder at the cross high atop the spire. People who worked hard and prayed hard for the success of this church. People who believed in a future of serving Jesus in uncertain and changing times. There was a culture that developed in the congregation of this church, one that reaches beyond 50 years. I learned about people with a spirit of moving forward, always looking toward the future but also believing that you see where you are now by taking time to look back. Throughout the pages of their history are statements such as: “to live is to change” and “this church has never given a little answer to a big question”.  One of my favorites was “the church is here, now, seeking to serve the new wilderness”. That seems as relevant today as when it was written in 1968.

In the pages of our history you will find people who believed in community, diversity, commitment and social justice. These same people built a beautiful church and left us with a unique cultural heritage. We are living in that future they planned for. Reading this history gave me an even deeper appreciation for the space I worship in and the people I worship with. I know that we can face whatever the future brings because we have the past to show us the way.

 I read about a sermon given by Dr. John Wesley Hardt for the cornerstone celebration of this church. He spoke about depending upon Jesus as a cornerstone for growth and that He is the one who joins old and new together and holds it in unity. It seems a simple message from the past is also the hope for the future and that depending on Jesus as our cornerstone is what will always keep us united.

By Michelle Holland

Beautiful Music and Sacred Moments

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When your mother teaches piano lessons and you grow up across the street from the Methodist church, it’s not hard to foresee a life destined for music ministry. Janie Greenway has been making music since before she could write her name. Janie went to every lesson her mother taught. She had a child-sized, pitch-perfect piano in the other room where she would play. She figures her mother’s students probably didn’t appreciate all the noise she was making. Learning piano was a part of growing up.

Janie couldn’t wait until she turned 14. That meant she could finally join the choir. The choir director also taught Janie how to play the organ. The organ was fascinating and very different from playing the piano. Her summers were spent learning and practicing.

Music did become a major part of her life and the ministry piece fell into place as well. Janie is also an ordained minister. She spent eleven years working as a pastor. I asked her if she ever preached her sermon and then stepped over to the organ to play the special music. She smiled and graciously told me no.

First Methodist was extremely fortunate when Janie moved to Beaumont. She has been the organist here for the past 22 years. She still gets nervous and she still practices her hand and pedal exercises. I asked her if she had a favorite piece to play but she told me no, it’s more about moments. The moments she accompanies the choir and they perform a piece that comes together perfectly. I knew exactly what she meant. It’s the Sundays when you know something powerful just happened, but you can’t describe it with words. You realize this is how music must sound in heaven.

I got to observe Janie practice one Friday afternoon. The sanctuary was dark and there was a sacred quietness in the space. The organ made an airy sound when it powered up. It was like a living, breathing spirit was waking. A spirit that had been waiting for Janie to bring it to life. I know Jesus is present on Sunday, but I also think He is there every Friday to hear this kind, gentle musi- cian fill the air with beautiful music.

By Michelle Holland

Food, Love, and Jesus

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John Alden Hughes Wright has been cooking at Kairos Kitchen long enough that he can’t recall the year he started. You can find John in the kitchen every fourth Saturday of the month, working to prepare a good home cooked meal. He strives for food that will make you feel as if you are eating at the family table. His most requested meal is pork chops with homemade gravy. Another favorite is his famous crack green beans. I’m pretty sure the main seasonings are bacon and something called “Slap Ya Mama.” Recipes don’t seem to be involved or measuring cups for that matter.

John always has a big smile and hugs for every guest that might need one. He never fails to come out of the kitchen and walk around the tables visiting. He has a big heart and many of these guests are more like old friends. The Kairos experience has taught him to see people as Jesus does. This ministry has a way of changing you. You can drive by the homeless on the street every day and not really see them. Kairos makes people real. It changes your perspective. All people really want is to be loved and accepted. They want to be acknowledged that they exist and they matter. John is on a mission to be the hands and feet of Jesus with every meal he cooks and every smile he shares.

If you want to experience what it might be like to share a meal with Jesus, you should come to Kairos Kitchen one Saturday night. Gather around the table, eat and listen to stories. If there was ever a place that you might catch a glimpse of Jesus, it would be here. Sharing a meal with the least of these might just change your life. I know it has changed John’s.

By Michelle Holland

What The Means of Grace Mean to Me

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I’ve always loved the means of grace even before I knew what the means of grace was! My mom loved to tell the story of when I was about four. I had seen a church sign about Pontius Pilate and asked her, “why would ‘punch the pilot’ want to kill Jesus any- way?” One time in the sixth grade, I went to church and the pastor preached about Samuel's call in 1st Samuel 3 of the Old Testa- ment. He asked the congregation if we had ever heard God call our name. I wanted to stand up and tell him, “Yes!” But I was a little timid in that Pentecostal congregation. In the eighth grade, when I was attending mass at Saint Ann’s Catholic Church, I saw my best friend Chris who was an altar boy hold the book for the priest saying mass. I knew then that the place I belonged was at the altar presiding at the Lord’s Supper even though I couldn’t talk about it that way yet.

When I got to seminary and found out that the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, had named the usual means of grace as one of the ways that we know, experience, and receive God‘s love on a consistent and Scriptural basis, I was overjoyed! The usual means of grace are prayer, searching the Scriptures, the Lord‘s Supper, fasting, and Christian conferencing. Even though I did not know those words while I was growing up, I was already interested in keeping these practices and becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ. Now as a pastor, it is my joy to share these practices in the Christian community so that we may all deepen our devo- tion to follow Jesus Christ.

The means of grace offer us the method that brings us to a greater depth of faithfulness and Christian community. These means of grace are in fact the Good News of Jesus Christ put into practice by his disciples. These means of grace drive us inwardly in the practices of piety, devotion, and worship, and drive us outwardly in greater avenues of mercy, justice, and compassion. When John and Charles Wesley were at Oxford they put these practices into place in their life and formed what they called the "holiness club.” That’s how they became known as the “Methodists," they had a method to living out their faith in Jesus Christ.

I invite you to come learn more about the practices that we call the means of grace, both as a time of learning and growing togeth- er, and as a time of putting our faith into action as we begin the new year together.

By Rev. Jon Stouffer

Where Work Meets Passion

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Chrissie Joyner has seen hundreds of faces pass through the doors of Some Other Place (SOP) in her 32 years of service. She knows stories of people’s lives that most of us can’t imagine.  Some stories have happy endings but many others are not so fortunate.  She is very passionate about her work at SOP.  She has a heart full of kindness that breaks for those caught in the vicious cycle of poverty. She celebrates with those who fight their way out. 

Chrissie’s calling for mission work began when she worked at First Methodist.  She realized missions was what she really wanted to do. So began her personal pursuit of helping the less fortunate.

From interviewing clients, to sorting clothes, to organizing supplies and volunteers, her days are overflowing with the various tasks that need to be completed.  This is the busiest season for SOP and twelve- hour days are pretty normal. The day before Thanksgiving, over 200 people were there to pick up food for their Thanksgiving meal. Wednesday morning brought another 150 who needed food to prepare for their families. 

The Christmas season will bring many more opportunities to help the less fortunate. Hundreds of toys have been collected and many still need to be wrapped. Eight hundred stockings will be made and filled for elderly residents of local nursing homes.  Food and Christmas gifts will be distributed. There is never a shortage of things to do at SOP. Volunteers are always needed and appreciated. It is very inspiring to see what SOP does and to understand the vast amount of good they do for our community. If you have never been there, stop by sometime and lend a hand.  If you are lucky, maybe Chrissie will be cooking up some white chicken chili and you can share a meal and hear a story.

By Michelle Holland