Meadowridge Community Baptist Church is tearing down racial barriers, and that has been a lifesaver for the once-struggling church in southwest Fort Worth.
The congregation is growing and broke ground Sunday on a $1.5 million project for a new multipurpose worship center and a remodeling of its sanctuary into classrooms.
Under a white tent, people of different races hugged, shook hands and shared greetings as they carried out the church’s motto emblazoned on a sign out front, “All Races United in Christ.”
“This is no longer a white church; it’s not a black church; it’s not a Hispanic church. It’s Christ’s church,” said the Rev. Jeff Sanders, a guest speaker and former pastor of one of the churches that later became Meadowridge. “Many streams have come together to express God’s grace.”
It wasn’t always so.
The Rev. Randal Lyle, marking 10 years as pastor of Meadowridge, said that a decade ago the congregation was all white and “really struggling and not too far from closing the doors.” He said the church wanted to reach out to the diverse community around it, but had little success.
“I used to watch people walk into the church on Sunday who were not Caucasian and I knew that were not coming back,” he told the crowd. “It was so frustrating. We began to pray and ask God to make us the church he intended us to be.”
That led to changes that have transformed Meadowridge into a flourishing multiethnic congregation. Average attendance on Sundays is 230 and African-Americans make up 30 percent of the membership. Hispanics, Asians and other races also attend, Lyle said.
The Rev. Sidney Simon, an African-American associate pastor of Meadowridge, said one of the important changes was putting minorities in leadership roles.
“There are some churches, both black and white, that are not ready for this type of ministry,” Simon said. “I’ve heard a black deacon say, ‘Well, we want people to worship in a like manner like we do.’ You’ve got to overcome that.”
While he is pleased with Meadowridge resulting from the changes, Simon said the most important development is fulfilling what he sees as God’s dream for a church.
“Our goal is to reflect what heaven is like,” he said. “God is breaking down the barriers that separate us. If we can’t get along down here on earth, how can we get along in heaven?”
‘Give a little bit’
Deliberate changes in music occurred under worship leader Steven Lentz.
“We hired an African-American keyboard operator who is still with us,” Lyle said. “We began a choir because choirs are an integral part of many African-American churches. On a normal Sunday we may have a black Gospel song, a traditional Anglo hymn or a contemporary Christian song.”
Lyle said he often warns visitors who attend about the musical component of the service.
“You may hear some songs you don’t like, that are not your style,” Lentz said. “That’s intentional, because if we only did music that you like, then probably only people like you would be here.”
Longtime member James Leo Garrett, a retired professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he and his wife, Myrta, made a commitment long ago to accept different styles of music even though they both love the organ, piano and traditional hymns.
“It was a part of our dedication,” he said. “We all have to give a little bit. That is a part of making unity real.”
Garrett said the changes gradually began taking effect and people of different races began showing up at Meadowridge.
“We had three sisters who came who were grandmothers,” Garrett said. “They brought their families and now there are 17 members from those three sisters.”
“People of all ethnicities and ages began to love one another,” Garrett said. “You’d be surprised at how much hugging goes on, and it’s not limited by race, ethnicity or age or whatever.”
Help from Wedgwood
Garrett said the name, Meadowridge, is a merging of the names of two earlier churches that no longer exist, McCart Meadows, founded by University Baptist in 1986, and Candleridge Baptist, founded by Southcliff Baptist in 1994.
Several former members of the McCart Meadows and Candleridge churches, including the Garretts, were present for the groundbreaking and some are now members of Meadowridge.
“We never dreamed this would happen,” said Linda Anderson, who with her husband, Hunter Anderson, was a part of the early Candleridge church. “Only God working in the hearts of all the people here during all stages made this possible.”
Lyle came to Meadowridge a decade ago from Wedgwood Baptist Church along with 100 volunteers from that Fort Worth congregation. Wedgwood was seeing growth after the tragic 1999 shootings at the church and its members, led by the Rev. Al Meredith, pastor, decided to use some resources to help revitalize a sister congregation.
Even the efforts by Wedgwood, where Lyle had been that church’s college pastor, didn’t solve all of Meadowridge’s problems.
“We realized if we wanted to have a diverse congregation, we had to diversify,” Lyle said. “And it isn’t just ethnic diversity. It’s age diversity, economic diversity.”
Sharing the blessing
Just as Meadowridge received help from Wedgwood Baptist, Lyle said his church hopes to pass along his church’s vision of racial unity and revitalize other churches.
While raising money for the church expansion, 15 percent of donations have been set aside to expand the dream of spreading the goal of racial unity to other churches.
A group of Southwestern seminary students who are members of Meadowridge, are being trained in a residency program led by Lyle to learn ways of helping churches, particularly under the multiethnic model.
Lyle, who holds a doctorate from Southwestern seminary, is hoping to get the Fort Worth school involved with the program. Tarrant Baptist Association is also being asked to help find churches that would be candidates for help.
“We are hoping to share the blessing we have,” Lyle said.
The seminary students read books on revitalizing churches, get hands-on experience in leading church activities and meet with Lyle once a week to review their progress.
“A lot of Southern Baptist churches that are dying are in communities that have changed around them, but those churches have not changed as far as ethnically,” Lyle said.
One of those in the residency program, Quincy Jones, studying for a master of theology at Southwestern, said Meadowridge’s achievement in bringing people of different races together is an inspiration.
“To me it’s a fulfillment of a personal vision of seeing Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of the beloved community of all people who come together in love and faith and harmony and unity and reconciliation,” Jones said.