Agape MCC in Fort Worth collecting teddy bears for young clients of The Warm Place grief counseling center
FORT WORTH —There is something inherently comforting about a teddy bear, and few people — if any — need comfort more than the clients of The Warm Place Grief Support Center for Children.
The Warm Place provides counseling and group support for children, ages 3 to 18, who have experienced a significant loss, such as the death of a parent or a sibling. And each grieving client gets a teddy bear —something to hug and hold onto as they work through their pain.
So for the last several years, during the Thanksgiving to Christmas holiday season, members of the congregation at Agape Metropolitan Community Church have collected teddy bears to donate to The Warm Place.
"This church has done the teddy bear drive at least the past three years, since before I came here," said senior pastor the Rev. David Wynn. "Sometimes we do get a few other kids of stuffed animals, but mostly, we get bears. We actually prefer bears.
"There’s just something comforting about the energy of a teddy bear.
"Every child has a teddy bear at some point, and it’s something a lot of people keep even as they get older. My wife has a teddy bear she’s had all her life," the pastor said. "There’s just a sense of comfort and safety that people associated with teddy bears."
Agape MCC usually collects about 50 to 60 teddy bears each holiday season for The Warm Place. And the church makes sure that the bears come pre-charged with love and comfort.
"We have folks bring the bears in and up through Christmas Eve, we sit them in the pews, give them a chance to absorb the love. We even have some children, and some of the adults, too, who will pick them up during the services and hold them and hug them, passing on the love and caring," Wynn said.
During the Christmas Eve service, the pastor said, the congregation gathers up the donated bears and takes them up to the front of the church.
"Then we bless the bears and pray for the children," Wynn said. "When we give them to The Warm Place, we want them to have absorbed all the love and comfort we can give them."
Agape, like several other primarily LGBT churches, participates in a number of charitable programs ongoing throughout the year, and many of those programs focus on needs outside the LGBT community.
Agape has been collecting sleeping bags to donate to Operation Spread the Warmth, an effort launched by the Presbyterian Night Shelter of Tarrant County for homeless people.
The church is also collecting non-perishable food items through Dec. 13 for the Tarrant County Food Bank, and computers and cell phones and other items for an organization called Helping Restore Ability.
HRA provides in-home personal attendant care and homemaker services and home health care to people of all ages with any type of disability.
Wynn said Agape also works throughout the year with Child Protective Services to help meet the needs of children in foster care in Tarrant County.
At the start of the school year, the church always collects backpacks and school supplies for foster children, and the church will be collecting toys, clothes, shoes and other gifts through Christmas Eve for children in foster care.
Wynn said the church’s involvement in many of these programs started because someone in the congregation works for or volunteers with an organization like The Warm Place or CPS or Helping Restore Ability.
But he also said he believes the church’s involvement with these mainstream charities is a natural outgrowth of the evolution of Agape and the whole MCC denomination.
"Initially, MCC’s focus was on the LGBT community out of necessity," Wynn said, noting that many LGBT people of faith had been thrown out of their original churches, and had been left spiritually adrift. MCC churches gave them a place to find spiritual comfort, safety and sense of family and belonging.
But now, although the LGBT community "will always be our root and our foundation," MCC churches in general and Agape MCC specifically are maturing and evolving, building on a message of "common values, different beliefs."
Wynn said he is seeing a "generational shift" within the MCC denomination. More and more families with children — whether LGBT or not — are choosing MCCs as their church homes, and Agape, in particular, is "truly called to supporting diverse and eclectic families."
"Before, MCCs were one-generation churches. But now, our members are having children. Those children are grounded here, and they will stay here.
"This won’t just be the LGBT church anymore," Wynn said.
The pastor also noted that Agape and many primarily LGBT congregations tend to reach out to other marginalized communities — the homeless, the elderly, the disabled — and that MCCs are becoming known as "the human rights churches."
"We’ve kind of embraced that," he said. "When you have developed spiritually to the place that you know it’s not all about you, you are called to extend yourself to others in need, to the groups that make themselves available to you.
"It’s about being awake to the opportunities God gives us. Responding to human need goes beyond labels and artificial boundaries," Wynn continued.
"We all find ourselves marginalized and outcast in some way. No matter why, it always feels the same —alone and isolated. I believe that we [LGBT people at Agape MCC] feel such a sense of gratitude that we found community and family and connection that we want to offer that to others.
"We all interact with God in different ways. What we’re saying to people is that we don’t care where you are in your spiritual journey, we just want to be on that journey with you," he said.
WHERE YOU CAN GIVE
• Celebration Community Church, 908 Pennsylvania Ave. in Fort Worth, is collecting donations for Christmas Baskets church deacons are preparing for more than 100 residents of a local nursing home. Needed are the following items: small pillows, stuffed animals, gloves, lotion, combs/brushes, sugar-free candy, toothpaste/toothbrushes and Kleenex. Donations can be dropped in the boxes located by each door in the sanctuary and fellowship hall.
The church is also collecting backpacks for underprivileged children, and will be adopting a needy family for Christmas. Call 817-335-3222 for information.
• Cathedral of Hope, 5910 Cedar Springs Road, is coordinating efforts for interested people to adopt a child, family or individual for Christmas. Those who are interested can go to the Christmas Benevolence Table in the church vestibule to adopt an individual or family in foster care, living at AIDS Services of Dallas or who are members of the church. All gifts must be wrapped and labeled and brought to the church on Sunday, Dec. 20 between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. The church is also collecting donations in The Big Gift Box for those who can’t adopt a family or child but who want to donate. Just drop a new, unwrapped toy in the Big Gift Box outside Sources of Hope Bookstore at the church no later than Sunday, Dec. 20. You can also pick up grocery lists at the Christmas Benevolence Table to make a food basket to be donated to a needy individual or family. Deadline for food baskets is also Dec. 20. Cathedral of Hope also accepts donations of non-perishable food items for Clare’s Cupboard, the Cathedral of Hope’s in-house food pantry where first priority is given to CoH members in need. Items may be brought to the church any Sunday or Wednesday. A shopping list is available at www.cathedralofhope.com, by clicking the "Outreach" tab and then "Loaves & Fishes."
CoH members/families who are in need of food or toys for Christmas, please contact Shelia Coughlin at 214-957â€“8031. If you have any question about the food and gift lists, please contact either Glenn or Michael at 214-441â€“1722.
• LULAC 4871 is collecting cardboard boxes and cake mix packages until Dec. 11 to deliver meals to Resource Center Dallas Food Pantry, Oak Lawn immigrant families and AIDS Interfaith Network on Dec. 12. For more info, go to www.lulac4871.org.
• The Round-Up Saloon, 3912 Cedar Springs Road, will host its 10th annual Christmas Stocking Auction from 6 p.m. to midnight on Sunday, Dec. 13. All proceeds benefit the Legacy Founders Cottage, a Dallas hospice for people in the critical stages of AIDS. More than $200,000 has been raised over the years at the Stocking Auction.
• The Dallas Eagle, 2515 Inwood Road, is conducting a canned food drive benefiting Resource Center Dallas’ AIDS food pantry. The pantry is in need of canned meats like tuna, chicken, chili and SPAM; canned soups and Ramen noodles; boxed cereal; dry staples like rice, beans and pasta; juice; and condiments like ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, salt and sugar.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 27, 2009.