Roger Wedell to retire from Legal Hospice of Texas in December

Roger Wedell

Roger Wedell

Roger Wedell announced today that he will retire as executive director of Legal Hospice of Texas at the end of the year. He has served in that position since 2000.

During his tenure, the organization changed its name from Dallas Legal Hospice and expanded its service area to include a larger region throughout North Texas.

Earlier this year, the agency moved to a larger office and is now in the Design District.

“Nobody will have to worry about that,” Wedell said. “We’re here for six years.”

He said a number of things played into his decision including the move and called it the right time. Wedell is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

“December is the 40th anniversary of my ordination,” he said.

“Roger has been a tremendous asset for Legal Hospice of Texas,” Judge Barbara Houser, who chairs the LHT board of directors, said in a release. “There is no doubt that Legal Hospice of Texas is where it is today thanks to Roger’s vision and leadership. His extensive experience in the non-profit sector coupled with his broad network of professional and personal colleagues and friends has enabled Legal Hospice of Texas to provide free legal services to a growing client base. His keen insight into funding opportunities and his ability to convey his compassion and dedication to staff, volunteers, donors and the community have been key reasons for the increase in donations and grants that provide vital funding for our mission.”

Wedell said the organization is in a good position with a stable staff.

“We made it through the recession,” he said. “Why not now.”

—  David Taffet

Midway Hills hosts forum on intolerance

The Rev. Terry Zimmerman

Speakers focus on the impact of prejudice on the LGBT community

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

The more that members of Midway Hills Christian Church talked about bullying, the more they realized how frequently the issue of religious intolerance came up, usually as the root of bullying.

“We saw it impacting people’s lives across the spectrum,” said Roger Wedell, an openly gay Midway Hills member.

And as the discussions continued, the more adamant the church members became about the necessity of finding ways to combat intolerance and bullying.

Out of those discussions was born the church’s new Tolerance Task Force.

The task force has since issued a Statement on Religious Intolerance and on June 12 hosted its first town hall on the subject. A second meeting will be held on Monday, June 20, and the public is invited to share their personal experiences.

The Rev. Terry Zimmerman, the senior minister at Midway Hills, called the statement “a call to solidarity of faith groups which present an alternative voice to the ones that speak the loudest and provide the most inflammatory sound bites for the media.”

But Zimmerman hopes the meetings result in more than just preaching to the choir.

“We’re hoping there are other groups out there as interested as we are, to form an alliance and share information,” he said.

Zimmerman said it’s the bad news that always makes headlines. But he recently attended a conference of clergy sponsored by Human Rights Campaign where he learned that studies show a majority of people want equal rights for everyone.

“That says to me they want tolerance,” Zimmerman said.

He said that recent events such as passage of anti-bullying legislation have helped bring his traditionally liberal congregation alive again.

“So much damage has been done in the name of religion,” Zimmerman said. “So many people have given up on church when it doesn’t stand up for what it knows is right.”

He and members of his congregation want to make sure, through the Tolerance Task Force, that people know Midway Hills does stand up for what they know is right.

“We’re hoping through this to let a broader spectrum of the community know there are other voices out there,” Wedell said.

Midway Hills has been an open and affirming congregation since the 1970s. When the AIDS crisis hit, they were one of the original churches that worked with AIDS Interfaith Network. Beginning in the early ’90s, they hosted P-FLAG, which met at the church for more than a decade. The church is a member of Disciples of Christ.

Just because there are louder voices that are intolerant, he said, doesn’t mean those are the only voice.

The first panel included two people who discussed the impact of intolerance.

One is Becky Holmes, a candidate for ordination at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University. She spoke about the impact intolerance has had on her, first as woman dealing with leadership of the Southern Baptist Church and then as a lesbian.

The other is Jeremy Liebbe, a volunteer with Youth First Texas who spoke on the struggle youth have with their sexual orientation and gender identity.

After surviving several suicide attempts, he assists other youth deal with the intolerance they face.

The upcoming panel includes three speakers. One is a counselor who works with Youth First Texas and will talk about youth issues.

In addition, Betsy Winter will discuss the journey of the Presbyterian Church to reach its new position on the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy, and Melissa Weaver, a staff attorney with Human Rights Initiative, will speak about the impact on immigrants seeking asylum.

Zimmerman said that at the first meeting, he felt a sense of helplessness that feeds on itself.

“We need to break that chain so people can be empowered,” he said. “We’re helping people find their voice.”

Midway Hills Christian Church, 11001 Midway Road, Monday, June 20 at 7 p.m.

—  John Wright

Midway Hills begins capital campaign

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Roger Wedell
Roger Wedell

Midway Hills Christian Church has kicked off a capital campaign to raise $400,000 to renovate and update the facility. Spokesman Tom Peck called it an “express campaign” to raise the money in August.

Campaign co-chair Roger Wedell said the total goal was $900,000 and the improvements would help the church better serve the community.
The church has a long history of welcoming the LGBT community. In the 1970s, Midway Hills was one of only four Dallas congregations to co-host a program on churches and homosexuality.

Midway Hills was one of the original rehearsal spaces for the Turtle Creek Chorale, and fFor more than 15 years, the church hosted P-FLAG.

Early in the AIDS crisis, Midway Hills met the challenge when other churches shunned people with AIDS or ignored the problem. It was one of the first churches to form an AIDS Interfaith Network care team.

Wedell said the renovations to the building would create more flexible spaces.

“We hope to accommodate a wider variety of groups in the community,” he said. “And a wider variety of worship and contemporary expressions.”
Rather than fixed pews, the main sanctuary would have modular seating and the chancel would be moveable

“We have a long tradition of incorporating music,” said Wedell. The new configuration would make it easier to incorporate those elements, he said.

“The current entrance to the sanctuary will converted into a new chapel,” he said.

Also in the plans is reconfiguring the entrance.

“Right now, it’s difficult to know what door you should use,” Wedell said.

He said the new main entrance would be handicap accessible. The current front entrance does not meet federal standards.
That entrance will open to a large gathering space for displays, small group use and fellowship.

Wedell said the building is already booked four nights a week. He said the church hosts English as a second language classes, 12-step programs and a square dance group, among others. He said he couldn’t think of a group affiliated with the church that didn’t include LGBT members.

The church had its start in the 1950s and has always been located at its current Midway Road location just north of Royal Lane. At the time, there was lots of open space in the area and large tracts of land were just being developed for housing.

The church is a member of the Disciples of Christ denomination. Wedell explained that congregations in the denomination have a national affiliation but strong local control. He called it the oldest indigenous U.S. Protestant denomination, formed in the 1800s from a merger of several smaller movements.
“As a small denomination, we’ve been involved far beyond our numbers in ecumenical work,” he said.

The congregation has about 200 active members.

“It all goes back to the vision our original members had for the church,” Peck said, “to make an impact far beyond the walls of the church.”

When Dallas first desegregated its school, members of Midway Hills voted to bus their own children. During the Vietnam War, the church became a Shalom or “peace” Congregation, and it was involved with resettlement of Southeast Asian refugees. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Midway helped settle Afghan refugees.

“We helped them with housing and getting stabilized in the community,” Peck said.

In addition to its own congregation, a Peace Mennonite church hold services in the building early on Sunday morning and a new Latino congregation is also using the facility.

To raise the initial $400,000 and eventual $900,000 for additional renovations including resurfacing the parking lot, redesign of the peace garden, remodeling the restrooms and retrofitting the fire protection system, church leaders hope to reach out to the broader community.

“We’re contacting people and organizations we consider to be friends,” Wedell said. And over the years, the church has developed lots of friends.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 6, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens