Cathedral of Hope Mid-Cities will hold first service in new location at Old Bedford School on Sunday

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor

WHERE THE HEART IS | Cathedral of Hope Mid-Cities Pastor Rachael Sandifer, left, and church members Emma St. Marie, center and Linda Harwell say those searching for a truly progressive Christian congregation will find a home at their church. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

If you are looking for a church, and want a place where they tell you what to think and what to do, then the new Cathedral of Hope Mid-Cities isn’t the place for you.

But if you want a church home where you are not only allowed to think for yourself, but encouraged to do so, where others will respect your beliefs even if they don’t agree with them, then you will want to check out the new but growing congregation that now meets each Sunday at The Old Bedford School.
The goal for CoH Mid-Cities, said Pastor Rachel Sandifer, is “creating a worship space that is truly one of extravagant grace, radical inclusion and relentless compassion — a progressively Christian community.”

CoH Mid-Cities was conceived back at the first of the year when officials at Cathedral of Hope in Dallas sent a notice to everyone on their mailing list who lived in the Mid-Cities, announcing an exploratory meeting to gauge interest in starting a new church in the area.

Linda Harwell was one of those who received the notice, and she was one of the more than 60 people who turned up for that first meeting.

“It was a very productive meeting,” Harwell recalled, adding that more than 90 people showed up at the second such gathering. And the new church held its first official Sunday service on the evening on Palm Sunday at the Ruth Millican Center in Euless.

The congregation met once a month until June when Marian Edmonds and Julie Watson came to town. Edmonds and Watson are a lesbian couple, both students at the United Church of Christ school, Eden Theological Seminary, in St. Louis, who were interning at Dallas’ Cathedral of Hope for the summer.
The two “did a fabulous job in creating community” over the summer months at CoH Mid-Cities and began to put some processes in place. About the same time, the congregation began meeting each Sunday morning at 11, with 35 to 40 people attending each week.

But in August, Edmonds and Watson had to return to school, and Sandifer stepped in as pastor. Although the Millican Center had been an excellent home for the church in its initial months, Sandifer said that the congregation needed a place that offered more space and would be available on a more regular and definite schedule.

That’s when she found the Old Bedford School. The Bedford City Council last week approved a 52-week contract that gives CoH Mid-Cities exclusive use of the facility every Sunday, including holidays.

The congregation will hold its first service in the new space — the building on School Road that once housed the entirety of Bedford’s public schools and was renovated following a fire — on Sunday morning, Nov. 21.

Although the Mid-Cities church is certainly more convenient for area residents than driving to the cathedral in Dallas each week, Harwell and her fellow congregant Emma St. Marie, said it is the spirit of the congregation that keeps them engaged.

“I am an enormous Christian dissenter,” said St. Marie, a straight woman who said that prior to coming to CoH Mid-Cities, she hadn’t been “churched” in several years. “The mainstream churches just don’t include enough people. They exclude people. They are too structured.”

She had tried attending a Unitarian Universalist church, a denomination known for its openness and lack of rigid dogma. But there, St. Marie said, she missed the emphasis on Christian theology.

At CoH Mid-Cities, St. Marie said, she has found that basic, traditional theology, but it is coupled with an openness and a willingness to grow and learn she has never found anywhere else.

“I am doing the work myself, but I needed a place where I could get support as I grow. That’s what I found here,” she said.

For Harwell, who describes herself as agnostic, the big draw is the diversity of the congregation.

“Diversity is the most important thing to us, and not just diversity in kinds of people — gay or straight or whatever — but diversity of thought, of ideas,” Harwell said. “I am not religious, and I started out thinking I was going to have to tip-toe around people in terms of what I thought. But that’s not the case at all.

“In this church, we have somehow been able to establish such a feeling of safety and trust that no one is ever afraid to say what they think or feel. We have something very unusual here.”

In other words, Harwell and St. Marie and others are drawn to the new church because it gives them room to explore and expand their Christian beliefs and experiences without laying down rules and restrictions.

There is one rule, though, Sandifer said: “Love.”

“For so many of us, the Christian ‘traditions’ conflict with our life experiences, and so often people have to sacrifice their souls to maintain the traditions they have been taught, or they have to walk away and seek God some other way,” Sandifer said.

“We are all looking for a rightness, but so often there is something that doesn’t fit with who we are inside. If that’s you, if you have been uncomfortable in other churches, then you need to come to Cathedral of Hope Mid-Cities.”

Cathedral of Hope Mid-Cities meets each Sunday, with children’s and adult classes at 10 a.m. and services at 11 a.m., at Old Bedford School, 2400 School Lane in Bedford. Call 817-354-HOPE. Everyone is welcome.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 19, 2010.