Travis Park United Methodist Church
Monday, March 10, 2014
Unconditional Love and Justice in Action
Stories from our Past
Travis Park United Methodist Church has a rich history dating back to 1846. We are a modern church, concerned about the current world we live in, but we also embrace our history and those who have gone before us, leaving a legacy of faithfulness and service to others.
We are grateful to the late Josephine Forman for the gift of her book We Finish to Begin, a history of Travis Park Church, and for her labors over many years as archivist for Travis Park and for the Southwest Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Scroll down to read stories from our recent history - the beginnings of Cafe' Corazon.
We are a church that embraces the value of stories: in them we can find truth, meaning, hope and connection with God.
Church History: Methodism comes to Texas
It all began in 1835, before Texas won independence from Mexico. The publisher of the New York Christian Advocate, a Methodist publication, received a letter from the Mexican colony of Texas. Written by 26-year-old Col. William B. Travis of the volunteer Texas army, the letter called for the establishment of a Methodist presence in the region where settlers were beginning to revolt against the government of Mexico.
Travis wrote, "I regret that the Methodist church, which, with its excellent itinerant system, has hitherto sent pioneers of the Gospel into almost every destitute portion of the globe, should have neglected so long this interesting country." He asked that five Methodist missionaries be sent to Texas. Travis was killed 7 months later, serving as commander at the Battle of the Alamo. Texas independence soon followed and the Methodists in the northeast sent three volunteers to start the Texas Mission of the Mississippi Conference and steady growth of Methodism began.
Church History: DeVilbiss Comes to Texas
In 1837, the first three Methodist missionaries came to Texas after a request was received from Col. William B. Travis that they were needed. The next volunteers, six Methodist missionaries from Ohio, came to Texas in 1842, including 24 year old John Wesley DeVilbiss. Here is his account of what he encountered in this area:
“In April, 1844, in company with Rev. John McCullough of the Presbyterian Church, I made my first visit to the ancient city of San Antonio. We started at Victoria and travelled up the valley of the Guadalupe to Seguin. At this place we procured an escort of Captain Hays’ Texas Rangers. Between Seguin and San Antonio we passed through what was then a most beautiful country. The valleys were not then, as now, covered with a dense growth of mesquite and small trees, but were covered with a beautiful coat of grass about knee high.
We put up at a hotel on Soledad Street, not far from the Convent. It was then the outside house in the direction of San Pedro Springs. We took a general look about the city, visiting San Pedro Springs and missions below the city. We notified the English-speaking people that we would have preaching on the Sabbath. We met at the County Clerk’s office on Commerce Street. About fifteen persons attended the services. Mr. McCullough and I left on Tuesday for Seguin, where we parted but agreed to meet again in this same city of San Antonio.”
During 1845, he held monthly services in the parlor of the Veramendi Hotel, “the same building where Milam met his fate,” in the location where the empty Solo Serve store now sits on Soledad Street.
In 1846, Rev. DeVilbiss received his appointment to the San Antonio Mission Station to organize a church. He moved to San Antonio and, finding no convenient house available in the city, rented a small house seven miles down the San Antonio River. He taught in a small school to earn extra funds while getting the mission started in the city. He arranged for regular use of the Court House on the east side of Main Plaza as a place of worship and he built the pulpit and seats used in these services. DeVilbiss preached regularly and often had to contend with the noise of the people who gathered on the plaza to engage in cockfighting.
This congregation who met in 1846 was the beginning of the community of faith that grew into Travis Park United Methodist Church.
Sources: Reminiscences of a Superannuated Preacher by John Wesley DeVilbiss, We Finish to Begin by Josephine Forman.
Church History: Methodists & Presbyterians Built Together
As John Wesley DeVilbiss worked to build a Methodist congregation in San Antonio, he worked closely with his friend, John McCullough, a Presbyterian minister. In 1846, they held services together in the Old Courthouse on the East side of Main Plaza, preaching on alternate Sabbaths. The Methodists bought a lot in 1847 for $100 on the San Antonio River (now part of the Arneson River Theater). DeVilbiss travelled to several states to try to get support for the building of the church and returned with very little money but did obtain building materials, including a bell which was placed on the Villita lot to call worshipers on Sunday. His Spanish-speaking friends called him “el padrecito que tiene la campana,” the little father who has the bell. The Presbyterians were building on their lot on Commerce Street and used the materials DeVilbiss had collected, with the understanding that the Methodists could use the building, called “The Old Adobe”. It was also called “The Mud Temple” and the walls were made of native rock sealed with plaster. In the San Antonio of the 1840s stone was the most economical material for heavy walls, available from the crumbling walls of the abandoned old Spanish fort or the Alamo. Desperately in need of money, the city government offered stone from the walls of the Alamo at fifty cents a cart load. When it was completed, the bell was moved to the new church but it was not given to them. “The Old Adobe” was destroyed in a violent wind and hail storm in 1868. No Methodist church was ever built on the Villita property because it was lost due to defect of title. In 1852, the first Methodist Church building was erected in San Antonio. Paine Church was on Soledad between Travis and Pecan Streets. It housed our congregation until 1883. Property was purchased at our current location in 1882 and, while a meeting place was being built, the Methodists met in Odd Fellows Hall, at Houston and St. Mary’s Streets, where the Gunter Hotel is now.
Source: We Finish to Begin by Josephine Forman.
“First Church Unit”-The move to Travis @ Navarro
By the early 1880s, the church had outgrown Paine Chapel, built in 1853 on Soledad Street. Pastor W.J. Young wrote to the Texas Methodist Advocate:
“I have been glad to see in the Advocate mention made of our church... and the necessity of a new building... We do need a new church and we must have it! The one we occupy at present is old and dilapidated, and is fast falling into decay.... We have decided to build....but the question arises, how are we to raise the money?.... Our people, though willing to give liberally, are not able to do all.....Every other denomination has a neat church building....Will the people of Texas help us?... Throngs are now coming into our city, and we must be prepared to receive them. Send anything, but let everyone send something.”
In 1882, a lot on the corner of Navarro and Travis Streets was obtained for a new church building, facing 68.48 feet on Navarro and about one hundred feet on Travis. A church brochure stated that “the block, which is now one of the most valuable pieces of business property in the city, was then about three fourths lumber yard. The old Vance Hotel stood where the Gunter Hotel is now, and back of it was a long low barracks extending down the St. Mary’s Street side to Travis, and down Travis Street the extent of one or two rooms. The rest of the block was occupied by a lumber yard which fronted on Houston, Navarro, and Travis Streets.” The Vance Building was used from 1851 to 1861 for the first US Military Headquarters in Texas; between 1861 and 1865 it served as Confederate Headquarters; it was opened as a hotel, Vance House, in 1872.
The basement was constructed on the new lot and equipped for use as a church, and served for that purpose for almost two years before the building was completed.
From The Daily Express, Feb 27, 1883: “Sunday, Feb the 25th, will be marked as a red letter day in the history of West Texas Methodism. On that date....the cornerstone of the new Paine Church, corner of Travis and Navarro streets, was laid.... Several hundreds of ladies, gentlemen and children were present to do honor to the occasion. A new church dedicated to God.... is certainly a glorious event, and one worthy of the highest praise in this community where there is much need of churches. The building will be modern in structure, neat and substantial in all its appointments, and when completed will be a worthy temple in the sight of the Great Architect of the universe, as well as an ornament and credit to the city.”
The altar was at the west end of the sanctuary between wall panels bearing the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. It had a seating capacity of 480.
On Feb 26, 1886 the San Antonio Light announced: “The new auditorium will be occupied for the first time tomorrow morning. Seats free. E.B. Chappell, Pastor.”
We Finish to Begin by J. Forman, and the TPUMC Archives.
The Church, the Madame, and the Methodist Mission Home
In 1886, the new church building ("First Church Unit") at Travis and Navarro was completed, having moved to the new lot from Soledad Street nearby. The 1880s and 1890s were years when San Antonio was growing faster than ever before; three and even four story buildings became common. The Methodists were also growing in their efforts to reach out in the community. In 1895, the San Antonio District Conference discussed what they perceived to be the greatest evils preventing the ministry from reaching the masses. They passed a resolution condemning "the open saloon, the card table, modern dance, and a whole train of kindred vices."
The red light district in downtown San Antonio in 1894 covered ten square blocks and, despite various attempts at reform, it was not closed until the outbreak of World War II in 1941. In early 1895, Madame Volvino, the madame of one of the houses of prostitution, had recently lost a daughter to death and was in great need of spiritual help. She was inspired by a street revivalist and returned to her house on San Saba Street in the red light district, vowing to begin a new life. She asked Mrs. H.C. Ostrum, a member of Travis Park Church, to get a minister to come to her place to preach. Dr. W.W. Pinson, former pastor of Travis Park Church, was both a strong evangelist and social activist. He and his wife went to the home and prayed with the madame. He later wrote: “We prayed and when we arose from our knees, the thought came to me and I said, ‘This property has been like a black river of destruction. Why not turn it into a current the other way, and set it to saving the unfortunate women who have found it a door to ruin.’ ”
The next day Madame Volino attended Travis Park Church and responded to the altar call given by the pastor, Rev. New Harris. Through financial and emotional support of the Methodist community and Travis Park Methodist Church, Volino converted the brothel into a rescue home for "fallen women,” Travis Park Church provided extensive funding for the home and, in the early days, supplied most of the leadership of the home. By the early 1900's, most of the women who arrived were pregnant and unwed and the Rescue Home became known primarily as a maternity center. The Methodist Mission Home, now on Whitby Road in Leon Valley, provides adoption services for birth mothers, birth fathers, adoptive families, and adoptees. They also house the Southwest Center for Higher Independence, helping young adults with disabilities learn the independent living skills to overcome barriers through a transitional life and vocational education.
We Finish to Begin by Josephine Forman, “The Mission Home Story” by Ted Richardson, and the Methodist Mission Home website: mmhome.org.
Church History: 1902 Expansion
Our church moved into the “First Church Unit” at Travis and Navarro in 1886. The auditorium had a seating capacity of 480.
Church membership grew significantly under the leadership of Rev. John M. Moore, a young pastor who served from 1898-1902 and who later went on to become a bishop and strong leader in United Methodism.
The growth of the church brought about the need for more space. In 1901 a building committee was formed. At the time the first part of the church was built (now the back part of our sanctuary), two lots had been acquired, but one was sold to provide money to pay for the first church building. When the auditorium was enlarged in 1901-02, that lot was bought back. The new part, added on the south side of the original building, became the sanctuary, separated from the old part by folding doors, and the rear room was used for Sunday school. For services, the folding doors were opened and chairs were used in the back. The seating capacity of the enlarged building was over 1400. The walls were papered. The altar was still along the west wall and back of it was the organ in an alcove. On each side of the altar was a large stained glass window. One, showing Christ walking in a garden, inscribed “The Lord Is My Shepherd, He Leadeth Me Beside Still Waters,” was given in honor of the pastor, Dr. John M. Moore; the other, a full length figure of Christ, bearing the inscription “I Am the Resurrection and the Life” and “Peace Be With You,” was in honor of Buckner Harris, pastor from 1868-72. These windows were preserved in a later remodeling and are still in the sanctuary, though the Harris window is not in its original location.
Also added during this remodeling was a short spire on top of the tower, later replaced with the taller spire that remains today.
Source: We Finish to Begin by Josephine Forman
Church History: The Upper Room Celebrating 75 years - 1935 – 2010
The Upper Room grew out of the depths of the Great Depression as a way to encourage believers to turn to God daily in trying times. The seeds for the devotional were planted by Mrs. Frances Craig, a San Antonio woman who was a member of Travis Park Church. Committed to the practice of daily prayer and Bible reading, Mrs. Craig served on the denomination’s Committee on Devotional Literature, and her work resulted in this motion being made at a December 1934 meeting in Nashville:
“…To publish a quarterly devotional booklet to be sold in the local church through the Missionary Committee … as an experiment for one quarter.”
Mrs. Craig returned to San Antonio and enlisted her 100-member Philathea Sunday school class at Travis Park Church to pray for the devotional idea. Meanwhile, Dr. Grover Emmons, the director of what would be today a division of the denomination’s General Board of Discipleship, was directed to begin work on it. He established the format for the magazine’s entries—a scripture verse, a suggested scripture reading, comments, a prayer, and a closing thought—that is used to this day. From the start, the magazine was intended to reach beyond the Methodist church, focusing on what Christians hold in common rather than on their differences.
When the first issue of the devotional guide was ready to print in early 1935, it still had no name. But then Dr. Emmons was inspired by a sermon extolling the power of God that descended on Jesus’ disciples as they prayed in an “upper room” (Mark 14:15 KJV). In an amazing show of faith, Dr. Emmons ordered a printing of 100,000 copies. The issue sold out.
Interest in “the little book” soon soared as readers embraced the daily habit. From the start, everyday people submitted meditations they had written. At first The Upper Room editors chose not to include them in the magazine. But then, in 1938, they recognized the importance of diverse voices and opened submissions to all. Within the next year, the magazine was translated into three additional languages and circulation reached an astounding one million copies. This year, the one billionth copy of The Upper Room rolls off the press.
Church History: The Philathea Class - “We Do Things”
The class motto was “We do things” based on Philippians 4:13 - “I can do all things through God who strengthens me.” The word “Philathea” means “lover of truth” and the class platform was “young women at work for young women.” The first Philathea Class for young women and its parallel Baraca Bible Class for young men, began in 1898 in Syracuse NY. The Philathea and Baraca Classes at Travis Park began in 1907. They met in the balcony of the sanctuary at first and soon raised money to remodel rooms in the basement, where they moved in 1908.
In 1909 the Philathea Class opened a “Girls’ Rest and Lunch Room” in the basement for “business girls.” They took turns preparing lunches for 15¢. The lunch room became so popular that it was necessary to hire a cook to help. In 1910, “the ladies of the city,” seeing the success of the lunch room, asked that it be turned over to them so they could use it as a nucleus for starting a YWCA, which the class did. The San Antonio YWCA is celebrating their 100th Anniversary this year.
From the very beginning, the class members devoted themselves to social service. In 1910 the class began a sewing school for little girls in the “slums” of the West Side. Enrollment quickly grew to 100 students. The class became part of a community center called Wesley Community House, where a free kindergarten was started. During World War I, they worked to welcome and support the soldiers stationed in San Antonio. In the 1920s, they worked in the Methodist orphanage and the Mission Home and Training School. Over the years, they worked at the State Hospital, TB Hospital, and made cancer dressings for the American Cancer Society. The class’s interest in education was ongoing and they provided many college scholarships.
One of the reasons for the strength and close spirit of the Philathea Class was the way they kept in touch with their members through visits, telephone calls and cards. Their aim was to make each member feel that it is their class and not the property of the teacher.
The original organizer, leader, teacher and guiding spirit was Mrs. Ella Goodwyn Carter, and the class was eventually named for her. Mrs. Frances Craig was the teacher of the class in the 1930s and she lead effort to produce the first Upper Room devotional guide.
Source: “History of the Ella Goodwyn Carter Philathea Class” written in 1985.
The Bucket Brigade
Did you know that our basement was dug out by a bucket brigade of church members in 1941? Here’s a paraphrased excerpt from Josephine Forman’s book, We Finish to Begin:
Until 1941, the area under the current church sanctuary was just dirt. That year, the church decided to excavate the basement to make room for Sunday school rooms. The Coca Cola Bottling Co. loaned a number of Coca Cola boxes and a long conveyer with rollers on it. Trucks were driven into what is now the Children’s Building next door, the dirt was put in the boxes, rolled out through the windows, and put in the trucks. The men worked from 6:30 to 10:00 pm each night for two weeks, with fifteen or twenty men each night. 316 yards of dirt were excavated from the basement, making available a room containing approximately 1500 square feet. The area was remodeled, a cement floor was put in, and posts were put in place to hold up the ceiling.
Church History: Harmony Hall
In August, 1910, Travis Park Church purchased the adjacent Harmony Hall office building on Navarro Street to the south of the sanctuary addition for $50,000 from owner V.A. Petty. The property's first story was converted into additional choir rehearsal space, a children's ministry wing, Sunday school classrooms and a chapel prayer room.
It was not until 1930 when lease agreements expired that the church gained full use of all the floors of the building. In 1942 all the debts were cleared and in 1946, Dr. Albert Shirkey, pastor, advanced the plan for remodeling the building as a Youth Center and it is still referred to as the Youth Building. Most recently, the first floor of this building has housed the CMI Day Center.
Sources: Travis Park Church Archives, San Antonio Evening News, Friday Jan. 6 1950, We Finish to Begin by Josephine Forman, and research by Jon Runnels.
Next week in Church History:
1948 - Harmony Hall is structurally renovated as part of an ambitious building expansion project, including the installation of the beautiful Porter Loring stained glass cross.
Church History: Loring Window
The large stained glass window in the shape of a cross (on the front of the Youth Building facing Navarro Street) was a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Porter Loring. At the time of its installation in 1950, the fifty foot window was the tallest in the United States. It is made of 4700 pieces of stained glass from many countries, including England, France, Belgium, Germany, and the US. Architect Henry Steinbomer conceived the idea and the design was done by Joseph Meyer of the Jacoby Stained Glass Studio in St. Louis, Mo.
The story the window tells begins with Genesis, executed in dark, somber colors. Progressing through the ages, we come to the Law with Moses holding the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. On the opposite side is a figure symbolizing the Prophets. Surmounting all is a figure of Christ. Here the light will be brightest and light colors will be used. The outline of a cross behind the panel forms the uppermost sides and top of this inspiring point of interest, with the stone forming an appropriately sturdy and beautiful background.
The window covers a height of three floors. Cost was $10,000, and the steel structure necessary to hold it cost about an equal amount.
Currently, the TPUMC Trustees are looking into the replacement of the protective plexiglass that covers the entire window, as it has become cloudy with age.
Update: Jan. 2012 - New protective Lexan panels are installed thanks to a generous gift from the Loring family.
Church Archives and We Finish to Begin by Josephine Forman
Church History: Youth Building 1948-50
When the remodeling and reconstruction of Harmony Hall, now known as the Youth Building, began in 1948, it proved to be a much larger project than anticipated.
An interview with Horace Hebdon in 1979 provided this story:
“The original plan was to wreck Harmony Hall and build a new building; but the engineer thought it was a good building, and suggested to the pastor, Dr. Shirkey, that it be preserved and remodeled. The architect drew the plans and called for bids, but there were none because in the period immediately following WWII builders had all the work they could do. It was decided to get a good contractor to do the job, and Howard Bumbaugh took it on a ten percent fee basis, with an estimate of $75,000. It turned out to be $150,000.
First, the picture window planned for the front was too heavy for the old building, so the entire front had to be taken out and replaced with reinforced concrete and steel. Removal of the front left the side and back walls standing, supporting the roof. Bumbaugh called a meeting of the Building Committee, in which he said, ‘The wall is down, and ready for the front, and frankly I’m scared to death it is not going to be able to stand by itself.’ The engineer said, ‘My recommendation to remodel did not envision taking off the front. Now you had better get busy quick because the walls could not stand in a heavy windstorm.’ On the sides of the building were bricks which appeared to be solid pillars, but when the roof was taken off they were found to be hollow. Concrete was poured into the hollow pillars to reinforce the walls, the steel beams were put in place as quickly as possible, and the front was put on.”
More Youth Building pictures and memorabilia, circa 1950:
Youth rooms after remodeling/reconstruction.
The chapel on the first floor of the Youth Building.
Below, 1950s youth activities in the new building:
Church Archives and We Finish to Begin by Josephine Forman
Church History: Go and Make Disciples
by Rev. Larry Ravert, retired pastor, University Park UMC, Dallas
Excerpt from “The University Park Word” 10-17-08
When I was in the Air Force in 1951, I was transferred to San Antonio. Having been raised a Presbyterian, I decided to visit the downtown First Presbyterian Church. I sat by an elderly woman on the bus and told her I was new to the city and wanted directions to the First Presbyterian Church. She told me she knew exactly where it was, but she invited me to go to her church, Travis Park Methodist Church.
She gave me every reason to at least visit, saying it had the finest pastor, greatest worship services, many servicemen in attendance and a large, exciting youth group. Oh yes, she did mention that there were many single and beautiful young ladies who also were in the youth group – not that that was of any interest to me! I decided to accompany her, and upon arrival, she introduced me to a young man in front of the Youth Building and went on her way. I enjoyed Sunday school and worship that morning and decided to visit the Methodist Youth Fellowship that night.
That was the beginning of my journey – taking me and my life in a totally different direction. I soon attended church and the youth group on a regular basis, later worked on the staff part time as athletic director, became a member of the Methodist Church and became active in that downtown church. Still later, I surrendered to the call to ministry, found Carol Ann, the love of my life, and still later, was married and was ordained at that altar.
The interesting thing about my story is that I never knew who that lady was. I don’t remember her giving me her name, nor what class she was in or where she lived. For that matter, I never saw her again, and yet her simple invitation was a changing point in my life. It’s been, well, let’s say a few more than 20 years since that morning, but today I am a United Methodist minister and married to a wonderful lady because of that simple invitation. I share with you this episode in my life not to put any special spotlight on me, but to emphasize how important an invitation may be from you to someone you live near, work with, play with or shop with. You are the church, and someone you meet today or tomorrow might be waiting for their lives to be changed as that invitation changed my life.
The last words of Jesus Christ, as recorded by Matthew, were, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations….” This was the commission to the disciples, and that is our mandate as well – to make disciples of Jesus Christ. As I look back I realize that invitation was a generation to generation invitation, from one older lady to a young serviceman, but it made all the difference for me.
Fire in 1955
At about 6:30 am October 25, 1955, a disastrous fire occurred at Travis Park Church. It was discovered by a San Antonio Express delivery boy and the alarm was turned in by a member of Travis Park who was a pharmacist in the St. Anthony Drug Store across the street. The fire, which started in a pantry in the basement, burned through the sanctuary floor (leaving a gaping 12 ft. hole), destroyed the organ, some pews, and part of the altar rail, and rendered the entire building useless. All buildings were filled with smoke. The fire chief condemned the building immediately, saying “It’s too dangerous in there. Chunks might fall off and kill somebody.”
The first Sunday morning after the fire, worship was held in the Municipal Auditorium, and the evening service was at the First Presbyterian Church. Thereafter, for nearly three years, Sunday morning services were held in the Texas Theater and evening services in St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, with the displaced adult church school classes meeting all over the neighborhood: in the Gunter and St. Anthony Hotels, the YMCA and in office buildings. Reconstruction of the sanctuary, remodeling part of the old structure and building of a new foyer, new Travis St. doors, and an educational building were finally accomplished and the church was ready for occupancy in September of 1958.
We Finish to Begin by Josephine Forman and newspaper clippings found in the church archives.
Recent Church History: ID Recovery Program
With the opening of Haven for Hope, the services provided by our ID Recovery Program will be provided there, along with a wide array of other social services. With the help of our experienced volunteers who will help with training at Haven for Hope, this ministry will continue to help address one of the root causes of homelessness.
The ID Recovery Program was conceived in the summer of 2003 when two physician assistant students, Sidney Warner, (a long-time Travis Park UMC member) and Rodney Haltom, a fellow student, were required to complete a community medicine project. They both wanted to work with the homeless population, and, after visiting many agencies around the city, they found there were minimal services for identification recovery in the city. They discovered that a huge Catch-22 existed: people had to have identification to get a job, or housing, but they could not get ID without identification. Sydney and Rodney decided to develop a program to address this need and an amazing group of Travis Park volunteers with skills particularly suited to the task sprang up around them to help.
Every Tuesday morning people lined up for help getting birth certificates, social security cards, and Texas identification cards. For the volunteers, it was like a giant jigsaw puzzle to find the missing pieces each person needed. They have persevered as, over the years, the requirements for obtaining birth certificates, school records, and personal IDs have gotten more difficult due to more stringent requirements.
Original funding to cover the necessary fees and materials came as a $400 gift from a member of the congregation. Additional funding came as a grant from the American Academy of Physician Assistants as well as other sources, including from the ID recovery volunteers.
Hundreds of people have been helped. The ID program was chosen as the program for ID recovery for the Katrina survivors in San Antonio. Many people have been able to get jobs and find housing. Having an ID helps each individual get back a little bit of self respect. Travis Park volunteers have spent countless hours and have put their hearts into the program through the years. Our gratitude goes to Dan and Judy Adams, Shawn Campbell and Fred York, who has given pro-bono legal help, and all of the others who have lent a hand. Like many aspects of Corazon Ministries, the ID Recovery Program shows what a few people with an idea, a lot of dedicated work, and the power of the Holy Spirit can do to help those around them.
Recent Church History:
Café Corazon Beginnings
by Becky Snodgrass
The beginning of Café seems like it was so long ago, but then it seems like it was yesterday. This is what I remember of what was the forming of Café Corazon.
In early February 1999 some folks gathered for dinner at (former pastors) John and Karen’s house to discuss an idea that Mike Cline had. The way I remember it, and the way I tell the story, is what Mike shared with us that evening. He explained that he had been walking in Austin with his mom when a homeless man approached them and asked for money. Apparently, Mike’s mother gave the guy some money and Mike expressed his concern about it. What I recall from Mike’s story to us was that his mom had told him that her brother was also out on the streets somewhere, and she prayed that someone would do the same for him. This story stayed with Mike for a year or so before he moved to San Antonio.
The group began the “what if’s” – what if we just try serving food every Sunday for a month? We decided we would attempt to serve breakfast every Sunday for six months. I remember thinking to myself: there is no way we can do this. Luckily, I followed my peers on this one.
We had several planning meetings to figure out the details and to discuss the menu. Our biggest concern in doing this was that the café NOT be like a “soup kitchen.” We decided that we would call our visitors “guests” because this is how we wanted them to feel. Heather Mace-Meador made the cutest center pieces for the tables that we used each week.
Our first Sunday of serving was on Palm Sunday, 1999.
I have told this story before and I will tell it again. I missed the first Sunday of Café being served because my mother had just died and I was not in town. After having gone through such a traumatic time in my life, the last place I wanted to be on the following Sunday, Easter Sunday, was serving breakfast to the homeless. I carried so much grief during that time, but my church family gave me much encouragement so I was where I needed to be that Sunday.
We probably had 150 people that second Sunday and I remember looking around seeing the many faces and thinking wow. While I was pouring syrup, I just began to cry. A man approached me and asked what was wrong and I told him I was sad because my mom just died. The man I never met put his hand on my shoulder and simply said he was sorry. I will never forget the change that happened to me personally that day. What I realized was that every one of us experiences pain, and we are all in this together. Looking out and seeing the diverse faces of the crowd, I remember feeling that this is what God is calling us all to do.
For months, the same group of people did the shopping, serving and cleaning up each Sunday and the people “upstairs” seemed to be curious about what was going on. We began asking Sunday school classes to volunteer to be in charge one Sunday a month. It took off from there. People brought their friends, co-workers, kids, and it all got done, every week for the past 11 years.
Another thing I remembered recently while listening to Mike Cline speak in worship was that Grace was just a baby when we started this. Every Sunday, Mike and Amy had her in a carrier on their back while they worked in the kitchen. Grace has really been with it her whole life!
Other things also come to mind, such as our budget. We really did not have one, but we knew we had to do it cheap. We were able to keep our costs down to about 40 cents a plate and still provide a healthy meal. We went to day-old bakeries and bought bread, got supplies at Sam’s and scrubbed pans. Larry Fay found fruit through a friend and donated plenty every Sunday. After a few months, we were told that an “anonymous donor” told us not to worry about the money because it was funded for the rest of the year. Dr. Richard Ferguson sat up a table and began seeing folks for their medical issues. Homeless guests began to play the piano, or sing.
The final thing I can say is that we must listen to our experiences and, more importantly, share them with the people around us. Had Mike not ever discussed his experience in Austin that day, this whole thing might never have begun. Many people have come along and have shared their own gifts and talents. Travis Park has to continue to be the safe place for people to share and dream and put our dreams in motion.
As the CMI Day Center closes this month and those services move to Haven for Hope, Travis Park Church is returning to the roots of this outreach ministry begun 11 years ago: Café Corazon on Sunday mornings and Prayer Picnic, Communion/Healing Service, and Recovery Circle on Wednesday evenings. Contact Dale Tremper at email@example.com to find out how you can volunteer.
Café Corazon Memories
by Mike Cline
In 1998, I was exploring a call to ministry and, though I decided not to attend seminary, felt called to a ministry focused on social justice. When moved to San Antonio, we visited Travis Park as a courtesy to our former pastors at Oak Hill UMC in Austin – John Flowers and Karen Vannoy. John and Karen were never ones to let you just sit in a pew, and they asked me to develop a program that would involve “young people” and active outreach ministry.
So, in December of 1998, Amy and I began pulling together some ideas. John and Karen referred us to several young folks (ages 20-40) in the church. Part of their thinking was that young people today do not connect to church in a traditional way, but instead seek ways to use community services as part of their spiritual discipline. For me, this was also an opportunity to try some ideas that worked in other communities.
My first inspiration came from my mother. My uncle is a stereotypical Vietnam Veteran – an alcoholic who has lived on the streets from time to time. One day when my mother was visiting us in Austin, we were driving in our car and passed by a few homeless guys who were scamming the passers-by. My mother rolled down her window and proceeded to give them some money. When I scolded her for giving money to guys with questionable sincerity, she said, “I know, but that could be my brother.” And she was right. Figuratively and literally, our brothers and sisters are on the street today – many facing the demons of alcohol and drug abuse and mental illness.
I also researched other programs to find inspiration. I studied several success stories, including the work of Cecil Williams and Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco. Most of these programs started with a need, an idea, and a genuine desire to treat people with dignity and love. I took inspiration from the writings of other United Methodists who challenged us to think differently about serving with, not for, the poor. And indeed, John Wesley also challenged the church to open the doors of grace to everyone. For biblical inspiration, I turned to the book of James and to Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain (Matthew 9:10-13).
There were about 20 of us when we met to plan for the Café in 1998 and 1999. The planning phased involved these “young” people – but many unsung angels were also involved financially or otherwise. Not everyone in the church was thrilled with our idea – but eventually – everyone was involved in some way.
Although we opened with a short homily and prayer each Sunday, we never wanted people to feel that a belief in God, or a particular interpretation of God, should be required to be fed. We chose the name “Café Corazon,” a name connected to San Antonio’s Spanish and Mexican heritage, to help convey the spirit of inclusion, dignity, love, and grace that we envisioned.
The essence of our original goal of treating people with dignity still remains. Café Corazon has moved beyond what many of us ever imagined and I expect that it will continue to impact individuals in our community in many different and new ways.
Café Corazon Memories
TPUMC Council Chair
My favorite memories of Café Corazon show how hopeful, compassionate, generous, excited (and naïve) we all were when we were just getting started. I remember that we really wanted to find a way to do something different – make the experience more like a meal and less like a soup kitchen. We selected the name – Café Corazon – because we wanted to serve from the heart. I had forgotten about the centerpieces that we used until I read Becky’s memories (they really were cute – we used wooden hearts to make a bouquet of flowers that were placed in flowerpots on each table) but it reminded me how we wanted the guests to feel welcome and feel like they were sitting down for a meal with friends.
So, we had a name and we had plans to create a welcoming atmosphere with tables and centerpieces. Next on the list was to decide on our menu and here’s where our youthful enthusiasm was evident. We wanted to offer a menu and we planned to go to each table to take the guests’ orders and then bring their food to the table. Now, we did attempt to be realistic about our menu plans and thought we would offer maybe 3 or 4 options. But as you can imagine, as we got closer to our “grand opening”, we had to reconcile the number of volunteers, the amount of time we had to get ready and the food options available and ultimately, we had to acknowledge that we might need to consider a simpler menu.
However, any disappointment in not realizing our goal of creating a unique “restaurant experience” for our guests was quickly forgotten as we had the opportunity to interact with our guests on a personal level. We started with one team that worked every Sunday which gave us the opportunity to see the same guests week after week. There were several guys that I chatted with each week and I was worried about them if they missed a week. I even had one guest who helped me practice my Spanish after church.
To me, that really is the core of Café Corazon. People caring for one another by serving a meal, sharing a meal; being together with each other and for each other. I look forward to seeing us return to those roots and keep growing together.
230 E. Travis Street
San Antonio, TX 78205