First United Methodist Church

While most students’ alarms haven’t even gone off, civil engineering freshman Joshua Garza wakes up at 4 a.m. twice a week to serve breakfast to the homeless.

Feed My People, a nonprofit which is part of Foundation for the Homeless, serves breakfast to approximately 300 homeless people every Tuesday and Thursday at First United Methodist Church. The program, which collaborates with 15 religious congregations in Austin, allows any community member to volunteer.

Garza said he began serving breakfast in March and thought it was a good way to make people feel valued.

“There’s no one that’s in more need of self-esteem and value in society than homeless people because we devalue them so much in society,” Garza said.

Garza said he became involved with the project after volunteering at the breakfast with his twin brother, who now goes to Texas A&M University.

Pam King-Wachholz, communications and events manager at Foundation for the Homeless, said the program began serving breakfast at the church 12 years ago. Twice a week, a different church provides eggs, biscuits, gravy, coffee, milk and orange juice to those in need starting at 5 a.m. and ending when food runs out.

According to Ann Teich, board member of Feed My People, approximately 30 volunteers attend on average. Ten to 20 of those volunteers are UT students. King-Wachholz said the organization has had to turn down volunteers because of the large number of people who come in to help.

Garza said he has noticed the growing number of student volunteers, many of whom are in fraternities and sororities and earn volunteer hours through the program. The number of people who volunteer dramatically lowers on colder days, especially during the inclement weather last week, Garza said.

“It’s something that I find very important,” Garza said. “Oftentimes, students are there to get the hours, and we need more people that are willing to connect. However, it’s great that they are serving because we really need the people.”

According to a report by the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development, the number of transients has decreased by 15 percent since 2010, but Texas transients still account for 5 percent of the population of U.S. transients. 

Teich said the number of homeless people coming in for breakfast has steadily declined over the past few years, when it used to be almost 400 people each morning. She said she believes the decline may be because of how many more options are available to help the homeless population.

Although there has been an influx of volunteers and a decline in the amount of homeless people coming in for food, Garza said he plans to continue to serve food at the church throughout his college career.

“I want to stay involved in the community,” Garza said. “That’s just something I’ve been bred to do through my parents.”

While several state senators continue to advocate for LGTBQ rights in the Texas Legislature, similar support for religious equality has become more apparent in Christian churches nationwide.

In an overwhelming majority, congregation members of the First United Methodist Church, or FUMC, voted to join the Reconciling Ministries Network. The network, founded in 1982, advocates for the rights of gay individuals to serve in United Methodist ministry and be married in the church. The vote took place Feb. 10, making the church, which is located on Lavaca Street, one of more than 500 United Methodist communities to advocate for religious gay rights, according to the Reconciling Ministries Network website.

FUMC senior pastor Rev. John Wright said the vote required more than 75 percent of the congregation voting in favor to join the network, rather than a simple majority. He said the actual vote surpassed the requirement by far.

“For six months we have been in an intense process of discussion and discernment trying to make sure that everyone had an opportunity to be exposed to the issue and to voice their opinions,” Wright said. “We’re not giving blanket approval to every form of sexual expression, but we’re saying when two people are of faithful love and exclusive love for each other, the church should be able to encourage that love.”

Although several congregation members chose to leave the church because of the decision to join the network, Wright said FUMC has always welcomed the LGTBQ community with open arms.

“For a long time we’ve had a policy in our own local church of welcoming all persons regardless of sexual orientation,” Wright said. “We say that every Sunday. We’re not prepared to break church law, but we have taken an official position as a congregation that we want to work officially towards trying to change that law to the extent that we have the power to do that.”

Religious studies junior Cole Kirby, who said he works at a United Methodist church not affiliated with the network, said he believes practicing gay individuals should not be serving in ministry in the same way alcoholics or other “habitual sinners” should not.

“I think the gospel of Jesus Christ commands that we welcome people of all walks of life into the church, and homosexuals are not excluded from that,” Kirby said. “I do, however, believe that scripture is clear that God ordained sexual behavior as to be between a married man and woman. It’s the same as walking in heterosexual promiscuity.”

While gay persons should not be ordained or married by church ministry, they should still be welcomed by the church, Kirby said.

“I don’t think that sexual sin is something that is specific to homosexuals,” Kirby said. “They should not be leading the church, but should be loved and cared for by the church in the hopes that they might one day repent.”

Ryan Hernandez, advertising senior and public relations assistant for the Texas Wesley United Methodist Campus Ministry, said the way modern culture has changed has made it evident that gay individuals should be allowed to serve in ministry.

“I’m definitely in favor of the church joining the network,” Hernandez said. “[Homosexuals] should be allowed in the church and should be allowed to minister. A year ago I probably wouldn’t have felt that way. It’s just the way society has moved and culture has shifted, and I believe [it] too should be accepted.”