A few weeks ago, in Midtown Memphis all eyes were focused on Union Avenue United Methodist Church.
The once majestic building with the unique round-domed sanctuary was now surrounded by a chain-link fence littered with protest signs. Despite months of controversy, lawsuits, and disagreements over the sale of the building, the fight was finally over.
Its small, but dedicated, congregation, lead by Rev. Birgitte T. French, had struggled financially for many years to keep the building in good repair. However, despite their best efforts, they made the practical decision to merge with the congregation of St. Luke’s United Methodist and sell the building to CVS Pharmacy.
Meanwhile, just as the wrecking ball began to methodically knock down the walls of of the church, a small group had gathered across town at St. Luke’s United Methodist for a celebration of sorts.
While they were sad that Union Avenue UMC would soon be gone, the former congregation was thrilled to be donating proceeds from the sale to several worthwhile ministries.
Rev. Mark Matheny, St. Luke’s Senior Pastor, and Rev. Birgitte T. French, St. Luke’s Associate Pastor and former Senior Pastor at Union Avenue UMC, were delighted to present a check for $50,000 to FirstWorks! Karen Oppenheim, Chair of the FirstWorks Board of Directors, accepted the gift of behalf of the organization.
FirstWorks, an after school, academic, faith-based program, is a 501(c)3 mission that enrolls at-risk children and youth from inner-city ZIP codes. The program was housed at Union Avenue UMC before the building was sold.
Twice a week the children were brought to the church for a home-cooked meal served by volunteers, followed by tutoring, career counseling, crafts, and to listen to inspirational guest speakers. Two Saturdays a month the children are treated to educational and sports outings.
Rev. French, FirstWorks former Executive Director, said of the donation, “It was such a blessing personally to be with FirstWorks for 5 1/2 years. It is a dream come true to know this money will multiply many times over.”
Karen Oppenheim added her feelings upon receiving the check for FirstWorks, “This financial gift will benefit all of the children in our program now and for many months to come. It is also a celebration of the commitment made to FirstWorks by all of our teachers, volunteers, and supporters throughout Shelby County.”
The FirstWorks After School Program has since relocated to Highland Heights United Methodist Church, at the corner of Highland and Summer.
At the conclusion of the meeting, St. Luke’s Rev. Matheny spoke his sentiments about this holy turn of events, “We applaud FirstWorks and its commitment to reach, just like Jesus taught….the least and the last.”