Pointing to the telltale outline of intricately designed glass on a wall outside his office, the Rev. Bill Bryan shakes his head and asks: “Why would anyone ever paint over a stained-glass window?” Members of Grace United Methodist Church hope to uncover this and other long-hidden architectural treasures of their 89-year-old building, located at Junius and Haskell.
The ongoing restoration and remodeling project at the historic Gothic-revival cathedral is the bricks-and-mortar symbol of rejuvenation. Thanks in large part to Bryan, the congregation – which had dwindled to near-extinction in the early 1980s – is on the rebound, albeit with a different emphasis.
For the past nine years, Bryan has helped guide the church through its evolution from a congregation for the gentry into a neighborhood church embracing the diversity of the East Dallas cultural melting pot and encouraging people of all backgrounds to find common ground inside its doors.
Bryan’s pairing with this inner-city mission is a stroke of timing readily attributed to a higher power.
Grace needed a new pastor at a time when tough, urban neighborhoods were a hard sell even to the clergy, and soul-searching had led Bryan to request a transfer from the suburban comfort of Richardson to an urban church where he could work with the poor.
Within 13 days of his request, Bryan was in Grace’s pulpit. “I believed a change of context would make my own faithfulness easier, and I loved the word ‘urban’ because I was born in Dallas,” says the 40-year-old Bryan, who grew up in Oak Cliff and graduated from Kimball High School.
From the weekly Sunday communion celebrated by people from at least five races to the Asian ministry led by a former Buddhist monk, Grace is a place of inclusion.
Even neighbors who don’t worship there find a helping hand at the Agape Clinic and the East Dallas Legal Clinic, both housed at Grace and staffed by professionals who volunteer their time.
Among the East Dallas residents who have found a spiritual home at Grace is Dale McEowen, director of the Mental Health Association of Collin County.
“My wife and I liked the idea that a church should serve the human needs of a community,” says McEowen, the son of a Methodist minister.
“That’s the kind of thing I though churches were always supposed to do.”
Born William Jennings Bryan III, Bryan is the son of the late Dallas barbecue legend Sonny Bryan, who continued a Dallas family tradition begun in 1910.
Bryan jokes that he’s “the first Bryan since 1910 to do anything except sell barbecue and Budweiser.”
Of course, he says, “the only place you’ll find a greater variety of people than Grace United Methodist Church is at Sonny Bryan’s.”
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