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Fort Worth’s mayor has faith cabinet: Here’s how it addresses issues in city, faith community

Mayor Mattie Parker, right, and former Mayor Betsy Price speak before Parker’s swearing-in ceremony on June 15, 2021. The mayor’s faith cabinet group has remained since Parker assumed office.
Cristian ArguetaSoto
/
Fort Worth Report
Mayor Mattie Parker, right, and former Mayor Betsy Price speak before Parker’s swearing-in ceremony on June 15, 2021. The mayor’s faith cabinet group has remained since Parker assumed office.

The Rev. Erik Vance of Southside Community Church doesn’t consider himself a political person. However, he felt he had enough in common with Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker to join her faith cabinet last year.

Tarrant County was ranked the third in Texas counties with the highest number of churches per capita in 2020, according to U.S. Religion Census data. The Fort Worth mayor’s faith cabinet, carried on as a tradition started by former Mayor Betsy Price, is a way for city officials to address the religious population in the community.

After Parker assumed office as Fort Worth’s mayor in 2021, she decided to keep the faith cabinet going. Members of the cabinet shared their experiences of how the group has changed between the two mayors and its role in the city.

“The common denominator is that she (Mattie Parker) loves Fort Worth and I love Fort Worth,” Vance said. “The faith-based cabinet has been a tool where we can work with the mayor, when it comes to solving problems in our community, starting with us who are faith leaders.”

Crossover between Price’s and Parker’s cabinets

The mayor’s faith cabinet serves as a way for clergy from a variety of faiths to get together with the mayor and other city officials for presentations about homelessness, youth gun violence, college readiness, refugee services and others, Parker said.

The information that clergy members receive can then be passed down to congregants of different churches, synagogues and mosques in the city.

Before Parker was the mayor, she was chief of staff for the city of Fort Worth and worked with former Mayor Betsy Price, who started her faith cabinet after she was sworn into office in 2011. There’s likely some crossover between the two cabinets, Parker said, but the membership isn’t the same.

For example, instead of having a formal list of members, Parker has a list of clergy to invite to meetings and send informational messages.

There’s currently no application process and joining the cabinet is open to anyone interested, Parker said. Participation can vary on who is available to attend.

“I had a good list to start with and then I relied on faith leaders to help me identify others, especially from other faiths. I think it’s kind of grown over time,” Parker said.

Another difference between Price and Parker’s cabinets is how often they meet. When Price first started her cabinet, the group would meet every month, Price said. Over time the meetings became every other month, then every three months and called meetings as needed.

Parker’s cabinet doesn’t meet on a regular schedule and has a couple meetings each year. There was one meeting in 2021, three meetings in 2022 and two meetings in 2023. There is also one planned for January of 2024, the mayor said.

“It’s a great way to keep a touch point on different communities across Fort Worth and what their priorities are, what they’re worried about and what they need help with. As a Christian, I found a lot of help, candidly, in having a group of people pray over the city and take action when we need help with certain things,” Parker said, who attends Arborlawn United Methodist Church. Price attends University Christian Church.

The Rev. Chris Mesa, senior pastor of Arborlawn United Methodist Church, is on the faith cabinet and sees it as a way for religious leaders to come together and address particular issues that are affecting people of faith in Fort Worth.

“When the mayor is able to gather people together, who are already talking about some of the issues that are facing our city, that’s a great crucible for that conversation to begin to take shape and to turn into action,” Mesa said.

Looking ahead for the faith cabinet

Rabbi Andrew Bloom of Ahavath Sholom and Imam Moujahed Bakhach from the Islamic Association of Tarrant County have been a part of both Price and Parker’s faith cabinets.

Despite the number of meetings changing, Bloom said, he appreciates other ways Parker’s cabinet has shown up for the Jewish community, such as inviting cabinet members to attend The Jewish Federation of Fort Worth & Tarrant County’s solidarity vigil in October.

“My main focus at this point is serving my community and the security of my community and bringing support for the Jewish people due to the antisemitism around the world,” Bloom said, “I have to say that the city led by Mayor Parker has been tremendously supportive of this.”

Cantor Sheri Allen joined the faith cabinet in January 2022. In addition to the presentations that clergy receive at the cabinet meetings, Allen said, she wants there to be more opportunities for members to talk about the needs of the congregations and issues that matter to them.

“What are we doing to address antisemitism? What are we doing to address Islamophobia? In light of the war now, antisemitism is a huge issue,” Allen said.

She is also the co-founder of Makom Shelanu, which describes itself as an inclusive, affirming Jewish community in Fort Worth that advocates for social justice. Joining the cabinet in January 2022, Allen said she’s also been able to create a relationship with the mayor to visit outside of cabinet meetings to talk about issues important to her and other clergy.

For example, after Parker removed the LGBTQ badge from the city’s summer reading program, she and other clergy gathered outside of cabinet meetings to reiterate their concerns about her decision.

“I have not felt the need, nor has she suggested bringing that issue up in the faith cabinet, which would be nice to do because this is something that affects our whole city,” Allen said, “I feel like I’ve gotten that line of communication open between me and her and that she will respond and address our concerns, but it’s not necessarily going to be through the interfaith cabinet.”

Looking ahead, Bakhach hopes that the cabinet meets more often in the new year. He also wants to voice issues that are important to Muslim Fort Worthians, such as recognizing Islamic religious holidays in schools and receiving information about registering to vote that he can pass down to the congregation.

“We used to be more active than we are now,” Bakhach said. “It’ll take time, but I hope that after the beginning of this new year, 2024 will be a new page and different.”

Southside Community Church is located in the 76104 area code, which has the lowest life expectancy in the state. Being a part of the interfaith cabinet has allowed Vance to be a voice for his community in and outside of the church, he said.

“If the South was the Bible Belt, Texas would be the buckle of it,” Vance said. “So faith is important to us here in Fort Worth, and it’s just a blessing to be able to be intertwined and in the know and to work together and it’s not separated. We could work together to solve problems.”

Marissa Greene is a Report for America corps member, covering faith for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at marissa.greene@fortworthreport.org or on X, formerly known as Twitter, @marissaygreene.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Marissa Greene is a Report for America corps member and covers faith in Tarrant County for the Fort Worth Report.