Rudy Rasmus grew up near the restaurant where Bishop Swanson recalled working in Houston, but it was an earlier time. He remembers when oil money transformed that neighborhood, and it was time for all the black people to relocate. And he remembers drinking from a separate water fountain until he was 11 years old (1957).
“Growing up in Houston, there were two places where I escaped the separate water fountain: the Lion Head water fountain at the zoo, which didn’t have a sign by it; and the circus, the one place where kids of every ethnicity felt real equality,” Rasmus said.
Throughout his ministry, love has resonated with Rasmus more than anything else. He believes that the shift that is occurring in and around the world today is love. He said many people outside the church wonder if the church cares, and if they love.
“How we punctuate love is what is interpreted to the world around us,” Rasmus said. “Some love parenthetically (), some with a comma (love, but…), I’m encouraging love period.”
The challenge is to find the way to love the other. Rasmus’s own challenge to love the other was put to the test when he met Barry, a new visitor to the church. He was told by Barry’s friend that Barry had been charged with murder. Working in innercity ministries, that wasn’t new territory for Rasmus, he’d known many others in similar situations.
“I thought I could navigate that OK,” Rasmus said.
Then he learned that this new person to the church was charged with murdering a two-year-old, through starvation.
“I go home and start praying about my response to Barry, and asking how I could minister to such a person. Then the Lord started flashing my life,” Rasmus said.
Prior to accepting Christ in 1990 Rasmus owned and operated with his father a “borderline bordello.” It was a hotel that was built to facilitate prostitution and substance abuse. God called Rasmus to reflect on what he had done much of his adult life, facilitating misogamy with women who were someone’s daughters. He then sent Barry a text, and started meeting with him, giving him pastoral counseling.
“You’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people that you do,” Rasmus said. Rasmus’s mantra for ministry is engage before judging, love before leaving, and help the helpless. In 1991 he started as pastor of St. John’s UMC, a downtown church in Houston with a congregation of 9 people. Since then 16,000 have joined the church, with 68 percent of those being professions of faith. About 15 percent of the transfers are from other Methodist churches. Weekly worship averages about 2,400.
Many of those who attend St. John’s are homeless. Rasmus has seen the homeless community change from largely being Vietnam Veterans and crack cocaine to addicts to now often being young people who have recently aged out of foster care and have no family to turn to for support. The church recently built a $6 million, 42 unit housing project to help people transition from homelessness. The current housing project is a $10 million, 82-unit building. The church worked closely with the city on both projects.
“I’m a pastor and a politician,” Rasmus said. “I rely heavily on public funds.”
Rasmus stressed the importance of being in ministry with – not to – the community. And he couldn’t say enough about the importance of love.
“Love is what we do,” he said.