History of Outreach: Georgia Bates and the West Dallas Mission
The Great Depression hit Dallas hard in the mid 1930’s. The impact was especially felt in West Dallas, considered at the time to be the “crime capitol of Texas.”
As Senior Minister of Highland Park United Methodist Church, Dr. Marshall Steel wanted to make a difference by alleviating poverty in West Dallas. Rev. Steel struck a deal with the Visiting Nurses Association, to sponsor a nurse who would serve on their staff and under their supervision. Not long after, Georgia Bates was hired, thus beginning what would become a 34-year ministry.
Bates had first felt God’s call to ministry when she was a teenager, after hearing Dr. E. Stanley speak at a youth conference. She wanted to devote her life to helping others by becoming a missionary nurse.
Bates was stunned at the conditions of West Dallas when she arrived. There was a lack of basic sanitation, poor road conditions, and what felt like a wall of resistance against any kind of government authority. The people of West Dallas were skeptical of the woman who knocked on their doors under the banner of Highland Park United Methodist Church.
Instead of fearing for her safety, Bates was more afraid of being rejected by the people she wanted to offer hope and help to. Because of her fears, Bates would stress her connection to HPUMC.
“Sometimes they would say well why? What do they want? What are they going to get out of it?” Georgia Bates reflected during an interview in 1986.
“After I had been there a while, that attitude began to disappear. I think it’s because visiting nursing is such a tangible thing. When you go into a home to do a dressing for a cancer patient, or give penicillin injections to a sick child, or teach a young mother how to bathe her baby and make formula, that’s something tangible that they can see.”
Meanwhile, the work of Bates was also becoming known within HPUMC. In 1940, Palm Sunday became known as “Georgia Bates Sunday.” Her letters were regularly printed in the church’s weekly newspaper, The Tower, in an effort to educate the congregation on what was happening in their own city.
“Many of the members would ask me if they could go with me some day,” says Bates. “They gave generously, anything I asked for. They were very generous with their money and with their time.”
In 1971, the legacy of Bates grew within HPUMC when the church took on its first Meals on Wheels route, a VNA program. One of the most important aspects of Bates' ministry was the fact that it promoted ‘hands-on’ interaction between church members and the community.
Bates retired in 1973 and later died in 1991. She is buried in Arkansas.
Decade: 1940's, 1950's, 1960's
Since its foundation, Highland Park United Methodist Church has reached out beyond the walls of the church to offer help and hope to those in need. Though the ministry has been known by different names at different times, the mission has remained constant: spread the Gospel in word and deed, be the hands and feet of Jesus, and teach the next generation what Christian service looks like.
The mission of spreading God’s love far and wide is etched on the walls of the Sanctuary. Carved into the east wall is the parable of the lost sheep and to the west are the words of Psalm 67.
“This reminds us weekly of the worldwide scope of the Gospel,” says HPUMC Archivist Kent Roberts.