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Growing up in Nowheresville, Texas, in the 1980s with strict parents and nothing but tumbleweeds to play with is tough enough on a teenage boy. Add in a vivacious, outspoken personality –– and a sex scandal –– and life becomes downright unbearable. It was time for Stacey Fox to hit the road.

The road eventually led to Fort Worth, where the 47-year-old pastor has revitalized a church that’s unlike most others in North Texas. Sitting on the corner of Bonnie Brae Street in Carter Riverside, Fellowship of Love Outreach welcomes everyone, including young people struggling with their sexual identities, as Fox once did.

Studies show that about 1.6 million American youngsters are classified as homeless and that almost half identify as LGBTQ. These youth face additional risks, such as higher instances of violence, abuse, and sexual exploitation. Roughly 20 percent of the nearly 2,000 homeless persons in Tarrant County are children.

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Fox welcomes them all at F.O.L.O. and wants to create something different from a shelter environment –– a place where teens can have their own space, a bed, and a place to watch television and where they can “just be a teenager,” he said.

Fox remembers what it’s like being a confused teen. In 1985, he was 17 and leading a music ministry at a little church in Odessa.

“Odessa was a great place to grow up,” Fox said. “I had a normal life, and it was mostly a good time.”

Even as a small child, he was always heavily involved in his church, playing piano and even preaching by age 12. Still, he found time for fun and friends.

“People would see me so involved at church and say, ‘I want my kid to turn out like you!’ I would think to myself privately, ‘Maybe not.’ ”

Fox had not come out as gay, and so it was believable when he was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a married woman at church.

“She was having marital issues,” he said. “Soon the gossip started that we were in a sexual relationship. It was a huge mess in the church and an even bigger one in my life.”

He worried about his parents and fellow church members finding out the truth. He feared alienation. Rather than explain why the accusations were false, Fox remained silent.

“I couldn’t come out yet,” he said. “I couldn’t say I was gay at the time. It was easier to let people believe the lie.”

Little did he know, he wasn’t the only one in on the secret.

“My dad already knew, because he knew me,” he said. “And he stood by me, manly man that he was, and he never tolerated anyone saying something bad. When I finally did come out a year later, he just said, ‘I don’t understand it, but you’re my son. I love you and I want you happy. Just don’t get them AIDs.’ ”

There were still many unknowns about the disease in the mid-1980s, particularly in small-town Texas.

Fox figured it was time for a change. His sister had moved to Garland, and Fox soon followed, becoming a music minister at a local church. But he was still closeted and began to worry that some congregation members suspected he was gay. Eventually he made friends in the Fort Worth area and heard about “gay churches.” He didn’t know much about them, but he accompanied friends to F.O.L.O. one Sunday 19 years ago.

“I missed God and the church enough that I wanted to try and figure out what was going on there,” he said.

Some churches point to the Bible to condemn homosexuality. It can be difficult for LGBTQ individuals to find a safe place to share and practice their beliefs. Rev. Lee Ann Bryce of First Congregational United Church of Christ knows this struggle personally.

“There are a few churches locally that are friendly to [LGBTQ], but it’s unusual to see [LGBTQ] people fully included,” she said. “They are allowed in the congregation, but the path to ordained ministry isn’t often available. Many [LGBTQ] can only go so far.”

She made the move to Fort Worth from New York a few years back. Bryce laughs now about the old joke that lesbians live in Fort Worth and gay men live in Dallas. But it’s her friends that give her confidence in this community. She is always excited to hear there are others working toward a common goal of inclusivity.

Or maybe kids just find themselves at odds with their family. Lisa Daly, co-president of the Fort Worth Chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (P.F.L.A.G.), tries to help parents understand what their children are going through.

“It must be the hardest thing to say, to bare your soul to a parent or guardian,” she said. “And if they don’t respond well, it can be devastating.”

Sometimes, church and family members turn their backs on a kid. Sometimes kids get kicked out. Or they just leave. Fox hopes many of them find their way to F.O.L.O., the type of church that he could have benefited from as a young man.

When Fox first visited F.O.L.O., the congregation was led by Pastor Ric Huett. Fox finally felt at home and stayed involved. He was there when Huett resigned in 1996. At 26 years old, bleached blonde, and hungry to serve others, Fox offered to assist as the interim minister. A year later, the church asked him to remain their pastor permanently. He has been pushing growth and outreach ever since.

Fox stood at the podium on a recent Sunday and asked his congregation, “What is our goal? Who will we become? I’m not satisfied with just us. There are more people in this city who need to know the message.”

“Amen!” the congregation responded, as ladies waved fans across their faces to keep cool.

Expanding hasn’t been easy –– there are about 80 folks in Fox’s flock –– but Fox still has big plans.

“Our biggest roadblock right now is finances,” he said. “We would need to remodel. We couldn’t house people where we are now, we need a larger facility. We have hit a wall.”

He’s trying to sell the church property and find a bigger place. In the meantime, he collects socks, coats, toothpaste, and ordinary items that most of us probably take for granted. He fills up boxes with the items and donates them to local organizations that serve the same people he hopes to care for.

Fox said he won’t give up easily. He knows happiness can exist for anyone. Fox is happily married now. He adores (and brags on) his four children and three grandchildren.

“I had been thrown out, thrown away,” he said. “It was hard to think it was even possible that God could love me or that I could love God. Now I have had the honor to be here for 19 years. I have incredible children, an awesome husband, and I’m a pastor. I am living my dream.”

9 COMMENTS

  1. Good work, Mam. God bless you. Your life, clearly, hasn’t been a push-over deal. You restore my faith. May I ask, honestly…on the square, are there any Tea-Baggers in your Congregation? Are you aware of any Baggers that have cleaned up and amounted to a practicing Christian? Can one be a hateful, self-centered, deviant and get into Heaven? Best wishes Sir, and thank you kindly.

    • Benny, you must be sexually confused. Your comment addresses the same person as both ma’am and sir. Are you Q? Should children be cautioned to stay away from you?

      • Stouty, plenty of people swing both ways…are you off your meds? God made them that way, there you go. What’s your problem? I need not ask, the Devil causes you to choose to live your life as a Tea-Bagging, Peckerwood, bigot, Repug. Your rotten plight is your choice. Fool. You chose to be a rat-butt-wipe, Tea-Bagger …what’s that all about? You can’t hold down a job and you cling to hatred and stupidity like they are your best pals….what’s the deal with you? Are your siblings normal humans? Are your parents literate? I would much prefer every soul living in Texas be queer, bald headed, and cross-eyed than faced with you or any other Tea-Bagging jerk-off in this sweet state. Now then, GOD does not have much use for Tea-Bagging, bigot, bastards nor their partners in political matters. I suggest you repent and clean up.

  2. Great article but this church is a deceptive place. It’s all about the pastor and his clique, as well as, there have been a lot of other scandals there you don’t see on the surface. This church hasn’t grown beyond 80 congregants in 20 years and your article states they are in almost financial crisis. – I can’t imagine why? If 80 people even pay their minimum tithe that can’t keep the lights on long or pay a pastor enough to live on. Trust me there are bigger and better alternative lifestyle churches to attend in FT Worth than this one where there isn’t a deceptive pastor that hides from his real demons and monsters.

  3. This is a beautiful church full of great people. No one here is perfect, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re right- this isn’t it. But for a church full of people trying their best to love God, each other and live right, this is it. Don’t expect to come to Folo and not be challenged. This message of holy living is hard for some.

  4. This is a beautiful church full of great people. No one here is perfect, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re right- this isn’t it. But for a church full of people trying their best to love God, each other and strive to live holy- this is it.

  5. I never stated it was not a beautiful church. I also never stated that anyone was perfect. And I sure did not say that I was judging whether some of your people love God because that is between you and God. But you serve a leader (your pastor) who tries to look like a hero and is a two face “fake”. FOLO has never been anything but “The Pastor Fox” Show and always will be. FOLO has been stuck in the “reconciling gays” business TOO LONG NOW! And as far as trying to live Holy ask you dear Pastor how he (even recently) preaches against doing a certain thing and is out doing himself. Lets just say when you ever disagree with him and confront him WOWW you will see a whole other side. Listen and learn!!!

  6. Such a great article! Love this group of Jesus followers, trying to be a light in such a dark world! I am so thankful for this man of God that works just as hard as his congregation to live a holy life devoted to God.

  7. I love thus church and her people. I can tell you that spending the last 8 plus years in ministry in Hispanic churches of the same faith this is the real deal. There are many people that do not understand what it means to be reconciled with God. I didn’t come out until about 2 years ago and was kicked out of all the ministry activites I devoted my life to. Here I have the opertunities that I lost. I am able to minister to people through worship, and being a friend. Every church there is has its issues, and I’m sure FOLO is no diffrent. The difference I have seen is that people are honest about their issues and strive to become better people. I hope to be here and grow in the ministry with these amazing people

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