As she toured the four-bedroom parsonage of her first church appointment, the Rev. Julie K. Fleurinor felt God’s call in a new way.
“I need to bring some kids into this home,” she said to herself, admiring the roomy bedrooms, inviting living room and spacious kitchen already furnished with family-sized pots and pans. “God didn’t bring me this beautiful parsonage to live in it alone.”
A little more than three years later, Fleurinor is foster mother to four children ranging in age from 1 to 14. She balances teacher conferences and Bible studies, bedtime stories and sermon preparation, one-on-one time with kids and mission work in the community at large.
But despite the increased demands on her time and energy, her congregation says the church has been enriched.
“When you hear children, that’s life,” said Selena Roberts, a 35-year member of the congregation now known as Resurrection United Methodist Church, on Chicago’s southwest side.
Erica, 14, has been confirmed and sings in choir. Eniyah, 5, helps usher. Cyrus, nearly 3, tags along with the head trustee, “Mr. Tommie,” who, he believes, can fix anything. Jaron, who just marked his first birthday, is learning to walk to the delight of the congregation.
“They have grandmothers and grandfathers in church like you wouldn’t know it,” Fleurinor said.
Having a large family had always been Fleurinor’s dream, but as an unmarried woman approaching 40, the day she toured the parsonage, she realized, “God was painting the picture very differently for me.”
The first brush strokes were made in Haiti, when 4-year-old Fleurinor entered foster care until she could join her mother in the U.S. More colors were applied when Fleurinor joined The United Methodist Church as a college student and during her career as a social worker who was moved to pray with her clients.
However, when she saw the parsonage, she realized that living in a city beset with violence, she could offer a supportive environment — and a church full of positive role models — for some of the city’s most vulnerable children.
“If we don’t make a plan for [these children], the world has a plan for them,” she said.
With the backing of her district superintendent and her congregation’s staff-parish relations committee, she signed up with a local social services agency and began taking classes to become a foster parent within a month of moving in. By December 2012, she was licensed to care for four children.
‘A very modern family’
First came Eniyah and an older sister, but after a few months the older girl was moved out and another older sister, Erica, moved in. Last fall, Cyrus came to live in the parsonage, and Fleurinor soon brought his newborn brother Jaron home from a month’s stay in a neonatal intensive care unit.
Fleurinor’s mother lives with the family part of the year, and last September, Fleurinor married Terrence Moore, a full-time Michigan State student who visits a couple of weekends a month and during school holidays.
“We have a very modern family,” she said with a laugh.
The denomination works to support all kinds of families, said Susan Greer Burton, director of women’s and children’s advocacy for the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.
“We want children to thrive because that’s better for all of us,” said Burton, who leads the church’s advocacy efforts on such issues as domestic violence, human trafficking, HIV/AIDS, reproductive health and family planning. “People like Julie and her congregation are playing a very important role in reducing vulnerability” of children.
The most recent government figures show 402,378 children were in foster care as of late 2013, only 4 percent of them in pre-adoptive homes.
The United Methodist Church supports adoption and foster care in its Social Principles and gives guidelines in Resolution 2021, “Adoption in a Global Context.” In addition, general agencies and many annual conferences across the connection provide benefits such as family leave, work-from-home policies and reimbursement of some adoption expenses to help more church members adopt or foster children, Burton said.
Resurrection United Methodist Church is a mostly African-American congregation that moved from the West Side of Chicago into a building once occupied by a predominantly white congregation, Fleurinor said. The neighborhood is about 3 percent African-American, so the congregation works to be active there all week, not just on Sunday mornings.
The church hosts a food bank and two Bible study groups and hopes to host scouting programs or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, she said. Neighbors see Fleurinor at PTA meetings and know they can knock on the door of the parsonage if they need anything.
“They’re starting to see the human side of the church, not just the building,” she said. The congregation is becoming even more inspired to fill community needs, she said, with at least one family already prayerfully considering becoming a foster family.
“That’s what we’re called to do as a church,” she said. “Roll up our sleeves. It’s hard work.”
Fleurinor said she hoped to adopt children but for now is maintaining the children’s relationships with their families of origin, understanding they could be moved at any time. That uncertainty, plus the knowledge that she is an itinerant minister, makes her determined to make the most of the time she has with the children, she said.
“I don’t know if I’ll eventually adopt,” she said, “but I do know I’m called to be here now.”