Re-start. Re-form. Notes from the 2019 Vestry Retreat.

Of all the churches with which I’ve been associated and in which I’ve served, Saint Thomas’ has the most interesting beginning. Not long after the founders started the church, they created and began sustaining a school. To Saint Thomas’ primary mission — the proclamation of the Gospel together with the administration of the sacraments — they added a mission of educating and forming young people. Anglican orthodoxy is the DNA from which we came to be and it is the DNA which we retain.

This new mission created a commitment, purpose, and entrepreneurial spirit that was palpable in Southwest Houston and, soon, throughout Houston. It’s an amazing thing to be a part of something like that — very exhilarating, as is any movement of the Holy Spirit.

Time Marches On

Time marches on. After years of nurture and encouragement from the church, the school has matured and is a going concern in its own right. It is a testimony to the hard work, dedication, sleepless nights, and sacrificial investment of our church throughout the years. This church has done so much — accomplished so much — and we are far from finished. For goodness’ sake, Saint Thomas’ is only 65 five years old! That’s a mere pre-teen in church years!

We have reached a pivotal point in this vibrant history — a rite of passage, if you will. The three floods, particularly the one resulting from Hurricane Harvey, along with the recent downturn in oil prices have created a challenging scenario for our parish and school communities. Our entire community — church, school, and neighborhood — is in a transitional period. For how long, we do not know. We do know that transitional periods in a community, as difficult as they are, create opportunities for new ministry, new vitality, new energy, and growth. This is a moment that has been forced upon us, but it is a moment whose opportunities we must and will seize.

The Vestry Retreat

Our new vestry and I met two weekends ago in our annual retreat. During this retreat, I spoke to them of the need to re-start and re-form. This may sound a bit alarming but it is not. Let me explain.

As I use the term here, “Re-start” means to begin to act more like a church plant — but a church plant with some big advantages (facilities, clergy, staff, etc.). We re-start by recapturing our founding spirit and reaching out to our community in service and evangelism. The word “re-start” suggests an ethos of invitation, welcome, and connection.

“Re-form” means to put this old Reformation slogan into practice: The Church is Reformed and always reforming. The question is: What are we reforming to? What are we gathering ourselves back around? Our preferred culture? No. We are reforming around Scripture as the supreme authority of the Church, the tradition of the Church universal as it is in agreement with Scripture, and reason under Scripture and tradition. In doing this we continually ask ourselves: Do the things we seek to do conform to the Word of God or are they driven by cultural preferences? When the two are in conflict, the former will be our guide.

As we re-start and re-form we will find, as I have mentioned many times, that we are always falling short. Still, we are always loved by God despite our failures. In other words, we are more sinful than we could ever imagine but we are more loved by God in that very state than we could ever dare dream. When churches capture this basic but profound fact, they re-capture the Gospel. The Spirit begins to move, people get converted, and energy begins to emanate. The branches are once again attached to The Vine and The Life is pumped through them (John 15:5).

The Role of Love

As Rector, I see us doing this by owning and loving who we are. That love should spill over into the people and communities we touch. Love is the key word:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:4-7 ESV)

This love Saint Paul speaks of is the love with which we are loved. It is also the love that emanates from people who have been touched by the Gospel.

Key Goals

1. We fully embrace and hold fast our identity as a traditional, Anglican, Evangelical, liturgical parish that uses the historic Book of Common Prayer. It is what we do well and what we know. It is what we love. It is not for everyone and that is okay. It is for us and we would love to share it with anyone to whom it might speak.

2. We must emphasize Christian Formation. It is in our very roots as we consider our school and preschool. It must also permeate our church. Western society is leaving Christianity at break-neck speed. The cultural support we once had is not there anymore. People come into our orbit with no understanding of the Faith whatsoever. We and our children and youth must know what we believe and why we believe it.

3. We must give ourselves to prayer — not only the prayers in our prayer book. I mean earnestly praying for one another, the clergy, our ministries, our neighborhood, and our brothers and sisters throughout the world. We are beginning to bring this to bear with our prayer team and healing service. It needs to permeate who we are.

4. We must pick the flag of Missions and Evangelism back up. Our community needs us. At vestry retreat, we considered this question: If Saint Thomas’ Church (not School: Church) were to go away tomorrow, would our neighborhood miss us? It is a sobering question with which we must contend. We need to serve our neighborhood: both those who are already here and those who are moving in. We must increase our involvement with CCSC as they seek to serve the poor in our community. The apartments that surround us are places of potentially powerful ministry. Houston Baptist University is right around the corner. How can we serve those good people?

The Work of the Committees

With that in mind the vestry has committed to these steps in that direction:

Stewardship Committee (Christie Bowden, Chair- David Graves, Patsy Finch)

  • Creating a welcome packet for visitors and making the visitor card more accessible
  • Doing a “Time and Talent” drive in the Spring much like the pledge campaign in the Fall. This is to get people plugged into the ministries of our church much better.
  • Planning the financial stewardship drive next Fall.

Programs Committee (Joe Karpati, Chair- Kathryn Kurie, June Byrnes)

  • To be announced

Finance Committee (John Young, Senior Warden and Chair- Jan Shullenberger, Treasurer)

  • Analyzing how we are structured from a cost standpoint and creating a plan going forward.
  • Transparency: getting the financial summary back on the Order of Worship
  • Looking at possible staff additions

Property and Grounds (Rob Scholl, Junior Warden and Chair)

  • Connect with neighbors and build relations with respect to our campus

Missions and Evangelism (Phil Hatley, Chair- Jan Taylor, Jeff Bogran)

  • Continue contact with Nob Hill Apartments and build that relationship
  • Increase involvement with CCSC
  • Re-engage with the Seafarer’s Ministry of the Diocese

These are, of course, the first steps. We are very excited to see what God will bring to us as we faithfully look toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

I look forward to sharing more with you at the annual Parish Meeting.

–David Browder