The State of the Parish

by David Browder, Rector of Saint Thomas’

This past year had both victories and challenges for our parish. We achieved a surplus at year-end, instead of the deficit we projected. This was wonderful, unexpected news, driven by the success of the preschool, help from our Diocese, and, most importantly to me, pledging and gifts from our parishioners that exceeded our budget. All of that said — the natural disasters and economic challenges of the past few years have hollowed out our community. Many people have moved away from our area, including some of our most beloved parishioners.

Saint Thomas

So: the state of our parish is stable but vulnerable. We are in a transitional period as our community seeks to adjust. How long this period will last we do not know. The renovation of our church will help — but it is no panacea. We are at a crossroads: we can either slide into decline or we can work to make a real difference in our community, depending on the Word of God and prayer. This is the way to re-invigoration and reformation.

We have a great mission in our school. We are very proud of it; it’s an important part of what we do, overseen and directed by the church. It has reached the point where it is self-sustaining economically. That is a good and healthy thing because it means that we have succeeded in that mission. The church is a bit like parents with an empty nest, whose kids have grown up and gone to college, and now stand on their own. The parents still provide love and direction (and sometimes money!), but the grown children do not require the same commitment of time.

So, like any empty nest parent, we ask ourselves: What do we do with our time? Why are we really here? We will soon enjoy a new, renovated church: what will it house? What sort of purpose and energy? In other words, what is a church supposed to be?

The Articles of Religion tell us: “The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men (and women), in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.”

Our mission is to be God’s agents and to help bring people in our neighborhood, community, and general orbit to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and to advance His kingdom (Matt. 28:16-20). All the things we do should be driven by that purpose. Our liturgy, our music, our ministries, and our fellowship are in service to this purpose. There are different and creative ways to accomplish our primary mission, but the mission should not change.

Our community is in transition. Many new people are moving into our neighborhood’s new homes and the apartment complexes, joining those who have remained after the challenges of the last several years. All of these people bring their hopes, families, burdens, and problems here. Their need for Christ is the same as our need for Christ. As long as people live in Southwest Houston, we will always have mission and purpose — urgent and overwhelming mission and purpose.

During the floods, we saw and felt this mission and purpose. We snapped into action. You rescued and housed people. You helped others muck out their homes. This church led in our church and school’s recovery. You led the remediation of the church and school buildings. You led in the plans for re-opening and development of Scotland Yard. You led in your generous giving. Yes, this little, ol’ transitional-sized parish, by the grace of God, led something magnificent to behold. We all felt that purpose.

There is still overwhelming and urgent need for the mission of this church. I believe we are the church with the best position in this area for this mission and purpose. As a church which, like an empty-nester parent, has seen the maturation of her mission, we must re-locate our first love. We must get to know our Bridegroom again. The good news is He was here all along.

There is an old Reformation saying that goes like this: “The Church is Reformed and always reforming.” We, as a church, must re-form. We must re-form around our first love: Jesus Christ and His Gospel as found in the Scriptures. We must re-form ourselves in our Faith. We must form our children in our Faith. That is what makes us who we are, what gives us our identity. We must continually ask ourselves, “Does what we do conform to the Gospel or is it a cultural preference?” If the two are in conflict, the Gospel is our guide.

Our reformation is a kind of re-start. We can recapture the founding spirit of St. Thomas’. We can reach out to our community in evangelism, service, and mission. A word of caution: as much as we might want this to be about church growth, it cannot be. As much as we want to grow, an emphasis on church growth is just another way of being inwardly-focused. We must be about the Gospel, mission, service, and evangelism. We must be outwardly-focused. We will work on the depth of our ministry and God will determine the breadth.

Walking with Christ carries great excitement, vitality, and purpose. The people whom God brings to this neighborhood need this reformation to happen. We need this reformation to happen. Our families need this reformation to happen. We need to see the power of God once again. My prayer is for a new movement of the Holy Spirit here at St. Thomas’.

If we don’t re-form, we will have made our choice at the crossroads. But, if we do, I believe we will see a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit. We will see the mighty power of God, a mighty turning to Christ where lives are changed and healed. The Astros can’t bring about this kind of reformation and neither can the Texans. Your preferred political party can’t, either. Only the One who hovered over chaos in the beginning can. The One who parted the Red Sea and raised Our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead can. The One who showered the life-giving power of His Holy Spirit on His Church can — and He will. We all stand together at the crossroads. Which way will we take? The answer to that question lies with each of us, personally.

The first and easiest thing you can do is come to church. Bryan Anderson said this so well in his Epistle article a couple of weeks ago. The church is the only place in the world you will find the gifts of God for the people of God. Your presence at church is also an encouragement to your fellow parishioners, leadership, staff, and me. Secondly, feed yourself upon the Word of God. Get involved in a study or Sunday School. If there is not one that suits your schedule, talk with me and, perhaps, we can get one together. Third, pray. Pray for yourself, your family, your church, and your community. Fourth, come to our fellowship events like the potlucks or Prime Timers.

This Spring, we will hold a Time and Talent Drive, much like the financial stewardship drive we do in the Fall. This will be an opportunity to plug into the church’s ministry. I hope this will better define our understanding of Christian stewardship. I will also be talking with you personally about the church and your role in ministry.

This is a critical season for us. We are vulnerable — but vulnerability is God’s specialty. It is what He does best. Where we are weak, He is strong. The harvest is there. The opportunity is there. The purpose is in the calling.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16–20 ESV)

Let’s make our next 65 years as powerful as the first.