To Be a Parish...
It was Advent of 2017 when I first began discerning God’s call to serve as the next Vicar of Grace. There is no hint of hyperbole in me saying that I knew immediately I wanted to come and be in community with this congregation. The process of discernment had more to do with my asking the question of whether God’s will and my desire actually aligned. I am so grateful that I, and the people of Grace, and Bishop Doyle all agreed God was calling me to this people and place.
As I was talking with your Bishop’s Committee during that time of discernment, they shared with me many of the hard things that Grace had endured (and survived!) up to that point. There had been multiple financial hardships, loss of dedicated members, conflict, the departure of a beloved priest, a hurricane, and deferred maintenance on the building. In the retelling of it all, I noticed something in the voice and tone of those who spoke: a faithful resolve. There was, for sure, disappointment, discouragement, a worry for the future. But it was all seasoned with faith and resolution that God’s future included the continuing life and ministry of Grace Episcopal Church in Southwest Houston.
Since 2010, this congregation has been a mission of the Diocese of Texas called “Grace.” Prior to that, it was a parish in the diocese called “St. George and St. Patrick Episcopal Church” (often known as “Two Saints”). Even further back to the late-1950’s, there were two congregations —one on W. Bellfort called St. George and another in Westbury called St. Patrick.
When the decision was made to become Grace and a mission of the diocese, both actions signified a deeper commitment to doing whatever it would take to survive. As a mission, Grace had access to generous financial support from the Diocese of Texas. We also received a new vicar at that time, The Rev. Gena Davis, who led us through some difficult decision-making and the hard work of laying a foundation for renewal and growth. Of course, we also lost some of the autonomy and power for self-determination that a parish enjoys. As a mission, we have been directly under the supervision of the Bishop and at times have been reminded of the limits of that status — our representation at Diocesan Council has been 1 delegate instead of the 4 a parish gets; our congregational leaders are elected only with the Bishop’s approval, and our future is more immanently in the hands of the Bishop than is the case for a parish.
These eleven years a mission have given us the breathing room to get many aspects of our life and ministry back on a sustainable path. Our congregation is growing with new members and new vision; our finances have stabilized, our building and campus have been improved with major issues of deferred maintenance addressed, our staff has solidified as a team, and our people are inspired with hope for service.
Now we are celebrating one of our most successful pledge campaigns in recent history. We exceeded our 2022 pledge goal on DECEMBER 1 ! More than 20 increased pledges and 6 new pledges show that we are growing both in commitment and new members of our community. I want to thank Doward Hudlow for his energizing and able leadership of the campaign this year, along with all those on the Stewardship Committee. And—thank YOU for giving!
Now is the time for Grace to become a parish. The Bishop has approved our request to go for a vote before Diocesan Council on February 26, 2022. If/when it passes, we will immediately be seated as a parish for the remainder of business at Council. In January, we will provisionally elect a vestry at our annual meeting that will go into office upon our return to parish status. And, your priest in charge will be called a “rector” instead of a “vicar.”
Many of these changes may feel like window dressing, but I assure you they signify a big step into a new season where we will all explore creative ways of sharing leadership, expanding capacity, growing ministry and moving forward together into God’s dreams for us.
In the coming weeks, we will take time to reflect, celebrate, imagine and plan for future of the Parish of Grace. (Who wants to plan the PARTY?!)
I am in awe of all that God is doing in and through us, and I am full of faith in the God who is calling us forward. As we move through Advent and into the Christmas and Epiphany seasons, let us be mindful that God can and does bring new life into desperate and desolate place. Our own existence as the Parish of Grace will be a sign of this.