How God Works

This weekend we will celebrate Labor Day, a holiday marking the importance of our work and that of all to build our common life.  In the book of Genesis, we learn that God worked six days to create the world and on the seventh day, God rested.  Labor Day represents the hard won fight for the dignity of every person to fair wages, seasons of rest, and recognition that each person’s labor, regardless of income, is of value.  As Christians, we see ourselves as-creators with God in our daily work and we give of our time and money, the fruit of our work, to make God’s mission plain.

On Sunday, St. Stephen’s will be offering prayers for labor, our own and that of others, which come from resources provided by our ministry partner, Fe y Justicia Worker Justice Center.  The Worker Center here in Houston came to St. Stephen’s over 8 years ago as a fledgling non-profit with little money, a bare bones staff, and a big vision.  They sought to organize workers so that Houston would become a place where workers, regardless of their immigration status, would have safe working conditions, be paid for their work, have legal protections from wage theft, and be able to organize for just wages.

At that time Carissa Baldwin, our curate, approached the Vestry and me to see if St. Stephen’s could help the Center find a place to do their mission.  St. Stephen’s offered our own facilities. For the following 7 years, St. Stephen’s provided the Worker Center office and event space rent-free.  Just last year the Center moved from our campus to a newly renovated house in East Houston to continue their work because the apartment they were using on our campus was in ill repair and we have grown to the point where there was no more space available for a single, dedicated use.  The Worker Center still uses our facilities for large gatherings.

Our buildings were and are tools for God’s work.  Historically, St. Stephen’s has been an incubator space for all kinds of groups, which engage in God’s work in the world, whether they claim God’s Name, or not.  We have supported God’s work through St. Stephen’s by providing space for organizing the first AIDS hospice, giving environmental groups a place to meet and organize, fostering voting for the marginalized, supporting LGBTQ youth who would be out on the streets hungry on Friday nights.

God works, in part, by our own hands.  We are co-creators with God and together build spaces for this labor to occur.  This fall you will be raising money, not only for operating our ministries, but also for our buildings.  Montrose needs places where all God’s people can meet to embrace new work, when they have little money, but lots of faith, hope, and love.  St. Stephen’s has historically been a haven for this work.  Through our Daring to Grow operating and capital campaign you will ensure that we will continue for years in God’s holy work.  On this Labor Day weekend, I encourage you to give thanks for your own labor and that of others and to begin to prepare to share in God’s future work.

-Lisa

How Do We Begin?

When you decide to start on new venture, practice, hobby, class, you name it, what do you need to have courage to take the first step? I posed this question to the Vestry last Tuesday and it was fascinating to hear the variety of approaches. Several folks discussed the need for a vision of where they would end up; Stephen Covey’s begin with the end in mind. Others wanted to reach into their past or core, what is there foundation? Others wanted a flight plan, how would one get there.

As a parish we are beginning a new stage in our common life. As we enter into a new academic year, St. Stephen’s will be engaging our community with a new offering—our Block Party on September 8 at 11:45; we are working with Project Control to craft a construction budget and request for proposal for an architect; we will be Daring to Grow as we validate our priorities for our future and give to make it happen; and new musical and formation offerings for our children and youth.

We know, as Christians, that the essential beginning is prayer. Our common worship and personal devotional practice, ground us in awareness of Christ’s abiding presence with us and in us. The Holy Spirit will strengthen us as we discern and act toward God’s vision for the Church. May you have the courage and vulnerability to begin.

- Lisa

Paying the Piper:  More Building News

When it rains, it pours—literally.  A few weeks ago I shared with you that St. Stephen’s was facing major issues with water intrusion in the education wing of the building and in our offices.  Thanks be to God, those issues have been addressed.  This week we have learned that the roof in the tower above the altar will need to be replaced; water is coming into the sanctuary.  In addition,  the air conditioner which cools the Gathering Area is shot.

 We are fortunate that the Vestry and School Board of Trustees have had the foresight to launch a capital campaign to address renovations and to build a new facility which will meet our needs.  However, we are now in a position where deferred maintenance issues are catching up with us.  It is time to pay the piper.

 The Vestry will be working to cover these expenses as we prepare to launch the public phase of the capital campaign this fall.  Know that the parish relies on your pledges and offerings to cover these expenses.   Please, keep current with your offerings and be as generous as you can be.  This will assist us in the summer cash flow slump.

 The good news is that Project Control will be coming to work with us as we prepare to call our architect in the new year.  This project management firm will work with us to hone our budget, program, and needs.  Not a minute too soon!

Block Party on the Horizon

Attention St. Stephen’s! We have some exciting news to share. One of the five strategic objectives of our Strategic Ministry Plan was a focus on Inviting, Welcoming, Connecting, and Reconnecting people to the life of our church. The church leadership and staff are developing ways to accomplish this goal, and today we share with you one of them.

After the 10:30 a.m. service on Sunday, September 8, 2019, we will host a Community Block Party for our neighborhood. This event will be a lot of fun and include live music, games, and food trucks for you and our neighbors to enjoy. The Block Party will serve as the culmination of this summer’s Go Church initiative, and we would love you to wear your Go Church t-shirt on that Sunday if you have one.

We inform you of this event now for two reasons:

First, we want you to put it on your calendar and plan to be there! A party is always more fun with more people around. Please make every effort to attend.

Second, we want you to invite guests to come with you. A party like this is an easy, fun, non-threatening way to invite someone to come to church. If you normally come to the 7:45 or 8:30 a.m. service, come back for the Block Party and bring along a friend, family member, neighbor, or coworker. If you normally worship during the 10:30 a.m. service, consider inviting a guest with you to worship and then stay for the Block Party. Doing this stretches our evangelistic muscles and helps us all be more inviting, welcoming, and connecting.

We think our Block Party is going to be a lot of fun and demonstrate to our neighbors and friends that St. Stephen’s cares for them and is a church they could belong to. We hope to see you and a friend there!

-Ryan Beaty, Missioner for Congregational Development

Water, Water Everywhere!

While Houston is down in rainfall one half of an inch so far this summer, St. Stephen’s has been feeling the effects of water in many corners of our facilities.  We have experienced leaks in the roof of the sanctuary, a pipe burst under the nursery, water intrusion in the Norwich room, and water leaks behind the stucco in the education wing of the building.  As you may know, St. Stephen’s retained its original property, a residence which was constructed in the 1920s.  This building became part of the education wing and was covered with stucco.  The limestone portion of the education building has settled over time and water is finding its way through the stone and mortar.

Fortunately, our Building and Grounds committee and our Maintenance Supervisor, Michael Hayward, have been working to address these issues, utilizing maintenance operating funds from both the Church and School.  These buildings need to sustain our ministries for the next 3 years as we move ahead with our building plans.  You will notice that the stucco has been repaired on the face of the education building along the garden entrance and the office interior walls have been repaired; drainage will also be addressed.  The Norwich Room is receiving new flooring and its limestone exterior is being sealed and tuck pointed repaired and a new drainage channel has been installed on the exterior.  The sanctuary roof was under warranty and it is being repaired.  All of these investments which total about $40K will enable us to continue to use our facilities in the near term.  They will not address remaining structural issues with the HVAC and wiring; these will need to be factored into decisions about the scope of the construction phase of our capital campaign.

Our strategic ministry goals call us to grow; to invite, welcome, connect, and reconnect; to close demographic gaps; and to collaborate with our School.  Accomplishing these goals requires us to me good stewards of our buildings as tools for ministry.  The chickens are coming home to roost; we can only patch for so long.

 I am excited to announce that the Vestry and School Board have approved the hiring of a Pre-Construction Project Manager  whose scope of services is composed of the following:

  • Review (i) the existing facilities on the campus, (ii) the recently completed master plan, (iii) cost estimates for the demolition, renovation and new construction contemplated in Phase 1 of the master plan, (iv) the draft capital campaign budget and (v) goals of the capital campaign.

  • Assist in the evaluation of various use of space options during the period prior to construction of a new building in Phase 1 and upon completion of construction.  Initial space use options have been prepared by a committee representing the church and school.  Concept pricing has been provided for these options by a consultant.

  • Assist in the completion of a capital campaign budget based upon a reasonable timeline for completion of Phase 1 of the master plan.

  • Assist in finalizing programming and planned areas of new construction and renovation based on documented church and school needs and project budget.

  • Assist in the creation of an RFP for architectural services, coordinate responses to questions from the architects and assist in the evaluation of proposals.

  • Provide communications to the church and school leadership.  Coordinate, lead, document and attend project status meetings.

  • The anticipated duration for this scope of work is approximately 3 months. 

The Vestry and Board of Trustees expect to be calling an architect to begin design and construction documents by the end of the year.  This is an important time in our common life and I am thrilled that we are taking these next steps, and none too soon!

REFLECTIONS ON "ASHES ON THE GO"

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"Ashes on the Go" was the most moving thing I have done in my 3+ years at St. Stephen's. For two hours in the afternoon, I watched as 80 people drove, walked, or pushed baby strollers into our parking lot to be blessed by Sarah or Lisa with the words “remember that we come from dust and to dust we will return.” Then I handed each a card with our services listed on it and said, “Just in case you are looking for a place for Easter or Lent.”

It was clear we were onto something special when people showed up early and kept coming. Their stories were different and yet the same. Almost everyone was from outside our current St. Stephen’s community. Each of them said that they had decided to come after seeing our purple "Ashes on the Go" yard signs and were grateful to find a place to receive ashes. They wanted to begin Lent in a way that honored their traditions, but the circumstances of their lives made it difficult – from being too busy or not ready emotionally to step inside a church. They were thankful that our clergy helped them connect to God and the church from the St. Stephen's sidewalk.

I saw:

  • Mothers getting themselves and their kids blessed as they carpooled between neighborhood schools and evening activities

  • Friends bringing friends who they thought needed a blessing

  • Individuals who became emotional at coming onto church grounds, one admitting they hadn’t been in a church in years

  • A neighborhood landscape crew that put down their tools to get blessed 

  • A mother pulling a wagon with her 18-month old son and tiny 2-week old child who stopped to receive a blessing on their afternoon walk 

  • A very ill person in hospital mask driven by her adult daughter

  • A young woman who fought back tears because she’d had a bad day and said that this was just what she needed 

  • People in expensive cars and beat-up clunkers

  • People of every age, race, and gender 

  • A man who told us he attended St. Stephen’s school in 1970 as a kindergartener 

  • Three parishioners who’d attended St Stephen’s decades ago and intimated they might come back. 

In the end we served 30 people in the morning and 80 people in the afternoon – 110 altogether. Each was grateful that we met them where they were with what they needed.

I hope everyone gets a chance to stand on our sidewalk and serve people where they are.

-Karen Soh, Director of Development

Children are a heritage from the Lord…

Throughout the latter half of 2018 and into 2019, formation leaders, staff, and clergy have been in an ongoing conversation about formation at St. Stephen’s with particular attention paid to youth and children’s formation. We are incredibly grateful for the patience and feedback of parents as we’ve taking the time this year to pray about, discuss, and consider formation for youth and children at St. Stephen’s. We are still praying and still discussing long term offerings to children, youth, and their families, but we have a formation plan for Lent and Easter.

During the season of Lent, we will gather for inter-generational formation focusing on Lenten themes and servant learning. Many parents who participated in the formation survey indicated a desire for their children and youth to have more opportunities to serve the Houston community. Our Lenten offerings will culminate in an inter-generational service opportunity both on campus and off campus through the help and leadership of our service committee.

On Easter day we will gather as a parish community to feast and celebrate the Resurrection with good food and, of course, the annual Easter egg hunt. Then, throughout the season of Easter, we will break into smaller groups based on age. Young children and their families will walk the Way of Love for Families, and youth (grade 4-12) will walk the Way of Love for youth. In this way we will share a common theme but each offering will focus on the needs that arise in our lives at different developmental stages. The Way of Love comes out of our national church and will be familiar to some adults in our parish who participate in the Way of Love Advent offering.

We will share plans for formation beyond the Easter season later this spring. For now, we invite you to engage our Lenten offerings and Easter offerings and give us feedback on your experience and that of the children or youth in your life. We also invite parents to pray and consider whether you might be called to step into the role of formation leader for a season or time at St. Stephen’s.

In Peace,
Ryan Hawthorne

Strategic Ministry Plan Update

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At this year’s Annual Parish Meeting I had the privilege of sharing the steps taken thus far to implement St. Stephen’s Strategic Ministry Plan. Since then, we have continued to implement aspects of the plan as well as look to develop other ways to engage the direction and spirit of the Five Strategic Objectives: Organization, Demographic Gaps, Church and School Relations, Growth, and Invite/Welcome/Connect/Reconnect.

At the Vestry meeting in January, the organization team presented a plan to realign support, accountability, and oversight of church volunteer ministry teams from under the clergy and staff to also include the Vestry. The plan called for the creation of portfolios to be selected and assigned to each Vestry member bringing greater definition and responsibility in their role. This change places Vestry members as the point of contact for leaders of ministries which fall within their unique portfolios. Thus, it shares greater responsibility for the leadership of the church among lay leadership. This plan was approved.

The Vestry also conducted their annual retreat in early February, during which this plan was a major focus of work and discussion. Of that work, Sr. Warden Elizabeth McClintock reports, “As a result of a productive retreat, the Vestry has set a goal to become better liaisons with the ministries of St. Stephen's, working with the staff and clergy to offer more support to our ministry leaders. I see this as a step towards understanding how to encourage more involvement from our parishioners with our ministries.” 

We are in the process of working through the implementation of this plan. This means 2019 will be a time of tinkering and adjusting based on the needs of each unique ministry of the church to ensure the Vestry member or members who hold each portfolio are trained and equipped to be the support our lay ministry leaders need. We are also in the process of clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the Vestry, clergy, and staff to ensure that this change is for the benefit of the entire church. Over the next few months, we will be establishing communications between ministry leaders and the Vestry member that they will be working with in order to facilitate and clarify the relationships. We expect this process to take the whole of the year to finalize but believe it will be very worth the effort. Ministry leaders should expect introductions to their Vestry liaison in the coming weeks.

-  Ryan Beaty, Missioner for Congregational Development 

Suffer the Little Children: Making Room for All of Us

In the Gospels we learn of Jesus’ relationships with children. He regularly blessed, healed, encouraged, and worked with them. Whether it was inviting his disciples to see faith from their eyes or joining with them to feed 5000 people, Jesus recognized the gifts of children and their ministry.

Beginning on the first Sunday of Lent, St. Stephen’s will be experimenting with a new space and 8:30 a.m. offering for children in the context of the Eucharist. We will be removing some of the pews in the chapel area of the nave so that we can create a space for children to spread out quietly on a rug and engage with appropriate materials on their level. Adults can get on the floor too, if they choose! Additionally, we will be introducing a children’s sermon at the 8:30 Eucharist using adapted Godly Play materials. Instead of leaving the nave for a separate rite, as happens at 10:30 a.m., families will remain together.

Adults may overhear the children’s lesson and get more out of it than the sermon! This fact reflects the reality that many of us have holes in our biblical literacy and knowledge of our heritage.

These changes will mean that some of us may be moved from our usual spots. This dislocation may feel disruptive. I want to remind you of our common callings: to grow spiritually and numerically, to close demographic gaps, to invite, welcome and connect with others. This pilot is intended to further these goals.

Our hope is that this space will be an outward and visible sign of St. Stephen’s willingness to embrace the presence of children in our midst and to grow into the full stature of Christ together.

-Lisa

A Message from the Rector

Throughout the month of January, St. Stephen’s is offering an opportunity to examine migration through the lens of faith. From Abraham to Miriam, from Joshua to Isaiah, from Jesus to Paul, the faithful in the our tradition have been migrants or received strangers into the community. It is a mark of our faith. Yet, in the time of government shutdowns, this issue has been politicized in a polarized way.

Care for the stranger is not optional for us as Christians. What that care looks like varies in place and time. Many members of our congregation are engaged in this work as educators, lawyers, social workers, and advocates. What can we learn from their experience?

On Sunday mornings this month (except on January 20 when we will include this theme in our dinner church worship at 5 pm), we will meet at 9:30 am in the Havens Center for an inter-generational experience exploring this topic. We will practice listening, play, and respectful dialogue as we learn from one another on this topic which impacts us all.

I invite you to join me there.

Lisa