cathedral + city
St. Paul's United Methodist Church's vision is to be a cathedral for Houston that embodies its diversity, inspires faith, and leads change for the common good of all peoples and communities. Here are stories lived out through this vision.
I will hold on
by Rev. Andrew Wolfe, Associate Pastor | November 6, 2017
It was Sunday morning on August 27, 2017. It was 20 hours after Harvey made landfall and 42 inches of floodwater now filled my home.
Frantically, and foolishly, my wife and I waded through the murky waters to save anything we could—pictures, furniture, clothing, knick-knacks, and memories. Our possessions bobbed in the waters from the wake that our bodies created as we moved through the house.
When I entered into our living room, I noticed a small wooden cross resting on top of the muddy water. In that moment, time slowed down as I anxiously rushed to save the cross. It was a prayer cross given to us by our congregation in Athens, Texas. The cross was handmade by a dear friend so that we could carry it with us over the years and be reminded of God’s ever-present faithfulness. The memories of Athens and all our friends flooded my mind as I saw the cross and reached down to pick up the cross.
I held it tight as tears filled my eyes. I couldn’t let it go, I wouldn’t. I was afraid, and I didn’t know if there anything else we could save in our home.
Two months later, my wife and I are still rebuilding from the storm, but the cross goes with me every day. The once smooth, blue ponderosa pine prayer cross now has a rougher texture and water rings along the edges. Those little bumps and bruises are vivid reminders of Harvey, but they hardly devalue the meaning of the cross.
Instead, the added character of the cross tells a story. It tells the story of our beloved church family in Athens. It tells the story of generous neighbors who offered refuge during the storm. It tells the story of the family who took two very wet people (and their dog and cat) into a warm and loving home for several weeks after the flood. It tells the story of our St. Paul's congregation whose heart and kindness for their community was stronger than a hurricane’s might. In addition to these stories, our cross carries our prayers--from our most painful tears to our brightest hopes.
As I was holding the cross in prayer, it occurred to me that there are so many others at St. Paul’s who have been through similar hardships and would find comfort from a prayer cross of their own. Prayer is an important practice of the Christian life because it sustains, shapes, forms, and leads us closer to God in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Prayer is one way God restores the image of God within us because it allows us to tell our stories to God and to be reminded of the story that God tells to us.
From that moment, I organized a meeting with the Congregational Care team to share my story about the cross and have their blessing to make a very important phone call. I phoned my friend from Athens to ask if he would send two dozen prayer crosses to use whenever someone has a stint in the hospital or enters into hospice care. The goal of these crosses is to bring comfort and hope to all who hold them and that--through their prayers--they would remember the story of God’s grace and love for us.
As the crosses make their way into our St. Paul’s family, the Congregational Care team hopes that when a person no longer needs their prayer cross that they would simply return it to St. Paul’s so that it may be passed on to another person. Our vision for these crosses is that as they are passed along, they will carry each person’s prayers, tears, and hopes and bring healing to countless others along the way.
If you happen to receive one of these crosses, I hope that you will use it in prayer. I hope that it will help you tell your story and that you will be reminded of God’s story of hope and healing.
The Emerging East End Missional Community
June 16, 2017
Through the East End Missional Community, St. Paul’s UMC intertwines itself with the lives of more neighbors in the diverse city of Houston. As senior pastor Rev. Tommy Williams says, "It is one more way to go where the people are." Many in our congregation have been dreaming about and asking what exactly a missional community is and what it looks like for St. Paul’s context.
What is a missional community?
A missional community is comprised of a small number of people who commit themselves to rhythms of life together, physically living in the neighborhood in which they are serving. At its core, a missional community is relational.
Over the centuries, Christians (both lay and clergy) have been stirred by the Holy Spirit to order their lives around spiritual disciplines and focus their outward lives in mission and service. Many times, they have done so in communities of poverty, transition or outright desolation. In the last few decades, we have seen a new monasticism movement, but it is not really new at all. These missional communities in modern-day America––like The Simple Way in Philadelphia, Rutba House in Durham, North Carolina, or the Fondren Apartment Community in Houston––have reminded the world and the Church again of this intentional form of Christian living.
Who is leading this new ministry?
Our newest associate pastor, Rev. Paul Richards-Kuan, will spearhead this ministry endeavor. Paul comes to us this July, having lived and served in missional communities before. Paul and his spouse, Rev. Karyn Richards-Kuan, are currently looking for a house in the East End area. They’ll be moving into the neighborhood soon and getting to know people in the community.
Why the East End?
The historic East End has experienced major changes in recent years. With the departure or divestment of economic and social institutions, poverty has increased. Eighty percent of the residents in one quadrant of the area rent their homes, many ride a challenging public transit system, and neighborhood schools are underfunded. Many lack residency status in the United States and, with the threat of gentrification looming, a small, aging group is clinging to homes that have been in their families for generations.
St. Paul’s already has connections in the East End. Members of our church live and work there, including Diane Schenke who has been investing deeply in the area’s economic and social development. This fits perfectly with what we’ve discerned to be God’s vision for St. Paul’s to “embody the city’s diversity, inspire faith, and lead change for the common good of all peoples and communities.”
How can you be a part of what God is doing?
Rev. Paul Richards-Kuan encourages St. Paul’s to pray as this ministry finds its roots in the East End. “Prayer is always important,” Paul says, recommending the Collect for Purity of Heart (found below). St. Paul’s can also look forward to info sessions in the fall where Paul will share more details and field questions about next steps for the East End Missional Community.
Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
– Collect for Purity of Heart
Racing for a Reason
May 10, 2017
An interview with Henry Philpott, who will represent St. Paul's Youth in the 70.3k Gulf Coast Half Ironman Triathlon on May 13, 2017
Q: When did you start competing in races through Mission in Motion?
A: I started competing in these races in 2013 when I was in 7th grade.
Q: What’s your favorite part about these athletic events?
A: My favorite part about the triathlon events is really the training leading up to the race and the atmosphere itself of the race. For me, running and biking especially give me this sense of freedom where I can almost relax and forget about everything and enjoy the day. To be able to complete a race with both of these activities is just amazing.
Q: How did you train for your upcoming Half Ironman?
A: I put together a weekly training schedule that consisted of 2 swim days, 2 run days, a brick workout day which consists of a bike workout directly into a run, a day of strength training at the gym, and finally a off day every Monday. It is about 9-12 hours a week of training since about January.
Q: What would you say to encourage someone at St. Paul’s to make a financial pledge toward a Triathlon race?
A: St. Paul's United Methodist Church is absolutely amazing. It has given me the wonderful opportunities of finding a new family within the youth group, allowing me to attend mission trips, introducing me to triathlons, and so much more. In other words the church has changed my life and I know the lives of many others who are on Team Mission in Motion. We raise money to help others experience this incredible church and help other youth such as myself participate in life-changing mission trips.
Q: What are you excited to see happen because of the money raised through Mission in Motion?
A: I am very excited to see more people have the opportunity to attend these life-changing mission trips. My first mission trip completely changed my life in 6th grade. On that trip I developed my faith to a degree I had never experienced. That moment has helped form the person I am today. An experience like that is something that every teenager should have the opportunity to experience, and I am very excited to know that the money Team Mission in Motion raises will be used to help make this happen.
The next Mission in Motion events are the Typhoon Texas Kids Tri on May 21 in Katy for ages 6 through 15 and the Silverlake Triathlon on May 28 in Pearland for age 10 through adult. To support Mission in Motion or to sign up to participate in a race, visit www.stpaulsyouthmissioninmotion.com
by Rev. Karyn Richards-Kuan, Associate Pastor | February 27, 2017
Before St. Paul’s knew me as "pastor," I knew St. Paul's as “a cathedral for the city.”
I moved to Houston from Seattle in July 2015 to be closer to Paul, my then fiancé, now husband. From the apartments at 8181 Fannin where I lived with my two best friends from college, St. Paul’s was the closest United Methodist church to me-- just six short stops down the red line. Despite this, every Sunday and most Wednesdays I would drive 45 minutes out to Katy where Paul was a fresh-out-of-seminary associate pastor.
As a pastor’s spouse, I was not actively looking at or interacting with a lot of other churches. Even still, St. Paul’s was somewhat familiar to me because of Project CURATE events that fit within Paul’s and my idea of “having fun on a Saturday morning,” and the fact that it was right across the street from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (as a snobby Seattleite, the MFAH was my scene.)
After events at the museum, Paul and I loved to waltz or skip across the street (depending on our mood that evening) and meander through that labyrinth amidst the nighttime lights and noise of the city. I was amazed to have discovered this place of peace and meditation not separate from but integrated with the movement of Houston. The labyrinth was not located in some inner courtyard of this church but was right at the street corner where it functioned as a third space, the area well lit at night so that meanderers like myself felt welcome in its winding path. More than just a third space, the labyrinth held space for every person in the city who has walked in it or thought of walking in it.
The week of Ash Wednesday I had seen that St. Paul’s was having a mid-day service. St. Paul’s… is that the one near the Galleria… or the one with Rudy Rasmus and the #blacklivesmatter forums…? Oh wait it’s that church with CURATE and the labyrinth, I remembered. I made plans to go to the service and the other midweek communion services in the weeks that followed, making communion the cornerstone of my Lenten discipline.
The rail dropped me off at Binz and San Jacinto, so I walked down Binz and crossed Fannin. At that corner, I found a map describing St. Paul’s grounds, and on that map I realized that the labyrinth was very close to the sanctuary. A perfect space to prepare myself for worship! With Taizé tunes in my headphones, I carefully stepped my way through the familiar labyrinth, reflecting on the incredible changes that had taken place since the last Ash Wednesday when I was not walking an outdoor labyrinth in the middle of Houston but dipping kids’ hands and feet in colorful paint to create the outline of an indoor canvas labyrinth. I was so grateful for the opportunity to center myself, not only looking forward to worship but also looking back at the journey that the Holy Spirit had me swept up in.
Three months later, I received an unexpected appointment as an associate pastor at this very "cathedral for the city," the one with Project CURATE, the labyrinth, and those midweek communion services. It has been such a blessing to be in this place.
Dating back to ancient times, walking the labyrinth promotes contemplation, prayer and spiritual illumination. St. Paul’s 11-circuit outdoor labyrinth on Bankston Green is open every day of the week. Guided walks will be offered on Sunday, March 5, 2017 from 9:15 am to 1 pm. You set the pace and the intention.
A Window into the World of Degas
by Anna Herrera | November 14, 2016
What is the first thing you think of when you think of the artist Edgar Degas? I think of ballerinas. The beautiful dancers with their hair pinned up, skirts full of body that flow to their knees, along with their ballet shoes with ribbon laced up their legs. They are preparing to go on stage to dance to lovely music to enchant their audience.
But did you know that Degas also painted strong horses racing with their jockeys long the countryside to get the prize? Landscapes with boats that transport you to another place and time? His occupation did not only include paintings in color, but also included many pencil sketches, printmaking, photography and sculptures that became just as popular within the art community. It is through these various types of art that shows us how his techniques and learnings progressed. So what about his personal life? Was Degas rich or poor? Was he an only child or had siblings? Did he enjoy living in the city or did he prefer the country? Did he always want to be an artist or had he been schooled to be of another profession?
A few weeks ago, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church was so fortunate to have a special Degas curator, Carolyn Johnson, guide art enthusiasts to learn about Degas. We journeyed through his life and how his life shows through his art. We learned so much about Degas during our time together. We had “ah- ha” moments, funny moments, wow moments, and quiet moments as we learned about the things we were seeing. The exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is the largest Degas exhibit that brings together pieces from many museums and private collections. I always find it interesting to see what people buy for their own collections. I think of it as a little window into their world. I hope you are able to spend some time in the world of Degas. You may find something in his art that will be a little window into your world.
Degas: A New Vision is on exhibit next-door to St. Paul's UMC at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, now until January 16, 2017.
Healing and Art Circles
by Helen Spaw | October 16, 2016
A reflection on masking from a recent Healing and Art Circle gathering.
Inside shining through on the outside… Have tried to cover what is inside, which has created pain and shame. There are moments when the inside does shine through, but not sure when. Figuring out how to focus on the love, and not feeling like I deserve the love. Healing that is trying to happen, actively working on things, not sure what else I can do to heal, not always present. Looking at the masks, seeing how everyone is dealing with healing in different ways.
Witnessing how each person is aware of the inside of themselves is healing. Hard to think about the inside… it is painful, stressful. Everyone sharing…hard to make the outside mask because the inside comes out everyday.
The masks make me think of the people that have hurt me… how their insides must be very hurt, and that is why they continue to hurt me. I pray that God heals their insides.
There is a saying at work that “We are powerless when our lives have become unmanageable.” When I was upset about many things at work, my co-worker says, “Are you powerless yet?” Finding that I don’t hold it together, and realizing that God has control. Accepting that I need healing and letting God do the work.
Feeling focused on actively working on everything, I need to let go to trust that God can do the healing work. Taking the good pieces of the outside parts of the masks: strength, love of everyone, sense of humor, and confidence.
Healing and Art Circles are held at St. Paul's every Sunday at 11 am and Thursdays at 10 am in Room S-300, facilitated in English and Spanish. Everyone is welcome; come as often as you'd like. Learn more by contacting Rev. Nataly Negrete via email@example.com.
by Mindy Riseden | September 7, 2016
It was summertime, 2014. The news and the sermons were powerful—children, minors at our border. Just a few hours’ drive from my comfortable home with a playroom full of toys and anything my young children could desire, there were children: exhausted, lost, alone, terrified. They were survivors. Survived their living conditions and environment in Central America, survived the long journey to Texas, and they continued surviving.
I never traveled to the detention facilities. I met G here in Houston at a non-profit agency in 2014. Logically, I was not sure what I was doing. My 2-year-old and my 5-year-old, no doubt, needed any extra time I had, as I was working diligently on my already full caseload. But the sermons—the sermons at St. Paul's moved me and reminded me of these children (sermons like July 13, 2014 and July 20, 2014). No matter what one’s political views might be, these are children—children needing help.
So I met G, so young, barely a teenager, so thin. He came here with strangers. During his trek here, there was no one for him to lean on, no one to encourage him except strangers and other survivors. He witnessed horrible family violence. He witnessed horrible social violence in his hometown in Central America. As I met with G and began documenting his story in the form of court pleadings and applications to our government, we became friends. He and his mother showered me with gratitude and homemade dishes and small, invaluable gifts. In all my years of practicing law, I have never felt the way I did when I left the Harris County juvenile courtroom to tell G (who had to remain outside considering the painful testimony his mother provided), with complete and utter joy, that we met the first major hurdle and we were on our way to proper and legal documentation.
As the months passed, I only communicated with G and his mother as interview dates and application deadlines approached; our communications dwindled. The process slowed and came to a standstill. I did not reach out to G regularly. In 2015, I accepted another pro bono case, L, also from Central America; a young girl, also a survivor. Gratefully, L’s case has moved along very similarly to G’s. But L’s assimilation here appears to be a little different. Her support system casts a wider net. As I worked with L, I often thought about G, thought about checking in, thought about taking him out for a meal to see how high school was going. But I never did; I was busy.
Wednesday, August 31, 2016, late morning: I was asked to write about my pro bono experiences thus far so they could be shared with you. Honored, I could not wait to write about G. Again, I thought about calling him to see how the new school year was, but I was busy. Shortly after lunch the same day, G’s mom called me. We had not spoken in a few months. She cried to me on the phone. G was gone. Disappeared, ran away, kidnapped, who knows. It had been several days. She worked on her end with the police and her networks. I prayed. My family prayed.
We communicated several times a day, crying, praying. I felt regret. Yes, G was on his way to legal status, but what about his process of assimilation? How does one make it here if you do not speak the language, do not know the culture, and do not have adequate extended support? Where was G’s support system beyond his apartment? Where had I been?
Over Labor Day weekend, I thought about the request to write this piece and could not bring myself to begin. I stayed in contact with G’s mom and made calls. The weekend ended, but still no word from G.
I think best in the early morning. So I woke up about 4:30 am today, ready to see what I could write. Upon waking, I checked my phone and saw a text from G’s mom that had come in overnight. G has been found and appears to be OK. This timing—God's timing; miracles surround us.
I thank God for this second chance for both G, his mom, and myself. Yes, the legal road we’ve been climbing for his immigration status has been exciting and rewarding thus far, but our friendship has been more. I look forward to sharing a meal with him as soon as possible. I look forward to maintaining contact. I am appreciative of this renewed opportunity, but I am extremely grateful for St. Paul’s. I’ve reached out to our community and have received offers to help G in different ways—his net, his support system is being cast wider as we speak. Thank you.
The Boy in the Bell Tower
by Dawn Uebelhart | August 9, 2016
I often get emails from people who want to come see the bells in St. Paul's tower, but recently I received an email that was a little different. A mom wrote me saying that her 3-year-old son had a fascination with all types of bells. They were in Houston while her son was receiving treatments in the Med Center and wanted to come visit. I emailed her back with basic information about change ringing and our tower, but never heard back which made me wonder if plans may have changed and we wouldn't be seeing them.
To our wonderful surprise, during weekly rehearsal, the mom, her 3-year-old son who was holding a cowbell, the boy's grandmother and his uncle all came up to the bell tower ringing room. I watched the hearts of the ringers melt as we all saw how excited the little boy was to see the big bells in action.
We rang a bit, and then showed him a little wooden model of the bells, showing how you pulled the rope and the bell wheel went around in a circle making the bell ring. Mom said that they had "done their homework" and read up on our type of bell tower. We rang some more for them and asked the boy if he would like to pull one of the ropes to a bell that was in the down position (a safe position for beginners/novices). He said no, that it scared him. We went ahead and rang some more.
We then took a break while a few St. Paul's ringers took the family all the way up to the belfry to see the actual bells. (You can only see the ropes coming down through the ceiling in our ringing room.) There was much "oohing and ahhing" as he saw the actual big bells.
Coming back down to the ringing room, Mom asked if they could stay a while longer. I said to please, stay as long as they liked. We rang a bit more and then convinced the little boy that it was ok to pull on the "safe" rope. With a little help from Mom and one of our ringers, he was able to make the bell chime. Everyone was delighted.
The grandmother came up to me and thanked us for opening up the tower for them. She said that today had been his last treatment before going back home and they had stayed the extra night just to come to the bell tower. They were leaving in the morning to head home, halfway across the U.S.
After several more thank yous and heart-felt goodbyes, they began to make their exit from the tower. Just before they left, one of our ringers noticed they had forgotten the boy's cowbell he had brought up earlier. With cowbell in hand, they thanked us again and left for home.
Moments like these make me thankful that St. Paul's is a cathedral for the city.
Dignity and a Living Wage
by Kelsey Johnson | August 1, 2016
"I used to work for someone who would send me to clean houses," she said. "I never got to meet the people I was cleaning for. I would go all over the city to do the work. But no matter how hard I worked, I could never make enough money to pay my bills."
With certificate in hand, the woman stood at the front of the classroom and shared with her instructors and fellow graduates what a difference Martha's Way had made in her life.
"Because of this program, I have started my own business. I know my own clients. I know how to set my own rates. I am proud to do this work."
Martha's Way is a vocational training program developed by the Christian Community Service Center of Houston. It has a commendable track record in increasing the earning potential of individuals operating their own residential housekeeping businesses. This fall, St. Paul's UMC will become a host site for the program, providing classroom space for up to 15 Spanish-speaking students who will be participating in the 42-hour training. The students will learn business skills such as budgeting, marketing and professional ethics. They will also be equipped with training on proper cleaning techniques around the home and how to use eco-friendly products. The class starts on September 7 and only 5 spots are left to be filled!
I'm personally excited that St. Paul's has welcomed and made space for this ministry, because I have witnessed how empowering the program can be for aspiring housekeepers.
I was so inspired by the stories of Martha's Way and wanted to support new graduates, so I filled out a Homeowner Packet and interviewed two individuals who provided me with bids. About a year ago, our family hired a woman to come and clean once a month; we'd never had a housekeeper before and Claudia is so kind, reliable and meticulous. Not to mention she relieves a huge burden for me by taking care of some of the chores that get to be too much while I am in grad school, working full-time and raising two young children. She has been a blessing to our family and I hope we have blessed her as well.
If you want to support this ministry, hire a small business owner, or have any other questions about Martha's Way here at St. Paul's, contact Rev. Nataly Negrete at firstname.lastname@example.org.