Unable to pay for repairs, Houston area Episcopal church will open its facility for the last time

Posted by Kendall Harmon

As much as Church of the Redeemer's members will miss the glowing mural of the risen Christ, the sanctuary echoing with music, the basement lined with old photos and the historic buildings themselves, they're most heartbroken to leave the place where they served the Eastwood neighborhood for more than 90 years.

Redeemer can't afford the $7 million needed to bring the church up to code, so after Sunday's service, the congregation will move from its crumbling structure to a shared space in a nearby Lutheran church, where a group of small-but-committed parishioners will try to keep up with its outreach programs.

"It's not just about us," said Daniel Coleman, who has led the 70-member congregation as senior warden since September. "We want our congregation to continue the ministries we have here," including gatherings for neighborhood kids, Scout troops, a bike repair shop and weekend meals for the homeless.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC Parishes* Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryStewardship* Economics, PoliticsEconomyThe Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--

18 Comments
Posted February 26, 2011 at 4:31 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Sidney wrote:

Ministry of Dance members practice their worship presentation

Well, I think we know what happened to this church: men took one look at the dance and went somewhere else.

February 26, 7:59 pm | [comment link]
2. Undergroundpewster wrote:

Redeemer was one of the first Episcopal churches to bring in guitars and drums to accompany organ music, adopting a Pentecostal-style of worship under the leadership of the Rev. W. Graham Pulkingham, its rector in the ‘60s and ‘70s, said Julia Duin, author of Days of Fire and Glory, a book about the charismatic movement.

I, personally, thought guitars and drums were a bad idea.

“Being a part of a church that has had such a significant role in the charismatic renewal, I have wondered what in the world was the Lord up to, pouring his spirit into a place and within a generation, things change,” said Keever Wallace, a worship leader. “This is a really, really hard thing to do. We’re all still in shock.”

Not so much what the Lord was up to, but what the people did to nurture the seed that He had sown.

“some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth:
But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.” - Mark 4:5-6

February 26, 9:42 pm | [comment link]
3. priestwalter wrote:

Not many people interested in becoming part of TEC these days.  Most people I have talked to who hear the word ‘Episcopal’ say ‘isn’t that the church that . . . . . . . . .!’

February 27, 12:17 am | [comment link]
4. robroy wrote:

I, personally, thought guitars and drums were a bad idea.

Interesting that you would say that, pewster, because the use of drums was one of the few characteristics that was correlated with church growth in the TEClub according to the statistician, Kirk Hadaway.

Our priest in Texas came out Redeemer. We had the closest thing to a community of acts in that small church, not charismatic but evangelical and caring to the extreme. You can.t go home again. It is sad.

February 27, 12:58 am | [comment link]
5. libraryjim wrote:

Personally, I loved (and still do) the songs brought forth by “The Fisherfolk” and Community of Celebration. At the time they were written, there was a lot of Spirit-filled “Jesus Music” coming out, but not much for the liturgical church. They filled a gap in that area with much needed resources (e.g., the “Cry Hosanna” song book).

Peace in Him
Jim <><

February 27, 1:11 am | [comment link]
6. MichaelA wrote:

“Redeemer can’t afford the $7 million needed to bring the church up to code,...”

And, it appears, neither can its diocese, nor its national church, afford the money.

Perhaps if just a fraction of the money which has spent on lawsuits had been available to re-furbish this church, that historical mural would not be lost to TEC for ever.

“Redeemer was one of the first Episcopal churches to bring in guitars and drums to accompany organ music, adopting a Pentecostal-style of worship under the leadership of the Rev. W. Graham Pulkingham, its rector in the ‘60s and ‘70s, said Julia Duin, author of Days of Fire and Glory, a book about the charismatic movement.”

That’s great to hear. Many churches with a pentecostal background have done very well over the years. I doubt that a particular type of music per se is going to be the crucial factor in a church’s future.

But why does the article talk about the ‘70s and gloss over more recent history? Sure its good to remember the glory days, but perhaps its decline was unnecessary? For instance, what has this church done to preseve its message and witness during the past ten or twenty years - when Bishop Spong was attacking the very fundamentals of christian faith in the early ‘90s, when PB GRiswold was promoting liberalism, when PB Schori was declaring that individual salvation through Jesus Christ was unnecessary?

February 27, 5:09 am | [comment link]
7. Sarah wrote:

In 1999 this church had over 250 in ASA.

It took huge losses in the year 2000 and 2001—losing more than 100 ASA.

From there it was a steady stair step downward until [of course] 2003—2004 show another massive [percentage wise] ASA drop in the already badly damaged parish.

It’d be *very* interesting to discover what happened in 2000 and 2001 for the church to take that dramatic of a plunge [we already know what happened in 2003].

February 27, 9:57 am | [comment link]
8. Jeremy Bonner wrote:

Perhaps some of them went to AMIA? That would fit with the timeline.

February 27, 12:59 pm | [comment link]
9. Cennydd13 wrote:

Mix bongo drums with squealing electric guitars and cavorting interpretive dancers and what have you got?  Even Bible-thumping preaching is better than this!

February 27, 3:54 pm | [comment link]
10. johnp wrote:

I had the opportunity to attend Redeemer a few times back in the early 70s and the powerful presence of Holy Spirit was overwhelming then and remains as a wonderful memory today.  Even if it wasn’t my style of worship, the positive impact that it had on my life makes the decline very sad.

February 27, 4:24 pm | [comment link]
11. Neal in Dallas wrote:

I was at Redeemer from the mid ‘70’s to early ‘80’s. What those few of you who have posted do not get is that Redeemer was an amazingly complex place. It wasn’t simply a charismatic church with drums and guitars. The music there was phenomenal. The worship was phenomenal. The music at Redeemer was always done with excellence. The music ministry—it was more than just a choir—rehearsed from 7 till often 9:30 or 10 on Wednesdays and then for an hour and a half on Sunday mornings. They sang classical as well as contemporary music, from Handel’s “Messiah” and motets and the Faure Requiem to what was then cutting edge contemporary. So many people in the congregation spent several years in the choir such that George Mims, the organist, would silence the organ during a hymn and you could clearly hear rich four-part singing in the congregation.

Yes, it had a liturgical dance group, and you had men in that group as well. I recall that Michal was none too pleased when her husband David danced before the Lord.

But, Redeemer of those years was more than a music ministry.  It had extensive ministries in the inner city neighborhood where it was located, with families volunteering at the local public grade school, it started a medical clinic, retail shop for neighborhood families and individual, among other inner city ministries.

There were upwards of four and five hundred people living in extended households, sharing their incomes and possessions so that some household members could assist in the Redeemer’s extensive ministries. I lived in a household, and my wife and I brought into our home a couple who came to Redeemer for marital counseling, a young man who had severe emotional problems who came to Redeemer for counseling, a Korean refugee and her husband, and Cameroonian student. These people paid no “rent” nor did they contribute financially to their “room and board.” They were there to receive ministry, and we were there to help them.

What went wrong? More than can be written on a blog. I think the bottom line is that Redeemer suffered from poor priestly leadership. They never had a priest that could lead the congregation as did Graham. His successor simply managed as best he could what Graham had begun. The rector who came in the ‘90’s tried to do things that rejected the church’s history rather than accept the church’s history for what it was and retool it to meet a new decade.

Secondly, the neighborhood around Redeemer continued to decline. The East End of Houston was in economic decline when Graham came. Redeemer reversed that decline for about twenty years, but as people began to move away from the neighborhood, those people were replaced, not by “our kind of people” but by a lower socio-economic level of people who would not be at home in Middle-class Redeemer. As Redeemer changed—how did it change? I’m not sure, but it did—people from Redeemer scattered, many to other Episcopal churches throughout Houston, others to other cities because of job family, or back to where they had come from.

Third, the blended contemporary/traditional music that Redeemer uniquely offered in the ‘60’s through early ‘80’s was no longer unique to Redeemer. The renewal music could be found in a number of churches.

Redeemer had its problems. You can read of many of them in Julia Duin’s book. What she was not able to capture was that for many of us, Redeemer on its best days—and it had many, many best days—Redeemer (or ‘the Redeemer’ as it was known)—was the kingdom of God on earth. It was the life of the early church in the East End of Houston. We were given to apostles’ teaching, the breaking of bread, and the prayers. You can’t capture that in a snippet of an obituary of a building. You would never know of the richness of the worship through a picture of a liturgical dance group, but Redeemer was the most wonderful, special place this side of heaven. Yes, it was a taste of heaven. It was not an easy life. We had Lenten fasts that would send many people over the edge today. But it was an amazing common life. We did not go to church as most of us do today. We were the church, and we loved coming together on Sunday mornings for nearly three hours and Tuesday evenings and Friday evenings to worship Jesus who was present among us.

February 27, 4:59 pm | [comment link]
12. nwlayman wrote:

It’s an easy target to point out liturgical styles that make me cringe.  Beyond doing that I have to admit some of those practices meant something once and I simply changed.  What might (MIGHT) have happened here is that a generation that found those practices full of help has simply outgrown it.  That could take down attendance all by itself.  Aiming to keep up enthusiasm for things like the liturgical experiments of the 70’s seems pretty hard, I wouldn’t have the energy.
A better plan might be to get something with deeper roots.

February 27, 5:12 pm | [comment link]
13. Jeremy Bonner wrote:

Neal (#11),

Thanks for that. A great merit of the T19 comments section is a post like yours.

February 27, 7:11 pm | [comment link]
14. libraryjim wrote:

I second Jeremy’s thanks to Neal. What a wonderful reflective perspective on the church.

Jim <><

February 27, 9:47 pm | [comment link]
15. MichaelA wrote:

Neal’s post certainly is a good read, although it doesn’t really shed much light on the queries Sarah raised at #7: Why the huge losses in 2000-2001, and again in 2003-2004?

George Conger has written a piece that is somewhat critical of Graham Pulkingham, at http://geoconger.wordpress.com/2010/02/03/book-review-how-an-ecstatic-moment-failed-washington-times-2-03-10/. However, what strikes me most from this is that Pulkingham ceased to be rector of Church of the Redeemer in 1975, and no longer attended it from 1982. That was almost 30 years ago. This is yet another TEC church that has tragically closed down because of lack of parishioners and lack of income. Its recent demise can’t really be sourced to Pulkingham leaving.

February 27, 10:04 pm | [comment link]
16. MichaelA wrote:

I should add, my first sentence at #15 was not meant as a criticism of #11, which gave a first-hand view of life at Redeemer in the 1970s. My query relates to the last decade.

February 27, 10:06 pm | [comment link]
17. R. Eric Sawyer wrote:

I wish to second what “Neal in Dallas said in #11. We were contemporaries there, although my path kept me there a bit longer, until the mid ‘90s I was confirmed there in ’77, married in ’79 and my children baptized there.

Those who read into the closure of the parish an indictment of liturgical style are reading their own bias into the facts, rather than letting the facts inform their bias. In the early 60’s, before the “liturgical innovations” Redeemer was in much the state it is now, although with a sound physical plant. The changes were part of the growth, not part of the decline!

My spiritual roots are Southern Baptist. This church, Church of the Redeemer, is where I learned to love the prayer book, the articles, the “appointed homilies” It is where I learned (with George Mims as one of my chief educators, along with a good “Nashotah House” priest) that the “church” is not just the time of Charles Wesley, or tent revivals of the earlier 20th century –The church, as it is expressed liturgically and musically, is spread out over 2000 years –more, as it reaches back into the history of Israel. And it is not just the past, it is the present. Cut off EITHER leg, the past or the present, and our ability to “run the race” is severely degraded. So, plainsong (done AS plainsong” mixed very well with something written last week: trained and highly competent composers mixed their work with that of totally untrained folk musicians and even simpler types. And it worked – as to why it worked, that has been explored by my betters, and I’ll leave my own thoughts by for now, but I have never seen it duplicated. Some who have tried have said that it cannot be.

While at Redeemer I came to love the description of the church from Acts 2:42 (which I take as normative), from which Neal quoted; although I was a bit distressed by his (I assume inadvertent) omission of the forth mark –the fellowship. 

and they were continually devoting themselves to
The Apostles’ teaching
The followship
The breaking of bread
And to prayer

These were things which were done, and culturally valued by lifestyle and practice, to a superlative degree during that period, and it bore fruit of the sort Neal describes.

But Sarah’s question remains. And I can’t answer it. I can speak something of my own difficulties from the late 80’s onward, and more importantly, the resolution of those difficulties (and plan to in my own blog). Ms Duin has written, I think, compellingly, accurately and importantly on this topic as already cited. Others who were here during that late period will put it together better. But this is not the time for that.

In his excellent sermon at that building’s final Eucharist yesterday, the youth minister, Mr. Mark Ball, said many good things, at least one of which caught my ear: He spoke compellingly of the history of Redeemer as containing an admixture of the Glory of God, and the evidence of a sinful and broken humanity; as evidenced in the people to which God’s love was brought, and in those in the church who wished to bring it to them –there was indeed much brokenness.

As he ended his sermon, he rounded back on that theme: There were two (and only two) types of things happening at the Redeemer, those authored by God for His glory, and those things of a sinful and broken humanity, being redeemed by God for His glory.

I continue to find it so.

February 28, 12:41 pm | [comment link]
18. jockoro wrote:

I grew up at the Church of Redeemer.  I’ve never found anything like it since.  If you talk to ex-Redeemer members much, it’s what a lof of them will say.  The music was great, but it was more than that.  I’ve read some dismissive comments about the music, and the style of worship, but I second what others have stated.  It was a mixture of traditional and contemporary, done to perfection sometimes.  The result was sublime.  When I attended the final service there on Sunday, it all came back to me.  The congregation has dwindled to seventy members, but somehow it managed to deliver the same transcendent experience with its beautiful music and worship.  (Thank you Pat Farra and the other musicians and singers who made that happen.)

BUT it was the people there who really made the Redeemer.  People with open, loving, giving hearts.  Many of them were well educated professional people - physicians, attorneys, and others who shared everything they had with those who were less fortunate.  People who were EXCITED and ENTHUSIASTIC about opening their homes and offering a place for others to live.  About using their education and skills to help those less fortunate.  People who pooled their money to do good works and lived very simply in order to do that.  So those of you posting snarky remarks about the Redeemer’s worship style, well you just don’t get it.  Because you weren’t there, it’s perhaps understandable.  I’ve never met more selfless, altruistic people in my life.  If anything, they were simply too naive.

My family had a presence at Redeemer both before and after the glory days of the ‘sixties and ‘seventies.  My father’s parents attended services there in the 1920s.  As much admiration as I have for the people who gave so selflessly to the Redeemer and its ministries, my family’s involvement was limited to attending services and putting money in the collection plate on Sundays.  At times, I definitely felt on the periphery.  Oh how I envied the people who lived in communal households! But I loved the Redeemer and the people nonetheless, despite never being part of the real inner core.  It was an oasis for me, because my family was at times a very troubled one.

I will say that one bitter disappointment for me was the Redeemer’s failure to reach out to the gay and lesbian community.  And at times, there was downright hostility, though I never felt that on a personal level. I stopped attending church in my teen years.  So as wonderful as the Redeemer was, it wasn’t perfect. 

The LGBT population of Eastwood, where the Redeemer is located, is definitely growing, and it has been for the past few decades.  And lest we forget, the original renewal and the resulting glory days of Redeemer were due in such a large part to the brilliant Graham Pulkingham who was himself evidently a closeted gay man.  Go figure. 

And finally, I’d like to ask: How can the diocese allow this beautiful old church to be demolished?  If the diocese allows that to happen, I think for me a door will be closed forever. Evidently, the relationship between a congregation and the diocese is a one way street.  The diocese has no problem taking its cut of the congregation’s finances when times are good.  And I’m sure they’ll have no problem taking possession of a very valuable piece of real estate in an up and coming inner-city neighborhood.  Think about that for a minute.  Because that one way relationship is essentially the way the Church has traditionally dealt with gay people.  It has used whatever gifts they had to offer - as long as gay people knew and kept their place.

I’ve been a spiritual seeker much of my adult life, never feeling entirely at home anywhere.  Somehow, I think the closure of the Redeemer is a sign that I will never find that home in the Episcopal Church.

February 28, 4:18 pm | [comment link]
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