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Jul 31, 2015 | Estela López

Growing Our Church

"I have come that they may have life and life more abundantly" John 10:10 

 

My husband, the Rev. Pedro N. Lopez, my two sons, and I currently serve in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, at St. Peters-San Pedro in Pasadena, which has a large Mexican population. Today our church is a bilingual-bicultural congregation with two services in Spanish and one in English. When we arrived four years ago we found a church about to close; both membership and the building had been declining for several years. 

 

During those first months, a regular Sunday service would have about 70 people. People spoke negatively about the past, there was some resentment, and the congregation and building were in a rut. Thanks to my husband’s vision and experience in planting churches, we were able to teach people to look to the future, putting the past behind us and focusing only on our strengths, not on our weaknesses. We invited people to take ownership of their church and to take a leap of faith by donating their time, talent, and treasure, to redevelop the church, starting with the basic ministries and creating new programs. The people who stayed were faithful to the Lord; people of great faith, who prayed and believed. 

 

Thanks to the efforts and dedication of this congregation, San Pedro has grown to an average Sunday attendance of 280, with vibrant and growing ministries. Recently we remodeled the sanctuary and expanded its capacity to seat 400 people. We also bought and installed a new building for a thrift shop. 

 

 

How did this happen? What has helped has been our commitment to the vision and mission of St. Peter’s-San Pedro. 

 

Prayer as a means of healing and deliverance. We continually pray for the Holy Spirit and his healing touch. During the Eucharist, after the sermon, we pray for healing laying our hands on people (James 5:14-15). In the Gospels, we see repeatedly how Jesus would heal people and how these people, out of love and gratitude, would join the mission of salvation and redemption that is offered through Jesus Christ (Luke 17:11-19). In my personal experience as a priest’s wife and a layperson, it was not until I experienced the healing touch of Jesus that I could give my life completely to God and to the ministry. That is why we pray without ceasing for healing and deliverance. Once the person experiences the power of God’s love in their life, they want to share this great gift with others. We believe that prayer is the door to grace for the church and its people. We believe that no one can serve with excellence and true commitment without experiencing a personal encounter with the Lord and giving their life to Him. 

 

Serving God in the church by sharing leadership. Any institution or organization needs a system. We have created a system of shared leadership for all ministries. We invite people to help in at least one ministry once a month. Why do we do this? First of all, to give the opportunity to serve to more families and second, so that the weight and responsibility does not fall on only one person. We use this system in our service to the community as well as the ministries in the congregation such as ushers, readers, and Eucharistic ministers. 

 

Serving God in the community. The mission of the Church is to serve people who are poor, sick, or helpless, as Jesus did (Matthew 25:35). We will soon be opening, by the grace of God, a thrift store to serve people with low incomes. We also operate a food pantry, which recently expanded from being only open once a month to every Saturday, serving a total of 320 families each month. During the week, Monday through Friday, we have a group who does Zumba. They have two classes in the morning and two in the afternoon and about 100 people gather every day. We also have a group of people who are elderly who practice yoga twice a week. Next to our church, we have a building that functions as a community center offering all sorts of classes including technology, nutrition, English, and painting. At St. Peter-San Pedro, we believe the church building must be used to evangelize and serve our community. We believe that the Lord liberates our whole being: mind, body, and spirit and wants us to grow in all the dimensions of our life. The Lord transforms our lives giving us abundant life. I recommend for you to open the doors of your Church and receive a group or organization. This is the best way to become known in the community. 

 

Christian education for all ages. This is our strongest evangelism ministry that brings new families every six months. Every Sunday, there are three Communion classes, three Confirmation classes, and Sunday school classes for all ages. This program lasts 18 months with a rotation, following the school calendar. We have about 90 children registered for these programs and about 60 adults in our parenting class. We firmly believe that it is necessary to keep a family committed to the Church for at least one year, so we can share the Good News of Jesus with them, and offer them the opportunity to truly deepen their faith. During this year and a half, these families are invited to attend retreats, to serve in a ministry, and we are there for them in their times of need and difficulty. 

 

Companionship, fellowship, celebration of our faith, and our culture: Jesus was devoted not only to heal and preach but also took time to share with his friends. Jesus and His disciples attended a wedding in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11). We do not gather only for trainings and meetings. We also come together for parties, festivals, and cultural events. We have a folkloric dance group, an annual church festival, quinceañeras, and dinners. But most importantly, we make time to rest. Throughout the year we work very hard, but in the summer time we take a break and we encourage our leaders to do the same.

 

Throughout these four years, we have taught the leaders and all the families to take responsibility for their church, contributing generously to the maintenance and the development of the church and its mission. Our church is now looking towards the future, aware that others planted before us, and we need to plant our seed for future generations. With the hard work of our congregation, and the help of our Diocese, we are working on a capital campaign called "Seeds of Faith - Planting seeds of love for future generations." Our plans include building a childcare center and a parish hall with capacity for 400 people. Our desire is to expand our services to the community and one day become economically sustainable. God is big and powerful and His love has no limits! 

 

Estela López, program director St. Peter-San Pedro in Pasadena, Texas, worked as a cosmetologist and a real estate agent for many years. She’s now fully dedicated to the church and its mission. Originally from Guadalajara Mexico, Estela is happily married to The Rev. Pedro N. López; they have two children Nathan and Peter. Together, they minister in their church as a family. Her two biggest passions are Jesus and dancing. Estela has a children’s dance group in her church where she teaches Mexican folk music. 

 

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