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Jul 17, 2018 | Carol E. Barnwell

Book Readings, Invitation Offer Faith Home

Nyesha Green found welcome and community at St. James, Houston. The 37-year-old law firm administrator also found a place from which she could work for justice and have an impact in her neighborhood.

Green, who was confirmed in May, volunteered to serve at this summer’s Episcopal Church General Convention in Austin, July 3-13, “to learn more about the Church and to be involved,” she said.    

“It's complicated,” Green said, and “But being present matters. People are kind and friendly and it affirms what I've always thought about the Episcopal Church—that there is a willingness to stay in relationship as you discuss sometimes benign matters, sometimes very contentious matters.”

Green grew up attending different churches with her mother. “If someone invited her to a church, she’d go and then feel led to stay [for a time],” Green said. Even though her mother was very religious, none of these faith communities— Baptist, Pentecostal, non-denominational—ever felt like home to Green.

As a result, Green said, although she considered herself Christian, she did not have much of a personal faith and stopped going to church until she was 21. She attended Lakewood Church, Ekklesia and finally settled at St. John’s in Downtown Houston where she was a member for more than a decade. Her search continued for a church family that shared her values and also “wanted to be active actors in this project of Christian living throughout the week,” she said.

At St. John’s, she especially liked the social justice aspect of their ministry. “As a woman and as a Black person, engaging in ministry against racist and sexist ideology is important to me,” she said, but she still lacked a personal connection.

Green, an avid reader, had attended an event at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Houston, about Pauli Murray and Eleanor Roosevelt’s (The Firebrand and the First Lady, by Patricia Bell-Scott) in which Roosevelt’s Episcopal faith was discussed. She had also attended several readings at Christ Church Cathedral in partnership with Brazos Book Store. Following one, the Dean invited people to return the following day to hear Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preach during a conference for Black Episcopalians being held at the Cathedral.

“St. James played an integral part in that service,” Green said, “and it was wonderful.” She had met some of the members at the Pauli Murray event and they invited her to visit St. James. “That was Thanksgiving, 2016 and I’ve been there ever since.”

The sense of having a broader institution beyond a congregation is important to Green. “There's a corporate element that's important outside of just a specific church and personality,” she said.

At St. James, Green is part of a team engaged with The Metropolitan Organization to work with homeless people and immigration. She wants to engage the community “through relationship as opposed to just being a church,” she explained. She is working on Harvey-related ministry, helping to rebuild after the historic flooding in Houston in August 2017. She is also a greeter and works to help the church comply with Safeguarding policies, protecting children and others from sexual exploitation.

“At General Convention you realize that this is a very diverse church, even though it sometimes doesn’t feel like it on Sunday morning,” Green said. “It’s been important to be to see how we stay in relationship, not in a simple, sanitized way, but in a real messy way. We are responsible for one another and even though it’s a challenge, it’s necessary.”

When the prayers of the people use terms like ‘discomfort’, and ask to be challenged, “I welcome that,” she added.

“I'm not someone who would say in most places that I've felt I belong, not even in my family. And I think most people would say in most contexts that I'm an outsider,” Green said of her search for a faith home. But she realized that faith and the relationships it calls people to build requires her to get out of her comfort zone. “We’re called to be social creatures,” Green said. “That requires us to engage in a broader way. I’m here because I feel God doesn’t want me to be separate.

Green found being confirmed this April was “challenging in a way that it should be—making a public statement about our responsibilities,” she said. “The part that makes it possible is ‘I will with God's help.’”

Author, Lauren Winner (Girl Meets God) is another of Green’s touchstones. “Her writing [about] her confirmation and her relationship and responsibility in a parish was more connected than any experience I've had. It resonated with me,” Green explained.

Green, who served as a volunteer to the Episcopal Church Women’s secretariat said she had learned a great deal about the Church during her time at General Convention. Her search led her to the Episcopal Church, through events offered by a number of churches in partnership with community organizations, good music and great preaching sparked more of an interest and an invitation to come to church has led her to a new family of faith.