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Mar 08, 2016 | Jan Scarpati

Church Unplugged Brings Families Closer

St. Cuthbert, Houston found a way to “unplug” when they hired Family Formation Minister Gail Jackins in 2015. Jackins has developed events that have brought renewed vigor to the congregation, particularly young families, and found new avenues to strengthen connections across.


The Rev. Bruce Bonner said that the events have also been effective in incorporating newcomers and integrating families of the St. Cuthbert’s school.


“God calls us to be connected, to live out our faith in the presence of others,” Bonner said, adding, “It’s a joy to watch families creating memories and meeting new friends and not a cell phone in sight!”


Parishioner Cayte Neil shared her experience recently in this reflection:


When my husband and I were in the process of buying our first house in Cypress, a friend warned me to back out. “The suburbs,” she said, “are where excitement goes to die.”


Nearly ten years later, Cypress has grown exponentially. And we have found that rather than death, excitement and life and growth, have come to the suburbs.


Homes, restaurants, stores and schools surround St. Cuthbert. It is cloaked in life. Churches often plan “something for everyone,” programming that fits the needs of each individual population bracket: Senior Bible studies, Youth Groups, Episcopal Church Women, etc. And while those groups serve a role, if you want to witness fellowship in its purest form, take off the labels. It is in this mix of people: men, women, old, young, married, single, that a church is formed.


When our congregation hired a family formation coordinator to create opportunities for the congregation to fellowship together. Sounds easy, right? A picnic here, a pancake supper there, and voila! Instant fellowship. If only that was all! What about the real impediment to fellowship? How do you get people to unplug and be present?


In a world that is constantly updating and uploading, how do you get people to stop texting or checking emails and engage with those around them? The answer is not formulaic, but people are hungry for friendships that aren’t counted by clicking a button. They are hungry for acceptance that isn’t based on likes and shares. Somehow, through the massive web of connectedness, we are less connected.


The good ol’days are hard to come by, but I sat in our parish hall on a cold January night and watched 80 people: parents, teens, great-grandparents, toddlers, visitors, bent over tables building all kinds of things with Legos. Magically, I saw them sit together and connect.


Not a month later, I watched 60 fathers and father-figures with their daughters laughing and dancing at our Sock Hop--connecting without a single “comment,” “like” or “share.” And those kinds of memories are long lasting.


Behind the scenes, I knew that the precious corsages that each man placed on his daughters’ wrist were put together by our Flower Guild. I knew that the burgers that they enjoyed that night were assembled by some of our Seniors and served by our Youth Group. I knew that the desserts they delighted in were made with love by their mothers. While the focus of the night was on the sweet couples, the fellowship wasn’t limited to only these gentlemen and their young ladies. Because we have built a stronger community, each event is bigger than we ever imagined. engaging all to participate allows things to become all-encompassing.


What makes us unplug. I think it is community, devotion, love. Belonging to something larger than ourselves allows our actions to be bigger than life. Suddenly, we aren’t just grilling hot dogs for people to eat at Lego night, we are feeding their souls as they create memories that forge family, friends and church into one big pile. We aren’t just crafting centerpieces for a pot luck dinner, we are allowing everyone to enjoy and appreciate the beauty all around. In reality, when we unplug from our devices, we are plugging into ourselves and each other. As our mission statement says, we are “Building the Kingdom of God - Together!”


There are great things happening even in the suburbs. Community can be found, and ordinary life can be extraordinarily beautiful.