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Jun 15, 2018 | Karla Goolsby

Hispanic Ministry Grows in West Houston

Leadership of St. Christopher’s and San Romero came together to ring the mission
bell at the 2017 Diocesan Council in Galveston, TX.

 Mission and ministry among a growing Hispanic demographic is a focal point for many Episcopal dioceses, including the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. As the Diocese continues to connect proactively with people in a widening variety of contexts, missional leaders focused on the west side of Houston to establish the latest Hispanic church plant.

In September of 2015, Bob Schorr, diocesan Manager of Strategic Development, and the Rev. Bob Goolsby, rector of St. Christopher’s, Houston, met with the Rev. Uriel Lopez, who was currently serving in the Diocese of Chicago. They met at a local bagel shop to discuss a new church plant for a growing Spanish-speaking population in St. Christopher’s west Houston neighborhood.

The diocesan team worked with several heads of congregations for months to discern the most fitting parochial location. The ideal site would serve as a base to establish a new ministry, with office space, internet access, phones and office machines, all within closest proximity to the densest population of area Spanish-speakers. It was a task made more onerous because they also needed a congregation willing to share its campus with a new Episcopal community.

After several meetings, abundant planning and comprehensive research on demographics and feasibility to plant a church community, Lopez, Schorr and the people of St. Christopher’s, under Goolsby’s leadership, embraced the idea.   

St. Christopher’s was founded in 1954 in a newly developed, exclusively Anglo area of west Houston called Spring Branch. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Spring Branch experienced significant demographic change, mostly from Central American immigration. Today, the Hispanic population is more than 50 percent, with roughly 35 percent Anglo, 10 percent Asian and 5 percent African-American. When Goolsby arrived at St. Christopher’s in the fall of 2008, he found a parish uncertain of its identity amid the its now ethnically diverse neighborhood with significant Korean and Hispanic communities. Goolsby felt called to lead the congregation within the context of the challenging circumstances of demographic change and diversity.

“Change can be difficult for congregations and the cultural integration necessary for St. Christopher’s required real transformative work,” Goolsby said. With his leadership, St. Christopher’s began to deliberately reach out to its diverse community through the ministries of its day school and resale shop. As these efforts succeeded, Goolsby led the congregation toward the goal of hosting a place of worship for their Spanish-speaking neighbors.

Laying the Groundwork for Change

With enthusiastic support from Senior Warden Rebecca Herbert and the vestry, and with the help of Denise Treviño-Gomez, Missioner for Intercultural Development for the Diocese of Texas, Goolsby held a series of congregational meetings to prepare and educate parishioners about what it might look like to “live and move and have our being” in a plural cultural context. The work culminated with the Fertile Groundprogram presented by Treviño-Gomez to lead people to a deeper understanding of themselves and others. This work was vital to both the existing, mostly Anglo congregation and the newly invited Hispanic community as they learned about each other’s backgrounds, differences, and perhaps most importantly, what they held in common.

After 17 months of work to develop a new church plant, meeting with community stakeholders and reaching out to Spanish-speaking businesses and neighbors, Lopez officially welcomed the fledgling congregation of San Romero Episcopal Church on March 1, 2017. On the same day, he joined Goolsby for “Ashes to Go” and along with representatives from each congregation, imposed ashes on more than 400 people outside of the church walls.

Collaborative and dedicated leadership continue to ensure smooth and successful integration of distinct worshipping communities in one place.

Goolsby, 2005 graduate of Southwest and current Doctor of Ministry student at Virginia Theological Seminary, grew up in southeast Florida, a very culturally diverse part of the country, where he attended several Episcopal churches that reflected this diversity. The population of southeast Florida includes an array of peoples from Caribbean countries such as Cuba, Haiti, the Bahamas and various other islands, as well as many Central American countries. Coupled with his formation at Seminary of the Southwest, which emphasized multicultural and intercultural ministry, Goolsby feels very much at home in a multicultural setting.

At the 2017 Diocesan Council in Galveston, the leadership of St. Christopher’s and San Romero came together to ring the mission bell as the Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle, Bishop of Texas, officially established the Fellowship of San Romero Episcopal Church, Houston. From that memorable Ash Wednesday in 2017 until 2018, San Romero has grown from about 35 communicants to more than 60. The congregations of St. Christopher and San Romero have had, and continue to have, a fruitful and mutually fond relationship and each look forward to what God has in store in the years to come.