Conference Charters Abiding Faith UMC
Conference Charters Abiding Faith UMC
Patience and prayer are the hallmarks of vital congregations, including a new fellowship in south Houston aptly named Abiding Faith UMC, chartered this month under the leadership of Rev. Deborah Vaughn.
When it comes to life highlights, Rev. Deborah Vaughn will likely include – on her list -- the experience of leading a church that was chartered into the the Texas Annual Conference on May 22. This special service recognizing Abiding Faith UMC as a vibrant, sustainable new addition was endorsed with the support of Rev. Jeff Olive, Texas Annual Conference Director of New Church Development and Central South District Superintendent Rev. Andy Noel. "Under Deborah's leadership, Abiding Faith continues to grow a sustainable and fruitful mission and ministry," adds Jeff.
The chartering was the latest mountaintop that members have personally experienced in the seven-year process leading up to Abiding Faith UMC becoming an official congregation in the Houston area.
The “Back Story”
When Launch Team leaders of Abiding Faith UMC Houston share their story, it begins in 2009 and includes a chapter about being a church plant in northwest Houston and a chapter about being a trans-plant to south Houston. “Our story began seven years ago, and my Launch Team of almost two dozen volunteers is still in tact, except for a few sweet souls that the Lord took home,” shares Rev. Deborah Vaughn, who formerly served as Associate Pastor of St. John’s UMC Downtown-Houston.
Upon receiving the appointment as a New Church Start Pastor in June, 2009, Rev. Vaughn felt very blessed with the opportunity to initially share facilities at St. Matthew's UMC. “At that time, St. Matthew’s was looking for ways to bring new life to their campus, so they kindly moved their worship time to 9:30 a.m. to allow our new service to begin at 11:30,” she shares. She references the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus as a central aspect of the new endeavor’s DNA. “The disciples left the holy city of Jerusalem disappointed and not fully aware of what Jesus Christ had done for all humanity. Unknowingly to them, Jesus came along and journeyed with them. After spending time with Him, their desire was for Jesus to abide with them. Thus our name became Abiding Faith UMC,” she explains.
“St. Matthew’s was a real blessing because most church plants have to lease space or meet in a school and pack everything they need in and out each week,” Deborah shares. “All we had to do was coordinate dates and times to have access to the Fellowship hall for an event or the sanctuary for a wedding.”
First Steps: Walking and Talking
Once “planted” at St. Matthew’s UMC, leaders set about getting acclimated to their new mission field, establishing a presence and seeking opportunities to serve the community. The Launch Team canvassed neighborhoods by walking, meeting community leaders, attending civic club meetings, and hosting community events. The overall theme was: "Start Again,” targeting those who wanted a fresh start and were willing to give the Christian community a chance or another chance.
According to Deborah, the initial shareholder investment from the Texas Annual Conference provided compensation for facility use, funds to purchase sound equipment and musical instruments, and funds for outreach and salaries, "Without the shareholders’ investment, our initial energies would have been directed to fund-raising, instead of immediate community outreach,” she shares. After some initial legwork and prayer, worship services launched in October, 2009.
“Wherever we happen to be housed, the mission of Abiding Faith is to demonstrate effective evidence of God’s grace at work in our world,” she adds. “The members endeavor to do so through Spirit-filled worship, fervent prayer, and preaching/teaching that is both empowering and challenging. They also have a heart to serve others. Leaders assist others in identifying and developing their spiritual gifts, and present opportunities for members to deploy them.”
In the initial years, Abiding Faith worked diligently to offer Bible studies in apartment complexes, provide care packages to families, partner with schools, and host annual back to school celebrations.
Next Steps: Finding a Permanent Home
"Through heart-felt worship and our efforts to serve, we never lost sight that we needed a home,” she shares. “It was our desire to have a place of our own, however, the cost of existing buildings, land and new construction in close proximity to St. Matthew’s was almost overwhelming.” So, after searching for two years, the Visioning Team went away for a weekend of reflection and prayer in the fall of 2013.
During their time together, the Visioning Team revisited the church's call as a community of faith, shared dreams for the future and tackled honest options about the financial status of the church. Days later, during a meeting with the Director of Congregational Excellence and District Superintendent, Pastor Deborah accepted the invitation to visit Almeda UMC, which was about to close its doors as a result of several years of decline.
"I remember the first Saturday we drove to Almeda as a church family,” she shares. “I asked the congregation to walk the property, walk and drive the community, and pray." After a time of asking, listening, discerning and praying together, Abiding Faith headed for its new home --- 21 miles south.
The members of Almeda were pleased the United Methodist Church would continue to have a presence in the community. They shared a wonderful legacy and stories of marriages, baptisms and outreach with the incoming members of Abiding Faith. Patti Sue Parker was one of several of the Almeda members to remain and join the new entity. "The Abiding Faith congregation has been chosen to continue the 80-year history and spirit of the Methodist Church in the Almeda community,” shares Patti. “I have lived in the community all of my 77 years and was pleased when this young congregation was chosen to come to my neighborhood to carry on by filling the need for the Methodists in this area."
The transition is naturally bittersweet. “Some members of Abiding Faith simply could not make the move due to work schedules and transportation challenges,” Deborah adds, “so the move also meant saying good-bye to them, as well as several community partnerships.”
New Day: New Life, New Friends
In April, 2014, members of Abiding Faith began to spread the message of new life throughout the Almeda community. They again walked the community and invited neighbors to planned events such as a Back-to-School family get together and a Thanksgiving outreach. Throughout 2014, several dozen volunteers each weekend worked to transform the campus inside and out, including paint, blinds, new furniture and personal touches to the sanctuary, prayer room, fellowship hall, and meeting rooms. They also began to cultivate new community partnerships. The first worship service in their new home was Sunday, June 1, 2014.
Adds Deborah, “One of the most important lessons this young church learned is not to assume replication of a program or ministry will be successful in a different ministry setting. For example, it was easier to establish and nurture relationships in our initial home that was surrounded by apartment complexes that offer a central communication channel and gathering place beyond church facilities.” To meet the challenge, the leaders have dedicated more time establishing personal relationships throughout the community by walking the neighborhood and welcoming residents to their new congregation. “Some of our neighboring families have recently joined us, and we are excited to continue hosting the senior ladies group at the church as well.”
Having refurbished a children’s area, Abiding Faith members are excited about offering a Vacation Bible School this summer and having facilities for youngsters that might attend in response to a partnership with the elementary school across the street.
Lots of cars on the parking lot, new coats of paint and a renewed sense of purpose are clues to the success of this new vital congregation. With an average of 125 in worship, Rev. Vaughn sees chartering as an acknowledgement of God's faithfulness and sustaining power. “It is also a reminder to the membership that their worship, prayers and service in the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ is part of a great connection. A lot has been entrusted to our care and we are determined to be good stewards,” she adds.