By Lindsay Peyton
Finding a name was easier than expected for the new faith community forming in Conroe, Texas. Planter Tommi Hamilton created a Google Doc for suggestions and asked members of the launch team to chime in. “We got on a Zoom call, and within 30 minutes, it was settled,” Hamilton said.
The church drew inspiration for their name from David Crowder’s song, Come and Listen:
Come and listen
Come to the water’s edge all you
Who know and fear the Lord
Come and listen
Come to the water’s edge all you who are thirsty, come
Let me tell you what He has done for me
He has done for you
He has done for us
“Jesus called his disciples from the water’s edge,” Hamilton said. “John the Baptist preached at the water’s edge. It’s a starting point, and it made all the sense in the world.”
The new congregation’s belief statement also came quickly on the same Zoom call: “Seeking hope and acceptance with and for all through Christ’s love.”
“It’s just exactly what we’ve been talking about,” Hamilton said. “We wanted to stay United Methodist, because we wanted to be open and accepting.”
So many initial steps have fallen seamlessly into place for Waters Edge UMC – from finding a place to worship to establishing an online presence – that Hamilton feels it has been divinely guided. “This is supposed to happen,” she said. “God is opening doors everywhere we turn.”
First Lay Planter in Texas to begin new church
Hamilton is actually the first lay church planter in the Texas Annual Conference. She was a member at the former FUMC Conroe for seven years, before it disaffiliated. She served there as children’s music director, volunteer coordinator and office manager for the congregation.
Hamilton was not alone in her decision to stay United Methodist. Several other members approached her with the same sentiments.
Hamilton made the decision to call Rev. Morris Matthis, the Texas Annual Conference’s Director of New Faith Communities. “I felt like God was saying, ‘You need to do this,’” she recalled.
She explained to Matthis that some members were heading to neighboring towns, like Montgomery UMC or Wildwood UMC in Magnolia. But there were no longer any options in Conroe.
Matthis suggested she put together a launch team – of families who wanted to start a local community. “The next week, I had eight or nine people,” Hamilton said.
They met on Nov. 17, 2022 – her birthday. “We were all there because we wanted to do something,” she said.
Morris was impressed with their spirit and challenged them to each invite one more person to join the team. Then, he suggested they reconvene right after Thanksgiving.
The group continued to move forward, quickly adding members. They enlisted Dr. John Stephens, Senior Pastor of Chapelwood UMC in Houston for further guidance.
Then, Morris surprised Hamilton with a proposition, “What do you think about a position as a lay planter?”
While she had never heard of someone who was not a pastor leading a charge, she felt up for the task.
In December 2022 Hamilton asked a friend in marketing communications and public relations for advice on a website. The friend offered to set it up at no charge – and even designed a logo. “She said, ‘I want you to be in a good place,’” Hamilton said.
In the meantime, St. James the Apostle Episcopal Church in Conroe offered to host the new faith community.
“It moved really fast from there,” Hamilton said. “Everyone at the Episcopal church has been so lovely. They just opened up to us.”
By the end of January, Water’s Edge UMC had two trial services. They officially opened to the public on Feb. 5 with 65 people attending.
Since then, the congregation has been gathering every other Sunday at 5 p.m. for an evening service. Hamilton books rotating pastors and visiting musicians. Lay members take turns reading scripture, leading prayers and offering benediction.
Already, Water’s Edge UMC has young families and children in the pews. Hamilton is working on plans to fit their needs, dreaming up children’s ministries and summer camps.
She is also focused on outreach, finding local partners in the community for mission work. “We’re looking for opportunities where we can be the church outside of any building,” she said.
Hamilton said that the church will continue to form its own unique identity – no longer a group of displaced United Methodists. “We want to be much more than that,” she said. “We’re in a place where we’re determining what we’re going to be and how we’ll continue to grow.”
For now, the Water’s Edge community is focused on spreading the news – that there is a new faith community in Conroe. In addition to the website, the church has an active Facebook and Instagram accounts @watersedgeumc.
“We’re just getting the word out that we’re here,” Hamilton said. “And we don’t want to build something that’s exactly like we left. We’re looking to see what happens, to build something that means something to each and every one of us.”
She created a Lenten prayer calendar for members. She is also planning the church’s first service event for Maundy Thursday.
There will be a fully lay-led service Easter Sunday. “It’s still in the works, but we’ve got some really good ideas,” Hamilton said. “And by next Easter, maybe we’ll have the whole gambit. Right now, we’re doing what we can.”
Water’s Edge UMC is still in the process of getting chartered. Hamilton is hoping that they will attract more members and eventually have their own pastor in the future.
“But we’re already in community, we’re worshiping together and that’s the important part,” she said. “We’re out there trying to be good disciples doing what God called us to do.”