New church name same unified mission
By Lindsay Peyton
The name may be new, but the faces are the same at The Gathering Church in Texas City. Seated in the pews are members of Grace UMC and First UMC Texas City. The congregations merged earlier this year. Now, they are unified in mission and moving forward for the transformation of the world for Jesus Christ.
“We brought two churches together,” the Rev. James Littleton, Jr. explained.
The merger officially happened in February, but worshipping together was delayed until May, when First UMC Texas City completed its Mother’s Day Out program. The first service was a celebration of the legacy of both congregations.
“A legacy is what we take with us,” the pastor explained. “It’s the precious memories, the weddings, the baptisms, burying loved ones at your church. Just because the physical location changed, doesn’t mean the story or the community goes away. We carry the legacy forward.”
The location for the merged congregations is on the former Grace UMC campus, 2418 7th Ave. N in Texas City. There are still physical reminders of First UMC’s previous home, including a cross that hangs in front of the sanctuary.
That’s one way to continue paying homage to the legacy of the congregation at its new home. “So much of our faith is expressed and shared in stories,” Littleton said. “On May 23, we began a new chapter and a new story on Pentecost, which was our first time to worship together, celebrating the birth of the Church.”
The date marks the congregation’s new name – The Gathering Church. “We knew that if we were going to be a new church, not just a merged church, we had to have a new name,” Littleton explained. “We went to the drawing board.”
After considering a few options, The Gathering Church was selected as the best reflection of the churches’ now shared goal. “The message and the vision is to meet people where they are,” Littleton said. “The idea is that people are welcomed to the congregation.”
It’s the same as being invited and warmly welcomed to a gathering. “We gather around a table; some gather at Sunday dinner,” Littleton said. “Some gather frequently with friends and family. We gather for celebrations. And all people are accepted.”
At this church, The Gathering Church unites members at the Lord’s table. “We are all welcome to take part of God’s grace and love,” Littleton said. “We want to be a representation of that in Texas City.”
Previously, he served as a chaplain and an associate pastor of the caring ministry at Dickinson FUMC. “I was responsible for the emotional and spiritual rebuild after Harvey,” he said. “I was sent to Texas City to bring these two churches together.”
His message has been consistent. “It doesn’t matter where you go, the church is the people,” he said. “It’s the body of Christ. We can take church with us wherever we go.”
After uniting the members into The Gathering Church this summer, the next order of business was selling the First UMC campus, which closed on Aug. 31.
“It’s still very fresh,” Littleton said. “We’re coming together. We’re worshipping together. We plan to eventually have a grand opening.”
Before moving forward, however, a few updates are in the works. Littleton explained that the sanctuary is being retrofitted with new technology. “We’re doing a lot of repairs and upgrades,” he said. “We want to be more inviting. So the church is getting a renovation inside and out.”
Once the work is completed, and new signs are installed reading “The Gathering Church,” the pastor plans to make welcoming the community a top priority. In addition, he will pursue outreach opportunities. For instance, he hopes to deepen their relationship with nearby Heights Elementary.
“We’re looking to make an earnest effort to reach out to the community,” Littleton said. “Now that we’re one body, one location, we can physically do more at Heights Elementary which is on the same side of the road as we are.”
Introducing The Gathering Church to the community is important, the pastor added. “They don’t know about us yet,” he said.
But the people in the pews of this church are well worth meeting, Littleton explained. Even in the midst of a pandemic, they navigated the difficulties of a merger. In a difficult time, they have focused on the light.
“Even through the struggle, they decided to come together to make a difference,” Littleton said.
The members of The Gathering Church want to extend that message of hope in Texas City – to families of all backgrounds. “This is a place where you can come as you are, as a child of God,” Littleton said.