St. Andrew Mt. Pleasant Embraces Change Through VCI
By: Sherri Gragg
What do you do when you realize the church you are becoming will no longer look like the church you have always been?
That was the question before St. Andrew Mt. Pleasant. The church, originally established as Tennison Memorial Methodist in the late 1800’s, lay its foundation stones in former Caddo Tribe territory alongside hog farmers and saloons in the early days of the American colonization of Texas. By the time Tennison Memorial was formally established as St. Andrew in 1864, Mt. Pleasant was a thriving agricultural and manufacturing town.
Today Mt. Pleasant has more than doubled its population since St. Andrew’s “Charter Day” in 1864, and the former pioneer town is predominantly Hispanic. “Our folks have a commitment to be St. Andrew UMC in Mt. Pleasant for a long time in the future,” said the Rev. Kristin Bogart, “They recognize that the church that is coming probably won’t look like the church that was.” As the congregation sees the cultural landscape all around them shifting, they are intentionally searching for ways to bridge the divide between their past and their future.
Partnerships are Key
As St. Andrew looks for new ways to connect with its community, the Rev. Kristin Bogart has begun working with several local agencies in search of the best ways to minister to children in need. One organization, Hope Ministries of Northeast Texas, provides transitional housing for women and children. This past summer, Hope Ministries found Mt. Pleasant’s needs were outpacing their ability to meet them. As every bed in their program filled, one mother and her young son still lacked shelter. Bogart realized God was offering St. Andrew the chance to test the waters of the church’s future.
“Our church has two self-contained rooms that were formerly used as a nursery,” Bogart said, “Since we have an older congregation, we no longer need the nursery. We put a bed in there, a small sofa, tv, and crib. We already had plenty of toys, and the church has washing and cooking facilities.” By simply repurposing existing resources, St. Andrew was able to provide temporary transitional housing for the family until more permanent shelter became available for them.
St. Andrew’s first step into providing temporary shelter for women and children provided them with a valuable learning opportunity as they consider future ministry. Bogart hopes that as the church moves forward, they will be able to continue to impact childhood homelessness and poverty through their partnerships with other local agencies.
Existing Resources, New Eyes
Learning to see their facility with fresh eyes was an essential part of the transformation. “We have a really lovely facility and a fairly small congregation,” Bogart said, “We cleared out a couple of classrooms and partnered with Communities in Schools to provide space for jeans, shoes, and jackets.” Three women from the congregation serve as on-site assistance for families in need. “If the church isn’t open, they will come open it for them and take time to visit with them,” Bogart said.
Next summer, St. Andrew looks forward to working with Titus County Cares to provide a “lunch café” during the long months when hungry children miss free school breakfasts and lunches.
The Power of VCI
Bogart credits St. Andrew’s new ministry trajectory with her congregation’s investment in the Vibrant Church Initiative. As VCI challenged St. Andrew to clarify their mission, the church committed to ministering to families. Once St. Andrew committed to saying “yes” to God, Bogart says exciting opportunities for ministry followed. “It is a slow process to make the changes,” she said, “but we are living into it a bit at a time.”
St. Andrew is reaching out to a local apartment complex next door through VBS as well as a Christmas and Halloween outreach. As they evaluate their first foray into transitional housing for homeless women and children, they remain hopeful to not only continue but expand the ministry. “We have more space,” Bogart said. “We are trusting God to be faithful in his leading. We want it to be his plan, not ours.”
There are clear signs that St. Andrew is on the right track. This past summer, when the church prepared to host their first family, they learned the little boy’s birthday was the day after he and his mother were scheduled to move into the church. On the day of his birthday, some of St. Andrew’s members showed up at the church with balloons, a birthday cake and gift. They also brought their grandchildren along to make the surprise birthday party complete. The birthday boy’s mother watched as what might have been somber birthday was transformed into pure joy. Through tears she asked, “Why would you do this for us? You don’t even know us?”
A St. Andrew’s member was ready with the answer. “This is God’s love,” he said.
To learn more about how your church might benefit from the Vibrant Church Initiative, visit their website at https://www.txcumc.org/vci.