New Campus Partnership Exemplifies the Strength of the UMC Connection

Date Posted: 9/24/2015

Mutual goals lead Covenant Glen UMC Missouri City and First UMC Houston into a strategic campus-sharing partnership.
From a young age, we are taught to share. As we grow older we call it collaboration and it is especially powerful in the context of Kingdom work. First UMC Houston (Central South District) and Covenant Glen UMC Missouri City (Southwest District) have recently collaborated in a way that's resulting in 1) a positive future and faith energy for both congregations, 2) the chance to grow the church in a more diverse setting and 3) serving as a new ministry model leveraging cooperation.
The Back Story: Needs Become Opportunities
Having outgrown its worship space, Covenant Glen UMC, under the leadership of Dr. Robert Childress, sought a new “home.” Relocating in 2015 would allow the sale of the original campus and give the congregation time to raise money for a new campus. According to Dr. Steve Wende of FUMC Houston, the 2200-seat worship center on First UMC Houston’s Westchase campus was a perfect fit for “such a time as this.” Task forces determined there was sufficient space for both churches to host their normal events while sharing the campus and a unique partnership agreement took effect this summer.
“From its very beginnings,” Dr. Wende shares, “First Church has been a city church, ministering across lines of culture, race and background in the name of Christ.  The new venture with Covenant Glen UMC sharing our Westchase campus is in some ways groundbreaking, but in other ways simply a continuation of that tradition.  There are different worship services, styles and languages, but all are one in the Lord Jesus!  The spirit of both churches is excellent, and the openness and hospitality being shown by the members of both churches is inspiring.  We truly believe that this is the start of something that can make a huge impact for God’s Kingdom in West Houston and the world.”

Connection for the Cause of Christ
Central South District Superintendent Rev. Andy Noel was integral to the formation of this creative new partnership model.  “The First United Methodist/Covenant Glen United Methodist West Campus Partnership represents one of the best working aspects of being a United Methodist -- how we work as a connection for the cause of Christ, “ he observes. “From the very first meeting there was a clear compatibility of the needs and interests of the two congregations.  FUMC had a strategic initiative to better utilize its West Campus facilities and to identify strategic partners for Kingdom work.  Covenant Glen was constrained by its Missouri City campus.  Its interior space and limited parking for its large congregation had become an obstacle to growth in recent years.”
Adds Andy, “What I saw from the outset were two leadership teams who were committed to finding common benefits, a shared solution, and were creative in pioneering new ways to work out an arrangement.  All of our meetings were covered in prayer and thoughtful conversation.  As we imagined this revitalized campus we developed a rallying cry in creating a kind of ‘food court for Jesus’ by offering several worship choices.  This image provided energy to work through all the complex logistical and financial details.”
Kickoff Sunday
Leaders agree that God has richly blessed the first month of this shared solution.  “Over 1600 were in attendance at Covenant Glen's first service on August 16,” adds Andy. Rev. Robert Childress adds, “The congregation’s response to this solution has been superb. The majority of members have made the transition with us and others are trickling back every week. Over 30 have joined since our initial service which indicates the harvest is still huge in this area.”  
Additionally, FUMC's The Vine praise service is already expanding to a second service.  “In one of my recent Sunday visits,” explains Andy, “I saw a spirit of Christian fellowship as both congregations live into this new arrangement.  Bishop Huie was critical in getting the conversations started between the two leadership teams and her energy and vision sustained us through several months of meetings and the difficult work that emerged to achieve this common vision.”
Rev. Jay Jackson, Southwest District Superintendent says this cooperative arrangement “represents the best kind of Kingdom work that I have recently experienced.” Adds Jay, “Two very different United Methodist congregations with very different traditions have united to provide a shared ministry at the Westchase campus that will strengthen both congregations and better serve the wider mission field they now share.  Enough appreciation cannot be shared about the leadership and vision of Bishop Huie and the assistance of Rev. B. T. Williamson and Dr. Elijah Stansell in this process.  Clergy and lay leadership from both congregations were instrumental in working cooperatively and constructively to achieve a stronger and more diverse United Methodist presence in this vital mission field.”
Jay also cites the leadership of DS Andy Noel, Dr. Steve Wende, and Dr. Robert Childress for being engaged in making this dream a reality for some time. Notes Jay, “After a long process of discernment and congregational buy-in, both Covenant Glen and FUMC, Houston, will be stronger and more effective partners in the greater work of Jesus Christ in this wider area of influence for both congregations. I hope that it will act as an inspiration to other congregations who could make greater impacts on underserved mission fields through cooperative ministry.  We are finding that God is calling us to live outside of the comfortable boxes we too often create for ourselves.  This cooperative type of creative ministry will be vital to our faithful and fruitful ministry into a rapidly changing world.”

 Adds Robert,  “Covenant Glen believed that a partnership with First Methodist Houston could benefit both campuses in a practical way as well as create a new model for revitalization and growth through all of Methodism.  I applaud the leadership of Bishop Huie and both District Superintendents for supporting such a bold endeavor.”