Thriving in the Midst of Change
The members of this 133-year old congregation in the heart of Houston’s 5th Ward were stunned at the news. In the winter of 2012, structural engineers deemed their beloved Sloan Memorial UMC facility to be unsafe. According to Lay Leader Patricia Jefferson, the decision to forego continued repairs, renovations and upgrades and – instead -- embark upon a “journey of faith” to trust in the Lord to “do a new thing” with Sloan Memorial UMC, was not an easy one. “It took all of us awhile to get over the shock of our dilemma and realize the wisest choice as it related to ministry, was to regroup and rebuild.”
The first step involved quick and comprehensive communication. Leaders notified area papers, sent members a special mailing, and held multiple meetings to solicit full participation in the “now what.”
“We wanted the right messages out and time for our multi-generational congregation to adjust to the shock of a demolition crew literally removing a piece of history, right before our eyes. It was important for all inside and outside the church on Nance Street to understand the building was temporarily going away, but our ministry partnerships would still continue,” adds Patricia.
Rev. Joe Wilson suggested the theme – “A House Not Built By Man” and the inspirational verse from Psalm 127:1, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”
The best is yet to come
“Our members rallied together and collaborated on a SWOT (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunity, Threats) analysis before developing our most comprehensive and strategic “ministry plan” to date, one that will be the foundation for our new construction,” adds Patricia. Mrs. Isabella Hall Carvin, a member of Sloan UMC for 90 years, has joined in on the time of reflection involved in making this transition and is now focused on the future. “I am excited and looking forward to the new Sloan,” she says. “I was here when they built the existing structure and believe that it’s time for a new one. Sloan, keep moving forward! I thank God for the leadership that we have at this time and for their faith that we will be able to complete this task.”
Every age is impacted, but all are seeing this emergency as a God-given opportunity. Eleven-year old Baily Billings, a student at First Colony Middle School, makes the weekly drive with her family from Missouri City. “I feel somewhat disappointed, on one hand, because the church at 3102 Nance Street is the only one I have ever been a part of. But, on the other hand, I am excited that we will have space for Children’s Church, a Computer Room, and will be able to invite our friends to join with our praise dancing and lock-ins.”
The journey is well underway!
For the foreseeable future, worship services for the Sloan UMC congregation are being held weekly at 11 AM at Wesley UMC, 7225 Homestead Road, following worship services for the Wesley UMC at 9 AM. Weekly meetings, Bible Study, and Sunday School sessions for Sloan UMC are still conducted at the one building that still remains on Nance Street: Sloan’s Helping Hands Center, which was formerly the parsonage.
“We are excited to have six new members joining recently even in the midst of our chaos,” notes Pastor Wilson. “We are grateful to Wesley UMC for allowing us to share their facility, and hope we are not a burden,” notes Wilson, who expects the capital campaign and rebuilding process to take several years. “Meanwhile, dreaming together about what ‘might be’ is revitalizing the entire congregation with a new vision.”
The new Sloan Memorial UMC will likely be a nonconventional sanctuary that allows more flexibility to do ministry -- such as community health fairs -- much more effectively. As Sloan congregants continue examining the changing demographics of their community, new ideas for ministry are bubbling up. “We were always limited with our former facility but with a larger space we could consider starting an after school program, summer youth camps and a food pantry,” adds Pastor Wilson.
A new beginning
When Sloan’s capital campaign is officially launched, Patricia believes “the sacrificial commitments of present and foundational members and of other supporters and investors alike, will be the driving force for the new construction. But, it will be faith and trust in the ‘no lack God’ who has provided thus far, that will be the guiding light leading the way towards A House not Built By Man.”