St. Paul's Honors Retiring Ministers with Sacred Space for Community

Date Posted: 7/11/2013

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Houston will transform its front lawn on the corner of Main at Binz/Bissonnet into a sacred space for the community to be called the Bankston Green. The project will tie in with the city’s Museum Walk now under construction that will include enhanced sidewalks, lighting, and sitting areas, making all of it more inviting.


The space is named the Bankston Green to honor the Rev. Dr. L. James (Jim) Bankston, who is retiring from the ministry effective June 30 after 40 years, including almost 19 at St. Paul’s. The focal point of the Green will be the Chartres-style Labyrinth constructed during the summer of 2011. It was dedicated June 9 to Rev. Gail Williford, who also is retiring from full-time ministry on June 30.


Although the Labyrinth has been used for prayer and meditation since construction, additional landscaping, lighting, and benches will make the area more attractive and user friendly. A low stone retaining wall along Main Street will be added to match the one the city is constructing along Binz, and the Green will be made accessible from Binz Street.


This project also will include:

·         Appropriate lighting for the Labyrinth (The Labyrinth Guild has hand-placed votive candles on the Labyrinth for Taizé services and certain other nights during early-dark months.)

·         New sidewalks

·         Renovated, more inviting, sanctuary entrances

·         Improved drainage to accommodate the sanctuary building basement as well as the lawn


Construction should begin in late fall of 2013, to be completed by late spring of 2014. The classic architecture of the modified English Gothic structure built in 1929 will not be disturbed.


The construction costs and fees for the project by Bellows Construction Company and Merriman Holt


Architects are estimated at $800,000. The Hamill Foundation has provided a $200,000 gift; the remainder will be provided by the congregation. Contributions from others are welcome. For information, please contact Jennifer Rea, Church Administrator, at 713-528-0527 or


Dr. Jim Bankston

A service celebrating Dr. Bankston’s years in ministry was held at St. Paul’s on May 19 with the Rev. Dr. Janice Riggle Huie, Bishop of the Texas Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, presiding.  Two other speakers also focused on their relationships with him during their own ministries:

·         Rabbi David Rosen, senior rabbi at Houston’s Conservative Jewish Congregation Beth Yeshurun. For many years he co-chaired with Dr. Bankston the Anti-Defamation League's Coalition for Mutual Respect, which coordinates pulpit and teaching exchanges among Houston’s rabbis, priests, ministers, and imams.

·         Rev. Bill Taylor, North District Superintendent of the Texas Annual Conference and a friend of Dr. Bankston’s since Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. He recalled courageous stands Dr. Bankston has taken for inclusion of all people within the United Methodist Church and beyond.


A CD of this service is available by contacting Phyllis Brockermeyer at or 713-528-0527.


In his retirement, Dr. Bankston plans to spend time with his wife Sandy and their five grandchildren, plant a garden, support interfaith ministry efforts, and be an unofficial ambassador of The United Methodist Church. 


Rev. Gail Williford

Rev. Williford was so inspired as a member of St. Paul’s during her young adulthood that she felt the call to ministry, and she has been appointed to St. Paul’s since completing her Master of Divinity at Perkins School of Theology. Also a graduate of the three-year Spiritual Direction training program at The Cenacle, she is a Certified Spiritual Director.


Prior to entering the ministry, Rev. Williford was not only a lay leader at the church but a civic leader. She was a Senior Fellow with the American Leadership Forum and president of the Houston Homeowners Association, an organization concerned with quality-of-life issues such as noise, zoning, schools, and population sprawl.


A strong believer in the meditative, spiritual power of the Labyrinth, she was instrumental getting St. Paul’s outdoor Labyrinth constructed. Several years ago St. Paul’s co-hosted with Christ Church Cathedral and the Houston Labyrinth Society a Labyrinth workshop featuring renowned Labyrinth champion Rev. Lauren Artress. A Veriditas Labyrinth Week, including facilitator training, has been scheduled at St. Paul’s for the fall of 2015.


Rev. Williford will remain at St. Paul's in a part-time staff position to lead Spiritual Formation.


Iconic Sanctuary Building

In the September 7, 2008, edition of the Houston Chronicle, St. Paul's Sanctuary building was among 50 buildings designated by the American Institute of Architects Houston and the Chronicle as being  "iconic" of Houston. Reader responses about this designation included :

        … nothing better than sitting in the sanctuary in late afternoon as the sun shines through the stained glass...Truly a place to experience the Holy Spirit!

        An amazing building... and the people who work and worship there are amazingly kind, loving, and faithful.

        This church is gorgeous, but even more inspiring are its church members who are warm and welcoming. After one visit to this lovely church, my family joined it. Wonderful Gothic architecture, truly beautiful stained glass, fabulous organ.

        This is one of the most beautiful buildings in Houston. It is grand on the outside and very worshipful inside with a powerful pipe organ.

        This is one of the most beautiful buildings in Houston inside as well as out. If you take the time to view the setting you can enjoy the serene peaceful hand of God.

It is anticipated that the Bankston Green will enhance these experiences as it also reinforces the church’s vision statement: “St. Paul's United Methodist Church is a sacred space in the heart of Houston where people seek, find, and respond to God's love and grace.”


At 5501 Main Street, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church is in the modified English Gothic structure on the corner of Main and Binz/Bissonnet, across from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The church is within one block of both Museum District MetroRail stops, and free parking is available in two lots across Fannin Street from the church. Website: