It’s Official: “Adoption Merger” Between Chapelwood Houston UMC and Fair Haven UMC is Underway
Truth be told, the process of shaping the partnership between Fair Haven and Chapelwood Houston began early this year when members of both congregations began discussing the “what ifs” and the opportunities to double their ministry impact as a team. Central South District Superintendent Andy Noel describes it this way: "Following votes by both congregations, the adoption merger between Fair Haven and Chapelwood is made possible by a shared love of the Spring Branch mission field. United by the Holy Spirit and a sense of excitement, these congregations are coming together to serve as a vibrant witness to the love of Jesus Christ. Spring Branch is a microcosm of Houston . . . diverse, growing, and dynamic. I envision this type of ministry merger model will someday help other churches to more effectively serve God's people along the highways and byways of our great city – and conference."
Fair Haven UMC Pastor Paul Thomasson has rallied behind this idea from the start, calling this a “once in a lifetime” opportunity for Fair Haven to have the financial and staff support of Chapelwood to continue and expand their continued ministry impact for generations to come. Lay Leader Lisa Johnson has been in the center of the action on the Study Team and now serves as a member of the Communications Team and Co-chair of the Ministry and Missions Team.
“Now we move to the just do it phase,” reports Lisa. “The transition team, with diverse representatives from both congregations, is planning to meet monthly, and the “Tiger Teams” – or task teams – are in the process of being formed and will do the labor of gathering information and documents, assembling specific strategies, and generally keeping the transition team informed.” The various teams, she says, are working together to make the transition “gentle and joyful” and team members know to expect the unexpected. “We don’t know how long this will take, so we are planning for plenty of prayer as we watch, listen, and move forward.”
Chapelwood Pastor Dr. John Stephens is excited about Fair Haven’s great history in the Spring Branch neighborhood of Houston. Notes John, “Fair Haven members had the desire and the love for their church and the community, but due to a lot of factors they were not able to accomplish their mission as effectively as they would have liked. Therefore, this merger is a union of two churches who want to do kingdom work in the community of Spring Branch by aggregating resources, aligning strategies, and learning best practices from each other as we work together.”
He is also energized by the model of this merger as a strategy for revitalization in the United Methodist Church. “Churches often focus on a lot of issues that really don’t strike at the heart of our mission – but this merger is laser focused on making disciples of Christ and making the kingdom of God a reality in our communities.”
Pastor John and Transition Team leader Rev. Josef Klam believe the first-year goals are exciting and realistic. For example, Rev. Andy Cunningham will be the community pastor at the Fair Haven campus and will spend much of the summer getting to know the people and the community. Adds John, “We have several consultants coming in to help us think through mission and ministry in the short- and long-term as we work through the changes that will make us stronger. We want to clarify and raise our multi-cultural profile in the community to make sure all feel welcome in this diverse section of Houston.”
Members of Fair Haven UMC will become members of Chapelwood UMC - worshiping and participating in the Fair Haven worship community with the same structure that is in place for all the Chapelwood worship communities, which include Sanctuary, Mercy Street, The Center for Christian Spirituality, Upper Room, The Branch, and Holy Family.
Strategy and Mission
According to Chapelwood Executive Pastor of Discipleship Bob Johnson, “Part of Chapelwood’s vision for reaching Houston for Jesus Christ includes revitalizing its current worship communities and developing new worship communities where God leads. Several years ago, the church made a commitment to be open to partnerships that could advance the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.” Through the merger, Chapelwood welcomes its seventh worship community as the Fair Haven Worship Community of Chapelwood United Methodist Church.
Debbie Eng, a Fair Haven UMC member for 17 years, is using her professional experience on the Transition Team. “I have project management experience with mergers and acquisitions, as well as web experience and data consolidation -- all of which the transition project will use,” she says. ”I am most excited about the opportunity to reach so many more people. The people around me are excited about the changes and can't wait to start. Likewise, Tracy Little, the outgoing Board of Stewards/Administrative Board Chairman at Chapelwood adds, “What excites me about this merger is the potential it brings for expanding the Kingdom and reaching more folks for Christ. How quickly our two congregations adopt changes -- that help us move forward together -- will determine where we are three years from now.”
Transition team member Mark Greek has a membership history with both congregations. He says, “I think both congregations know there will be inevitable bumps in the road, but in my mind, there is no question that God's hand is on this merger and that together we are in a much stronger position to serve the Kingdom than we would be separately!”
“Chapelwood has these unique worship communities that maintain their own context and DNA,” adds Josef, “which is particularly important to me in this case, because I grew up at Fair Haven – baptized and confirmed there, and have enjoyed reuniting with longtime members that remember me as a youngster. I know the process from here won’t be easy but I am convinced it will be a great journey.”