Urban and Suburban Churches Covenant Together to Fortify Larkin Community School

Date Posted: 3/10/2016

God’s hand is at work through two congregations who are forging a successful new model of ministry on behalf of young children.
Thanks to two Houston area churches with a strong heart for Investing in the Young, a daycare in one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods has remarkably transformed – with a waiting list. The metamorphosis is the exciting result of an urban and a suburban church creating an innovative partnership that brings great excitement to Rev. Collin Taylor of Grace UMC, Houston Heights. “I’m in the middle of this project that I think is a model for the future of the UMC,” explains Collin. “The story started before I arrived at Grace,” he says, “when I was on staff at Memorial Drive UMC.” At that time, Memorial Drive owned Larkin Community Center in the Heights as an outreach venture for underprivileged children. Since Larkin was providing services at a deficit, Gene Cragg headed up the strategy to form the Memorial Drive Caring Forever Foundation to allow designated gifts and funds for Larkin and for scholarships.
When demographics changed, the need fell off dramatically and the church considered shutting the school down. “However, since there were still 100 children and 17 staff that would have been impacted by the school closing,” notes Collin, “the senior pastor, Dr. Chuck Simmons and I began brainstorming other options. We wondered what it might look like to move Larkin School to Grace UMC, just a few miles away. This idea gained momentum and MDUMC felt so passionately about helping Grace and Larkin that they not gave us the day school operation now that I have been appointed to Grace, but also nearly $250,000 to help pay for renovations.”
New Model, New Successes
According to Collin, this collaboration is not a “take over” by the larger church. Rather it is a collaboration between a large suburban church and a smaller urban church, wherein each has investments described in a covenant list of responsibilities for each entity. “I think this can be a model for the future of the UMC, replicated to bring new life to dying churches or schools,” he shares. When both churches have an investment it helps mitigate risk and communicate confidence. “This is not a big church telling us they will take it from here, they are helping us walk faithfully into a new way to do church and projects.”
Since his arrival at Grace UMC 18 months ago, Collin has seen the average worship attendance grow by almost 40%. “It’s fun to try new things and experience success with them,” notes Collin. “Because the larger congregation is pulling alongside us, we are able to relocate Larkin to our campus, We are renovating a building to meet modern day codes as we set out to serve the current community with a daycare and weekday school for newborns through five-year-olds – and ultimately even offering an after school program all the way to age 12.”
What excites Collin about this model is that each church retains its identity, and the new venture is considered a type if church plant in many ways. “Memorial Drive UMC invested in me for almost a decade while I was on staff, and they continue to invest in me and this urban community in creative and impactful ways,” he adds. “Chuck is the kind of visionary that sees 10 moves down the road, and this was his idea from way back.”
“The transfer of the Larkin Community School to Grace UMC was a win-win for all,” shares Dr. Simmons. “Relocating the ministry to Grace UMC enabled us to honor the Larkin legacy by continuing to serve the families of the Heights. The additional gift of $250,000 was required to make the move possible and empower our sister congregation to leap forward in its revitalization.”
Construction is underway at Grace with hopes of relocating the children and staff on campus this summer. “The demographics of our community has changed,” Collin shares, “but they still need the Good News. Since we are located near downtown and the medical center, we are drawing kids from all over and consider this a fertile ministry ground, and a revenue source as we grow,” adds Collin.
Larkin’s Executive Director Leonor Hernandez was raised in the Heights and loves the idea of a new start in a building connected to a church “Pastor Collin has agreed to be our chapel teacher and also plays the guitar so I am excited about the chance to take the children into a real church every week – something many of them may do for the first time,” Leonor says. “Since our center serves over 20 different zip codes, it is such a blessing to know that these two churches have worked this out in order to avoid displacing these families. Grace UMC also has a food pantry which will be a blessing to some of our families. While it will be bittersweet to leave my school home of 28 years, I know that this is a really good fit with Grace and that it might even bring the church some new members.”
She is quick to acknowledge the blessings of working for a church all these years. “Larkin is so much more than a job! It is great to leave at the end of the day knowing we have done something good for our neighbors. Memorial Drive UMC and Grace UMC are a true godsend for our families and our community.”