As you might expect, this article has caused quite a stir within our community. Everywhere I go someone is commenting about the article and inquiring about the church. One pastor from a prominent Kingwood congregation said, “Kingwood Christian Church is really becoming the church known for welcoming and loving everyone, especially those who do not fit the Kingwood mold.” I was so happy to hear him say that word is spreading about our little church, that our message (Love, not Judgment, Extravagant Welcome, Open-Minded Conversations and Compassionate Service) is taking root in our community.
I could not believe it on Sunday morning when someone laid the Houston Chronicle Religion section on my desk. To my surprise, it was a full-color, cover article (above the fold) about little Kingwood Christian Church and the launch of the Table Service. We knew that several reporters had attended on the Table launch Sunday, but had all but lost hope that an article was on its way. The article caption reads, “Kingwood Christian Church seeks to create a more inclusive, less formal service.” The article goes on to describe our church as one where following Jesus means breaking down barriers between people, loving and accepting everyone and celebrating diversity around The Table.
This is the calling and mission that God has entrusted to us, that we would become a movement of welcome and inclusion that embraces all people as children of God and invites them to follow Jesus. Praise God! May it be so.
How did Kingwood Christian Church’s Joy for the World Market come to be?
Back in 2008 my friend Karen Evans Head told me about a charity called Bead for Life that was helping women in Uganda feed their children by creating beads out of recycled colored magazine pages. She had seen a news story about it and thought it was the kind of thing our women’s ministry might want to get involved with. She was right!
The women of KCC fell in love with Bead for Life and their mission to empower women in Uganda to eradicate poverty “one bead at a time.” We hosted our first “Bead Party” that year, selling their unique colorful bracelets and necklaces in the church foyer over three Sundays in late November and raised $1632 our sisters in Uganda.
The following year we weren’t sure whether we should sell the jewelry again, since our members had been so generous the previous year. Would there be enough interest for another year? We decided it was worth another try to help our Ugandan sisters. To our pleasant surprise, we raised $1635 the following year. And so we just kept going.
For four years we hosted an annual Bead Party and we raised a total of $7086 for our sisters in Uganda. By this time, the women weren’t just able to feed their children 3 meals a day instead of 2, but they had created a whole village where women were able to purchase a plot of land and build their own home, which is everything. They also founded a Leadership Academy, empowering women with the knowledge of business knowledge and practices to create sustainable small businesses.
About this time my friend Mary Sue McIlvain told me about Alternative Gifts International, and the gift market that her church in San Antonio hosted every year. Our Bead for Life group decided it was time to take things to another level and our Joy for the World gift market was born in 2012 with 59 charities. We were thrilled to raise $13, 124.
Over the next five years, we hosted the one-day Joy Market and raised money for 90 local, national and international charities totaling $68,850. Each year, KCC supported our market by budgeting the money needed to promote and host our Joy Market, and the KCC family supported us by volunteering to coordinate charity booths and bake cakes and by doing their Christmas shopping at our market.
One of the unexpected blessings of our market has been building relationships with these charities over the years. When Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas gulf coast in September, 2017, I received a phone call from the Executive Director of AGI, Surrinder Moore. She called to see how the church fared in the storm and if we needed anything. When I told her about the church opening our doors as a shelter for those displaced by flood waters, she said, without hesitation, “We want to help. I’m not sure how much, but we are sending a check to help KCC with the relief work you are doing.” Imagine our shock to receive a check for $5,000 the next week. This summer, KCC received a local food pantry grant from AGI in the amount of $1700 for our Feed My Lambs program. Because we already had budgeted funds to cover our Feed My Lambs program for the year, the money was used by our KCC youth to create welcome bags for folks who stop by the church seeking assistance with bills, food, and/or resources beyond what KCC can provide. Our middle and high school youth wanted to be able to offer something tangible to members of our community who visit our church needing assistance with basic needs. Our grant from AGI provided the funds to make their idea a reality. The greatest surprise came when the new AGI gift catalog came out this year and KCC was featured on page 2!
This year we are excited to host our Joy for the World “Mini” Market this Sunday, December 9, before and after 11:00am worship in the foyer of the Sanctuary and before and after our KCC Christmas Dinner and Variety Show at 6pm in the Fellowship Hall. Kingwood Christian Church is located at 3910 West Lake Houston Parkway. You will recognize some of your favorite charities and merchandise: Alternative Gifts International (AGI) catalog, Bead for Life, Equal Exchange coffee, olive oil and chocolate, SERRV, Rahab’s Rope, 2019 Grenada Mission Trip, Ten Thousand Villages, and a special opportunity to support for the Margreat Hakim family. Many gift items are under $10 and 100% of all purchases will go directly to the charities. All purchases can be paid for at one time with cash, check or credit card. So get ready for some fair-trade Christmas shopping! Grab your checkbooks, your piggy banks and your Christmas cash envelopes on your way to church Sunday morning and on your way back for our Christmas dinner & show on Sunday night. Partner with us in continuing our ten year tradition of bringing Joy to the World through our fair-trade market.
So if you haven’t heard, Christmas is coming. Presents are coming. Family is coming. Turkey and stuffing, Santa and elves, The Griswalds and Ralphie Parker are coming. Rudolph and Pepper, our elf on the shelf, Bing Crosby, Mariah Carey and Michael Buble are coming. Christmas is coming. But also the Messiah is coming. The Savior is coming. The God of the Universe in flesh is coming. Prepare ye the way.
We as Americans and Christians have packed so much into the four weeks between Thanksgiving and December 25, that there seldom seems to be enough time or energy to attend to the coming Messiah. Honestly, I don’t think it is because we have taken Christ out of Christmas. I think we’ve left Christ in Christmas. We’ve just buried him under layers of other things we’re also trying to celebrate like trees and family and presents and decorations and holiday traditions. I don’t know about you, but sometimes Christmas feels like trying to put 5 lbs. of fun into a 3 lb. bag. My Christmas schedule fills like a takeout container at Golden Corral, so full it won’t close, and Jesus is somewhere buried at the bottom. But… this… year…, I believe we long for Jesus to come to us again and show us the way to something new.
Advent means an anticipated arrival or the coming of a notable person. It is a season of preparing the way and then celebrating the arrival of the Savior, the Christ-child Jesus. I want to invite you into an intentional season of preparation for this holyarrival and provide you a resource for the journey. Below is the link to a daily devotional guide for the Advent season provided by the ministers and leaders of the Coastal Plains Area of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I encourage you to carve out a few moments each day to read and reflect with these authors on the beauty and mystery of the season.
May God bless your preparation with a new and meaningful gift far greater than those found under your tree.
We go to church so as not to be alone – alone in our joys, alone in our suffering, alone in the everydayness of our lives, alone in the important passages of our lives. We go to church to tell people we love them, and hopefully to hear them tell us the same thing. -Ronald Rolheiser
Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking about the importance of family and community during the holidays. In a society that celebrates independence, the holidays serve as a reminder of the part inside us all that cries out for connection, a sense of belonging. Knit inside of us is a need for community. It is the divine signature of our Creator.
Jesus taught his followers that they were apart of a family. They were not meant to journey through life alone, but to be a part of a community of faith, the church. No part of the body or community of Christ functions by itself, nourishes itself or serves itself alone. Every part is for every other part – whether hurting or rejoicing. We need each other to share the mundane everydayness and miraculous gifts of this life. Perhaps most importantly, we need each other to give and receive love.
Henri Nouwen reminds us that the Spirit does her best work when we gather in community, when we “create a free and empty space when people can gather and practice true obedience.” At our best, the church of Jesus creates a space free of judgmentalism, self-righteousness and arrogance. Jesus described and modeled a community brimming with love and acceptance where all are welcomed as a part of the family. It brings me so much joy to see this kind of community blossoming here at KCC.
Let me share with you some thoughts from a book I’m reading by John Pavlovitz called A Bigger Table. Of course, I was immediately drawn to the title for obvious reasons. Our church family at KWCC aspires to build a bigger table, a table big enough to welcome all people, a table that truly celebrates diversity. Building faith community that embraces diversity is fraught with challenges though. Pavlovitz writes, “Almost every church on the planet claims to desire, seek and welcome diversity – until real, messy, diverse diversity shows up at the door looking for a home, and then there’s suddenly no room in the inn.” Pavlovitz goes on to claim that every congregation has a diversity threshold, a limited level of difference that they will tolerate comfortably.
That got me thinking, “Do we have a diversity threshold?” Do we have a point at which we draw the line and say, “Ok, that is enough different people thank you very much!” My great hope was that our promotional campaign, announcing KWCC to be Loving, Accepting, Open and Inclusive, and the launch of the Table service would effectively open our doors to well… everyone. I am happy to say that is exactly what is happening. In the three Sundays since the launch, we have welcomed between 40-50 first time guests between the Traditions and Table Services… and many of them are returning again and again. That is amazing!
Upon hearing their stories, I learned that these guests come from diverse backgrounds culturally, socio-economically, religiously, politically and generationally. One guest said, “I usually don’t feel welcome in churches. I have a pretty messy past.” I replied, “Bring it on. We are very familiar with messy around here.” Another new family said, “We have been driving down into Houston searching for a church that would love and accept us. I am so surprised to find this church right here in Kingwood.” Another guest simply asked, “Should I wear nice clothes to come to church? I do not have many nice clothes.” I said, “Come as you are. There is a community of love and acceptance waiting for you at KWCC.”
Diverse crowds are coming and that will require open minds, open hearts and a reaffirmation of our core value of Love, not Judgment. My hope is that we never discover a diversity threshold at KWCC, but that God will walk alongside us in welcoming our diverse neighbors and expand our hearts to love and accept all people as we follow Jesus together.
You might have heard it said, “God never changes.” Do you agree? It is certainly true of God’s existence. The Psalmist writes, “God, you are constant, your days will not come to an end.” It is certainly true of the character of God. As the prophet Isaiah writes, “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” God is forever trustworthy, forever loving, forever faithful. We can stand firm on this foundation.
But certainly the ways of God are always changing. Each servant of God starting with Abraham offered their unique gifts and graces to the mission and thus God’s movement evolved in form and changed in practice along the way. The heart of God’s message does not change, but certainly expressions of gospel ministry change from context to context. This is also true of local church congregations and denominational structures as well.
The Coastal Plains Area of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), of which we are a covenant member, is entering a time of change and restructuring for our next season of ministry. Essentially, the Area offices located throughout the Southwest Region are consolidating into a centralized office in Fort Worth, Texas. This restructuring will shift all administrative and financial oversight to the Regional Office, while maintaining the continuity of our various ministries within the Houston area. Our Area Minister Rev. Peggy Edge expects to continue in her position providing pastoral and congregational support as well as assistance with Search and Call for churches seeking new leadership.
I have attached a letter below with additional information about the restructure from Rev. Dr. Michael Dunn, Area Moderator and Senior Minister at First Christian Church of Houston. This is a prudent and necessary transition for our area, one that allows for greater focus and efficiency for our shared mission as a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.
So what are people saying about the new Table Service at KCC?
“What a blessing! I loved it and will be back! What a sacred and beautiful gathering! Wonderful, wonderful day… I just got finished raving about it to my friend. God was very present for sure. It felt like home. I have several friends I am going to invite to join me the Table. It was like living water. God is good!”
These were just a few comments that I received this past Sunday after our church family courageously stepped out and launched the Table Service. We welcomed between 65-70 (depending on who you ask) to our first gathering. By my estimation, about 30-35 of those attending were regular attenders to our Traditions Service and the rest were new friends and neighbors from our community. Yes… you read correctly. Half of our crowd were guests who were either invited by our folks or saw our promotions and decided to check us out. Wow, what a blessing!
An extravagant welcomes statement set the tone for our service claiming the Table as safe, welcoming space no matter your age, skin color, marital status, sexual orientation, abilities or special needs, health or emotional state, gender identity, citizenship or immigration status. No matter if you believe some of the time, none of the time or all of the time, you are welcome at the Table. “It truly felt like a celebration of diversity. I felt truly welcome.” said one first time attender with tears in her eyes.
KCC family, ours is a very special and important message of welcome, love and inclusion of all people. It is a message that many in our community long to hear. The uniqueness of our message even drew the interest of the Houston Chronicle who sent a columnist and photographer to do an article for the Religion section (coming soon). This message is spoken loud and clear in the Traditions and Table services. Claim this as an opportunity offer an invitation to someone in your life seeking a place of love and acceptance. There is a place for them at Kingwood Christian Church.
On this beautiful morning as I sit in my office looking out over the playground and several youngsters running, swinging and squealing away the morning, I realize that have much to be grateful for. I am grateful for this day of life, brimming with opportunities to learn and grow. I grateful for my family, our health, our love and the many good things that surround us everyday. I am grateful for this beautiful community that we call home and the many friends that make this place so special.
I am grateful for our church and all of you. It is hard to believe that I first came to the church over four years ago. It doesn’t seem like that long at all. I believe that God has done some really important work in our years together, helping us to address some things that were holding us back and enabling us see more clearly our shared values and calling within our community. We have come a long way in the past few years and I am grateful.
There is good energy and positivity growing in our church. I sense this positive energy growing every Sunday and others sense it as well. Visitors are returning and joining, Sunday school classes are growing and new, talented staff members are joining our team. The Spirit of God is moving, ushering us into a new season in our sacred story together. Let me encourage you, THERE IS NO BETTER TIME TO INVITE SOMEONE TO JOIN US! Invite a neighbor, a friend, family member, a colleague from work. Invite a KWCC member that you haven’t seen in a while. Invite them to come and see the new things God is doing at KWCC.
On Sunday, we will launch a new worship service to compliment our beautiful Traditions Service (10:45AM) called The Table (11AM).
Please plan to be at church on this important Sunday and invite someone to join you in your chosen service!
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
It might surprise you, but on a regular basis desperate individuals call the church office or walk through our doors in need of help. Though their needs vary from rental or utility assistance, to money for medication, gas or food, I always encourage our staff to find a way to say, “Yes.” That is what people in need yearn to hear. “Yes… someone cares. Yes, you are not alone. Yes, we will help.” It is my firm belief when we are loving our neighbors, we are loving our Savior.
Saying yes does not mean that we can meet every need, assist with every bill or fill every empty tank. Saying yes often means we will give our neighbor in need some time, listen to their story and pray for God’s peace and provision. It might mean connecting them to the right community service organization or social worker. Often, our response to those in need is to say “yes,” and then look around to survey what we have to share from the resources entrusted to us.
Lorellye and the youth group decided to gather helpful items to fill gift bags for our neighbors in need. These bags will contain hygiene items, small clothing items, snacks and water. We hope these bags can serve as symbols of our love for our neighbors. I cannot think of a better project to teach our students about poverty and Jesus’ call to love and share with the least of these.
And you know what… time and time again when we say “yes” and share from what we have, our resources are miraculously replenished. In fact, in the past few months we received donations from Alternatives Gifts International in the amount of $1500 to help fund our Feed My Lambs ministry. Then, this week we received another check from Black River Center for Learning in the amount of $2,000 to help in our continued response to those effected by Hurricane Harvey. What generous gifts designated to bless our neighbors in need!
And you church are a huge part of that blessing. The work that is done in and through Kingwood Christian Church in our community and beyond, is just incredible. There is no way that I can list all of the wonderful ministry leaders, but you know who you are! Thanks for actually living into our value statement of being a community of faith, practicing love, not judgment.