September 2015: Common Humanity


Dear Friends,

When our family returned from our vacation last week, we were greeted with a flat tire on my wife’s car. I swapped it with a spare, and then drove the car to a place where I could have the tire patched.  While they were working on patching the tire, I walked down the sidewalk to a nearby store to pass the time.

One of the interesting things about walking the sidewalks of Houston in the middle of August, is that: (1) you realize how hot it really is outside, and (2) you get to meet people whom you likely would otherwise ignore within the safe confines of your car.

At a nearby intersection, I met a family of three people. I forget their names, but they were on the corner asking for whatever contribution people would give out of the generosity of their hearts. The father was doing most of the work, receiving alms from people who cared enough to share. His wife, who was blind, was sitting next to their daughter, who was in a wheelchair. Occasionally the father would squirt the other two with cold water from a water gun – one way to keep cool in the midst of a sweltering concrete landscape.

I asked him about his daughter, and he replied “She’s special. She’s 28 years old and non-verbal. She has a low IQ, she still wears diapers, and I love her.”  He went on to explain to me that he was no longer able to keep his job at a Taco Bell restaurant because he was now responsible for taking care of his wife, now blind, and their handicapped daughter. Money was tight to begin with, and the loss of his job made living in a home untenable.

So, they turned to streets, praying for generous people, or angels, to help provide for their immediate needs. I gave them some money, and while I hope my modest contribution helped them, I realize they blessed me far more with their story. I don’t mean to romanticize poverty, all I mean to say is that they opened a window in my heart that had been closed for some time. And once that window opened, I felt a connection to the holy, to God, that I rarely feel around professionally “religious” people. This was real. This was divine.  

I spent some time talking to their daughter, who responded not in words but in smiles and in her own language of grunts and joyful exclamations. She seemed genuinely happy in the presence of a hellish traffic intersection in the middle of August.  She had headphones in her ears, and when I asked her father what she was listening to, he exclaimed, “She listens to a little bit of everything, Tim McGraw, AC/DC, Aerosmith, but not Metallica!”  

I was struck by their humanity, and this conversation made me aware of the growing shame I felt in my own heart for ignoring and driving by so many people on street corners holding signs, asking for money. Are some of them con artists?  Of course they are. But they are also human beings, created by God, and biblically speaking, they are our neighbors, too, as uncomfortable as that may be.  The responsibility we owe our neighbor, at least according to the Bible, is clear: “”If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted to your neighbor.” (Deuteronomy 15:7).  

I don’t claim to have any easy answers about how to handle our responsibility of being neighbors with each other. But I believe with all my heart that God is always present when we acknowledge our common humanity with one another. I believe if we create spaces for generous conversation with those different from us, we open a window where God enters and makes the ground we step upon holy. It’s not the finished product, but it is a start.

These windows are open around us all the time: on street corners, in our homes, at church and at work. Where is the ground holy in your life? Where has a window opened in your heart, and where are you to go now?

July: Celebrating the Rev. Portia Sweet


Dear Friends,

As many of you all have heard by now, our Deacon for the past few years, the Rev. Portia Sweet, will be reassigned by the Diocese of Texas to another parish.  At the time of this writing, I do not yet know the name of the parish where Portia will be serving, but as soon as we hear that information, we will be sure to share with you.

As a Deacon, Portia serves at the Bishop’s request, meaning her “boss” is the Bishop of the Diocese of Texas, the Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle. Therefore, Bishop Doyle and his staff have been working with Portia to reassign her to a new ministry setting in greater need of a Deacon than St. Andrew’s is currently.

While we are sad to see Portia leave St. Andrew’s, we also send her on her way with our prayers and thanksgivings. Portia has had substantial impact at St. Andrew’s with all of her involvement in our outreach ministries; from the Boulevard Alliance Mininitry (BAM), Heights Interfaith Ministries Food Pantry, Houston Heights Towers, and many others. Portia also has done a superb job organizing our prayers of the people writers, guiding them to write prayers each week that reflect the needs of our community, nation, and world. Personally, I am grateful for her work here, and honored to count her as a colleague in ministry.  

As a token of St. Andrew’s gratitude to Portia, we will designate all loose plate funds collected at both the 8:30 and 10:30 AM services on July 5 to go to an the Heights Interfaith Ministries Food Pantry in Portia’s honor. We will also celebrate Portia’s ministry at St. Andrew’s at a reception in the Parish Hall following the 10:30 AM service that day. Please plan on joining us for our farewell celebration.  

Transitions are never easy for clergy or for the parishes they are leaving or going to. Please hold Portia in your thoughts and prayers as she makes a transition to a new chapter of ministry that is full of promise.

June: Discovering God in the Dark Night


In 1992, I found myself facing a depression from which I did not think I would emerge. I wish I could blame this depression on the anxiety I harbored from seeing the movie Jaws at the age of four (I was afraid then that a great white shark lived in my bathtub). But in the case of depression and anxiety, the causes are often multi-layered and complex. In 1992, my mother, in her wisdom, moved me into a residential therapeutic setting, and I discovered there that I was not alone in my feelings. There were other people there my age bravely and vulnerably facing their own demons of addiction, depression, and anxiety.

When I first arrived at the hospital, I felt a sense of relief. I was in a place where I did not have to present a false self – a self I had presented all throughout high school of a happy, easy going person. In the hospital, I could let my true face at the time be seen. While I was initially uncomfortable doing this, I found that others were risking vulnerability in the same way by sharing their struggles and their issues.

More importantly, it was at that hospital where I discovered God. In the midst of a dark night of the soul, I learned that God was in that experience with me – not judging me, not shaming me, but holding me. I clearly remember one night when I became acutely aware of this. Up until that moment I thought that God expected perfection from me, that if I wasn’t perfect, I was unworthy to receive God’s love.  

That night, I learned that God loved me for who I was, and that God was not ashamed to meet me in the dark place where I was. God changed that night for me from a vengeful perfectionist to a graceful, compassionate, and loving reality.

Our lives are not easy. Many of us struggle with depression, many of us have lost loved ones to suicide, and many of us wonder where God is in the midst of deep emotional pain. I am grateful that God enters into that pain with us, weeps with us, struggles with us, and never forsake us.

It is a shame that mental illness still carries a stigma in our culture. I believe it is important to share our story, because it is in the sharing of our lives that we learn the full extent of God’s transforming love. All of us have a story to tell. My hope is that St. Andrew’s might become that place where our stories are shared and honored; that God’s love is made real through our shared experience and story.

May: Transition in St. Andrew’s Music Staff


With Bill Gilbert’s retirement coming up in a few months, I wanted to share with you the news regarding plans for celebrating Bill Gilbert’s ministry at St. Andrew’s. On Sunday, June 28, St. Andrew’s will celebrate Bill’s music ministry at the helm of the organ for the past 25 years. We will do this in several ways.

First, following the 10:30 am service on June 28, we will host a reception with cake and punch at St. Andrew’s House in which we will honor Bill. There will be a second celebration later that same day, as St. Andrew’s will host a dinner reception in which all past and current members of the parish are invited to join us in celebrating Bill’s musical contributions to the spiritual life of this parish. The dinner reception will be much fun, and I hope that you can join in honoring Bill’s ministry with us.

Bill’s last Sunday to play the organ (per his request) will be on Sunday, July 5.  Malcolm Williams, who has played the organ here in the past when Bill was away, will play Sunday morning services throughout the end of July and all of August.  

I announced to the Vestry two weeks ago, that I have hired Bill’s successor, who will begin the first Sunday of September. The hiring of this person was a result of many conversations with organists and choirmasters from around the Diocese and across Texas. I am very grateful for their counsel, suggestions, and for their assistance during this process. The person who will be succeeding Bill on the organ will also serve as St. Andrew’s new choirmaster. This is a change, of course, from our recent past, where we have had a separate organist and choirmaster.  

Before Bill announced his intent to retire, I shared with both Henry and Bill my desire to consolidate the Organist and Choirmaster positions into a position for one, rather than two, people. This new position will start out as a half-time position, with the possibility of growing into full time, if or when such need arises.   

Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to disclose the name of St. Andrew’s new organist and choirmaster, as parishioners at this individual’s current parish are not aware of this news yet. I do look forward to sharing more information about this person with you all during the month of June. I can share, however, that this person is well experienced in working with children’s choirs, and is looking forward to beginning a children’s choir at St. Andrew’s.

I am grateful to Henry Washington and his consistent and unwavering support throughout this process. Henry has faithfully served this parish for two years as choirmaster, and I am grateful for his tenure. He has told me time and time again of his desire to provide a smooth transition for the new organist and choirmaster.  Henry’s humility, desire to serve, and flexibility with this process is but one indication of his graciousness and wisdom. We all wish him well.  

At the time of this writing, I do not yet know the final date that Henry will be with us as Choirmaster, but am able to share with you that Elizabeth Lutz will serve as choirmaster during the month of August. I feel that it is important to build in a margin between two people serving in a ministry. For both Bill and Henry, that margin will occur during the month of August, when Malcolm plays the organ and Elizabeth directs the choir (though technically the choir will be on vacation, of course).  

This transition will conclude when the new organist and choirmaster is here with us for the first Sunday in September. I know very well that transitions are both opportunities for excitement and anxiety in churches.  It is a true testament to both Bill and Henry’s leadership that the transition of music staff at St. Andrew’s has been as smooth as it has. Though we will be in transition together over the coming months, both Bill and Henry have provided a carefully and well thought out path for us.  For them, and for you, I am grateful!

April: Celebrating Bill Gilbert


Bill Gilbert has been a fixture on the organ bench at St. Andrew’s for 25 years. To provide a little bit of context, when Bill started playing the organ here, there was no email, no iPhones, the Rockets had not yet won back to back championships, and the Houston Oilers were our football team. How much has changed in this quarter of a century!

For 25 years, Bill has faithfully played the organ, and for much of that time, he directed the choir as well. Bill has done all this graciously, and with a nominal stipend from the church. This means that much of the work Bill has accomplished at St. Andrew’s has come out of the goodness of his own heart.  

Bill confided in me some time ago his desire to step down from the organ bench at the end of August this year. Since Bill is a parishioner, musician, and organist at St. Andrew’s, I know that this news will affect us on several different levels. It goes beyond saying what an asset Bill has been to this church both liturgically and musically. While this year will mark a transition for Bill in regards to his musical involvement at the parish, he has indicated that St. Andrew’s will remain his parish home. Bill and his wife Pat Caver will continue to be involved here, and will even try out sitting in a pew together!

When I told Bill that I would be writing an article about his retirement for the April edition of The Voice, Bill said “the less said the better!” Bill’s self-deprecation and humility are among the many attributes I admire about him. He is eloquent, bright, and most importantly, sincere. And, he has one of the finest collections of socks I have ever seen!

During his time at St. Andrew’s, Bill has endeared himself to many who have had the privilege to sing with him. Paul Hardwick, who sings in the choir, comments that Bill’s “knowledge of the hymns is amazing.  He adds additional life and meaning to the songs, and I appreciate how he goes into detail about the history of the hymns.” Anne Jones, a lifelong member of St. Andrew’s and member of the choir says, “it will be sad not to see Bill’s brightly colored sock-clad feet when the choir and organist receive their communion. It will be strange not to hear all the stops pulled out in the final verse of the recessional hymn, musical triumph at full volume. It will be downright tragic not to have Bill’s notorious eggnog at Christmas Eve after the late service. I hope civilian life treats him well after a long tour of duty as the pulse of St. Andrew’s.”  

Anne’s mother, Genevieve Mandola, a parishioner from 1984 – 2004, recalls that “Bill was a wonderful mentor to all in the choir and instrumental in securing the St. Andrew's pipe organ and its maintenance fund. More so, to me he's a cherished friend. St. Andrew’s will miss his talents.”

Plans are underway to honor Bill’s music ministry at St. Andrew’s, and as we draw closer to the end of August, there will be ample opportunity to celebrate all that Bill has accomplished at this parish and all he means to us. This is a significant moment in the history of St. Andrew’s and in Bill and Pat’s life together. I look forward to celebrating them both, and ask you to hold them in your prayers.

March: Welcoming the Rev. Carissa Baldwin-McGinnis


It’s funny who God brings into your life. Over the past few months I have had a series of insightful, hopeful, and altogether very pleasant conversations with another Episcopal priest in our Diocese, the Rev. Carissa Baldwin-McGinnis. I have known Carissa since she was ordained in 2007, but it wasn’t until I came to St. Andrew’s that God provided an opportunity to birth a new friendship.

Carissa and I have talked about many things in our conversations, but most of them have orbited around ministry and the church, and this strange vocation we share called “priest.” Over time the conversations evolved to the point where we started dreaming together of possibilities for her at St. Andrew’s.  

Carissa has a multi-disciplinary background devoted to social justice, including community organization. She is very interested (as am I) in the practice of nonviolence at the city, community, family, and individual level. It is uniquely rare to find a priest with the skill set that Carissa offers.  

Prior to living in Houston, Carissa lived in Pasadena, California, where she was the Director of Peace and Justice at All Saints Church, a prestigious Episcopal parish in the Diocese of Los Angeles. Carissa and her wife, Pam McGinnis, now live in Houston, and are in the process of adopting a daughter who is six months old.

At this time, Carissa is canonically prohibited from serving as a priest in the Diocese of Texas because of her marriage to Pam. In my conversations with Bishop Doyle, the Bishop informed me that within the next year this will no longer be the case, and that all gay and lesbian clergy that are married in this Diocese will be fully licensed. In his address to Diocesan Council, the Bishop delivered this very message to all gathered, anticipating that the canon barring the ministry of Carissa and others - Canon 43 - will be removed at Diocesan Council in 2016.

In anticipation of this event, I have offered, and Carissa has graciously accepted, an invitation for her to preach at St. Andrew’s once a month. In addition, the Vestry approved a motion last month to offer her room for an office as well.

Her contribution here will be non-stipendiary, meaning the parish would not pay her, though my intention will be for her to join me in priestly ministry when the way has been made at the diocesan level.

Our church is growing, and Carissa can be a key person in the planning of our future together.  I am very excited about this possibility, and ask that you keep Carissa, Pam, and their daughter in your prayers.

February: Grace in Fallibility


I’ve recently started watching the series “The Borgias” on Showtime, which chronicles the life and family of Rodrigo Borgia.  Borgia was a priest in the Catholic Church during the Italian Renaissance, who later was appointed Cardinal, and then finally elected pope. Jeremy Irons plays Rodrigo Borgia, and does a fine job in the role of this highly controversial pope.

Borgia was controversial at the time for several reasons – he was not Italian (from Aragon instead), and the celibacy required of a pope seemed to be a challenge to him. The extended Borgia family likewise was suspected of many crimes, including adultery, incest, simony, theft, bribery, and murder – all employed in their grasp for power in the name of the church.

The Borgia family remains an archetype for religious corruption. While few in the church have outdone this family in their excess, corruption nonetheless remains a challenge for the church. The Episcopal Church is no stranger, sadly, to corruption as well. We have seen it in this Diocese, and nationally as well. The most recent example involves the hit and run killing of cyclist, husband, and father Thomas Palermo, by the Episcopal Suffragan Bishop in Maryland, Heather Cook.

Cook was charged with texting while driving, leaving the scene of a fatal accident, and driving with an alcohol blood level of .22, more than twice the legal limit. She is facing manslaughter charges, and could spend the rest of her life in prison. Cook was recently elected bishop this past September, but this was not the first time she was charged with drunken driving. She was pulled over once before her election and the police officer noted that she reeked of alcohol, had vomit down the front of her blouse and there was a bottle of wine, a container of hard liquor and marijuana in the car. Her blood alcohol content was .27. The tragedy in all this is that many of those who elected her Bishop, were unaware of this previous DUI.

In my prayers, I pray for all involved in this situation, including the Palermo and Cook families. Addiction is a cruel disease, and while Cook’s addiction crossed a severe threshold, we nonetheless are also subject to the addictive and often corrosive patterns of our behaviors. I am not naive enough to believe that one day the church will be free of corruption, but my sincere prayer is that we might have the eyes to see God’s grace in the midst of human fallibility.

No sermon, newsletter article, or payout will change the sad news that has come out of Maryland. My hope is that in the midst of this, we will not immediately rush to judgment, but rather pray and intercede for those most hurt by our church.  

If anything, corruption reminds us that the church is a human institution, and therefore prone to hubris, arrogance, and greed. We do our best, and it is only by God’s grace that, in spite of ourselves, we nonetheless remain a church. Please know this article is not some sort of preface before revealing a skeleton in my closet (okay, I am a fan of Tom Jones, and even saw him once in Las Vegas, but that’s all you’re going to get!). Rather, I write this to remind us that as Christians, our task is not to judge, but to pray. Our sincere prayers will always guide our actions in the right direction.  

As Episcopalians, we do not practice private confession. However, there is a rite for individual confession in the prayer book entitled “The Reconciliation of a Penitent.” It prescribes the setting for a confessor to privately confess their sins to a priest. After receiving absolution, the priest concludes the service with these words: “Abide in peace, and pray for me, a sinner.” The power of that conclusion is that it drives home the point that all of us as members of Christ’s church are equally subject to sin and brokenness. And that is the grace, because we need each other. We need each other’s prayers. I hold you in my prayers. Will you, in turn, pray for me, a sinner?

January: Called by Jesus to Serve


Fifteen years ago I left a job I had little interest in to search for what God was calling me to do. The job I left certainly wasn’t flashy, unless you consider a beginning level data entry job to be so (in that case, we might need to meet for pastoral counseling!) At this time in my life, the vocation to the priesthood seemed pretty clear to me, but I needed to find a place to explore it further.

It was on this occasion that I found myself walking into Lord of the Streets, an Episcopal ministry to the homeless in the midtown / downtown Houston area. I discovered Lord of the Streets (or LOTS as it is known by many in our Diocese) through another priest who suggested I explore the vocation of a priest amongst the homeless in our city.

I began volunteering there; helping to serve food, sort out prescription drugs, and various other odd jobs. I met Jesus there daily, in the conversations, prayers, and fellowship amongst many of the people who sought refuge, peace, and stability in this unique community. While volunteering there, I also had the privilege of meeting a friendly deacon, the Rev. Barbara Lewis. Barbara’s ministry at LOTS was characterized by warmth, compassion, sincerity, and love – traits that many of you all know well from her time as Rector of this parish.  

When I look back on my time at Lord of the Streets, I do so with gratitude for the work they do on behalf of the homeless in our city. Each Sunday, Lord of the Streets holds services at nearby Trinity Episcopal Church in their nave. Afterward, a generous hot breakfast is served to the homeless in the adjoining parish hall.  On average, 263 people attend services there every Sunday.

I am proud of the good work the Lord of the Streets continues to do. Their Vicar, the Rev. Bob Flick, once said that LOTS continues to befuddle national church statistics, as they consistently have a higher Sunday attendance than most Episcopal Churches nationwide, yet they usually receive very little in terms of a weekly offering.

Some months ago, I approached Bob about St. Andrew’s joining other local Houston Episcopal congregations in financially supporting their ministry. After some conversation, and with approval by the Vestry, St. Andrew’s this year will begin a relationship with LOTS in which we will contribute $3,000 annually to their operating budget. In addition, one of our parishioners will serve on their Bishop’s Committee (which is essentially a Vestry for a mission congregation of the Diocese of Texas). On select Sunday mornings during the year, St. Andrew’s will help prepare and serve breakfast to some of the neediest in our city. All of this will be in addition to our monthly clothing donations we are already providing to LOTS.

St. Andrew’s will still maintain our current relationship with the Heights Interfaith Food Pantry, and I am hopeful that in the future we will be able to solidify that relationship further as well.

It is in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus says “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”  (Matthew 25: 34 – 36). We are called by Jesus to serve the least of these, and our support of LOTS is one small way of doing that.

I am proud that St. Andrew’s is entering into this relationship with LOTS. And I am grateful for your generous stewardship, which positions St. Andrew’s in a place where we are able to offer tangible outreach in our city. If you have any questions about this ministry, or are interested in volunteering with LOTS, please let me know. God bless you this new year!


December: God With Us


As I write this, it is not quite yet the middle of November. Earlier today I found myself in a store in which all the Christmas decorations were already up in time for the buying season (we still have yet to take down the Halloween decorations at our home). As each year passes, it seems to me that the secular celebration of Christmas grows stronger and stronger, while the theological reason for the celebration seems to recede more and more.

What is Christmas about? At its heart, the message of Christmas is that we are not alone. We are not alone because of the child named “Emannu – El” which means “God with us.” I recall a story I heard once in a sermon years ago in which a young boy awoke from sleep in his room alone. Because it was the middle of the night, it was dark, and he was scared. He cried out, and his parents woke up, jumped out of their bed, and went to comfort the little boy.

When they asked him what was wrong, he replied, “I woke up in here alone and was scared.” His mother replied, saying, “Sweetheart, you know that you are never alone, because God is always with you.” “I know that,” said the boy, “but right now I really need someone with skin.” 

The celebration of Christmas a celebration that God came to us – with skin on – in the form of an infant child. In the church, the proper name for Christmas is the “Feast of the Incarnation.” Incarnation is a word that simply means to take on human flesh; or in the young boy’s words from the story, for God to put skin on. The Incarnation of Jesus is God’s overwhelming identification with everything about being human.

In Jesus we meet a God who is not distant or aloof, but really with us. While Jesus died many years ago, our faith teaches us that through his resurrection he continues to be present with us every moment of our life. When we gather for Holy Eucharist at St. Andrew’s, Christ is present. When we pray in our homes, Christ is present with us.

This is the real gift of Incarnation: that Jesus clothes his divinity in humanity, in order to teach all of humanity true divinity. Christ is with us, in us, before us, and all around us. This is the holy mystery of Incarnation, and it is God’s greatest gift to us. But we bear a responsibility with this gift – it is one we must share with the world.

My prayer for this Christmas season is that we will reach out into the world, making it a better and blessed place because that is what Incarnation is all about. Several days ago a father who attended St. Andrew’s one Sunday morning with his family shared with me a wonderful story. It was a Baptism Sunday, and the service was running long, and one of his children began to make noise in the pew. He got up with his child, to take him into the narthex, so as not to disrupt the service. But a member of our parish sitting next to the father said “It’s okay, no one here cares about the noise.” What a gift this member of our parish was able to share with this father! What a heaven-filled moment. When I heard that story, I immediately saw Jesus in that kind member who offered words of comfort to a nervous father. That is the Incarnation, and St. Andrew’s is a church where Jesus is alive and well. 

The point of this story is that 1) noisy children are ALWAYS welcome in our church, but more importantly; 2) Jesus is present in our congregation – a congregation of love, compassion, and humility. And for that gift this Christmas, I give deep and profound thanks, that we are not alone, for God is always with us. 

I wish you all a holy season of Christmas!

November: Giving Thanks


I believe it was Joan Rivers who said that “the holidays are that special time of year where we leave those people we love to go and be with our families!” With Thanksgiving and Christmas upon us, we are now at the threshold of an activityladen and quite busy holiday season. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays of the year. In many ways, for me Thanksgiving represents what I wish Christmas, with all of its over-commercialization, would be. 

Thanksgiving is the time when family and friends gather, when we remember that for which we are grateful. In the church we have a word for this: Eucharist. Eucharist is simply a Greek word that means “to give thanks.” It is a word the church uses to describe the common meal we all share week in and week out, when we receive, and share together the bread and the wine.

I am grateful that in church on Sundays we pause to break bread together. The Eucharist is that meal where we gather to receive nourishment from God, but also to thank God for nourishing and healing our wounded souls. We gather as a family, around a table, to receive Christ’s body and blood. 

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, I hope that we do so remembering that every Sunday in church is literally a day of Thanksgiving. What a wonderful way to live! For Christians, giving thanks is not something we do only once a year around a turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. 

As Christians, we gather around Christ’s table every week to thank God for the gift of our lives, the lives of those we love, and for daily challenges we encounter that remind us that we are truly reliant upon Christ alone. 

On Monday, November 24, all in our church family are invited to an ecumenical service of Thanksgiving that will be hosted by Zion Lutheran Church on 3606 Beauchamp at 7 pm. Portia, myself, and our choir will participate, and St. Andrew’s will be proud to host this service next year.

I hope that you will put this service on your calendar, and consider joining a group of Christians from many denominations who will gather that evening around a table to do what Christians for centuries have done: simply give thanks to God.

If you have any questions about the service, please talk either to Portia or myself, and we will do our best to answer them. I wish all of you a generous Thanksgiving!

October: What Can I Give Back to God?


For almost 30 years I have considered myself a fan of the Irish band U2. I won’t go so far as to say that they are the Beatles of my generation, but like many people, I feel they are pretty close. Of every song in their catalog, there is one that clearly stands out as a favorite to me: “Where the Streets Have No Name.” This opening song from their 1987 album The Joshua Tree was written by their guitarist with the hope of being the ultimate live U2 song. 

From its live premiere in Tempe, Arizona, the song has remained a standard in almost every concert the band has played since. The lead singer Bono (his real name is Paul Hewson) says about this 30-year-old crowd favorite: "We can be in the middle of the worst gig in our lives, but when we go into that song, everything changes. The audience is on its feet, singing along with every word. It's like God suddenly walks through the room."

What is the song about? Like all good songs, it is about many things. In my mind it is about the Kingdom of Heaven, as a place with no class distinction, a place where streets have no name; where all are equal in the City of God. When I saw them perform this song live almost 14 years ago, Bono spoke these words over the song’s introduction:

What can I give back to GOD
   for the blessings he’s poured out on me?
I’ll lift high the cup of salvation—a toast to GOD!
   I’ll pray in the name of GOD;
I’ll complete what I promised GOD I’d do,
   and I’ll do it together with his people.

The words are not his – they are from verses 10 – 12 of the 116th entire song became a response to the question the author of the psalm asks – what can we possibly give back to God for the blessings poured out upon us? 

What can we give back to God? Our gratitude. In our act of gratitude, we follow through on the promise we make to God, together, as a church. God continues to express generosity and gives to us in ways we can hardly imagine – not because of what we do, but because of grace. God’s gifts come to us without strings attached. Our gifts to God should be returned in the same way. 

We are blessed at St. Andrew’s in so many ways. Children are running through our halls and learning about God’s love in our classrooms. Our under-served neighbors are welcomed at our front door with Trish’s smiling face and a wholesome meal. Our church is more full on Sunday mornings than it has been in some time. How generous God is! In the coming weeks you will receive a pledge card. In the weeks before you fill out your card, I hope you commit your pledge to God in prayer. That number you write on your pledge card is between you and God. In my family’s home, we are committed to St. Andrew’s and hopeful for its future. We intend to pledge $12,000 for the 2014 year.

The paradox of giving away our possessions for God’s use is that we discover the freedom that comes with generosity. When we are generous, we are most like God! Where is God calling St. Andrew’s? The answer is simple: we are called to reach out generously to form disciples and become that place where all are welcomed and loved – a place where streets need no name.

Stewardship Prayer

Oh Lord, giver of life and source of our freedom, we are reminded that Yours is “the earth in its fullness; the world and those who dwell in it.” We know that it is from your hand that we have received all we have and are and will be. Gracious and loving God, we understand that you call us to be the stewards of Your abundance, the caretakers of all you have entrusted to us. Help us always to use your gifts wisely and teach us to share them generously. May our faithful stewardship bear witness to the love of Christ in our lives. We pray this with grateful hearts in Jesus’ name. Amen.


September: Inspired by Nature


As I write this article, our family is currently on vacation at the Estes Park YMCA camp in Colorado. We are in a cozy cabin, and surrounding us are some of our favorite four-legged friends: elk, deer, and mountain squirrels too many to number. One of my children is particularly fond of deer, and literally squeals with excitement every time he spots a deer, saying “deer!, deer!, deer!”

Nature is a holy place, and I find the outdoors more majestic and inspiring than even the most ornate cathedral. As the naturalist and explorer John Muir once said, “keep close to nature’s heart...and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” 

Living in a city such as Houston, it is easy for us to forget the beauty and splendor of nature. Therefore I am grateful for all those who tend gardens, nurture trees and help to create beautiful green spaces in our city. At St. Andrew’s, I am particularly grateful for those who tend our beautiful outdoor space. Many are the days when I look outside the window of my study and see Susan Kelly among others carefully tending so many of the beautiful plants and flowers that pepper our campus. I am grateful for her good care, and that of many others who help to make St. Andrew’s such a beautiful and welcoming space. 

The splendor of creation extends itself into the city in many other ways, of course. The animals who live with us in our homes are faithful companions whose presence brings comfort and peace into our lives (unless of course, you are trying to house train a puppy!). Religions around the globe recognize the holiness of animals in many ways. When I visited a Buddhist monastery in Tibet years ago, I was surprised to see so many dogs living there. When I asked one of the monks (who thankfully spoke English) why dogs were permitted in the monastery, he explained that in the reincarnation cycle, dogs represent souls who in the next life will be reborn as humans. Therefore dogs were pampered guests at the monastery!

Within the Christian tradition, St. Francis is perhaps the most venerated (but often the least imitated) of the saints – known particularly for his relationship with animals. The Feast Day for St. Francis is always October 4, which this year is a Saturday. At St. Andrew’s we will commemorate the Feast of St. Francis with an outdoor service and blessing of the animals from 4 – 6 PM on Sunday, October 5. All animals are welcome and their human companions are welcome!

Following the blessing this year, St. Andrew’s will host a festive outdoor party featuring hot “deity” dogs, activities for children, live music by the Jeff Morrison Band, and beer provided by St. Arnold brewery (Saint Arnold was the patron saint of hop pickers and Belgian beer makers). All are welcome as we celebrate the gift of God’s creation on the Feast of St. Francis!


July: For The Future


It’s hard to believe, but I have been with you all for just over three months now (though for some it might seem much longer!). While ninety days is not a very long time, it has been long enough for me to hear from many of you regarding your hopes and your dreams for St. Andrew’s.

The vestry last month met for its annual planning meeting in which the calendar events of the upcoming year were discussed. At this meeting, I shared with the vestry some reflections of mine after being with you all for these past few months.

Much of what I shared with them centered on our plans for the future regarding Christian formation, specifically for children. One catalyst for this was an interesting statistic I received from the Diocese a few weeks ago. In spreadsheet form, the Diocese keeps track of the number of actively participating Sunday School children at each parish.

 When I looked at this sheet given to me by the Diocese, I noticed that in 2003, there were approximately 70 participating children in Sunday School at St. Andrew’s. Now that number is likely a bit high, but in conversations with many of you, that number at least seems to be in the ballpark. Ten years later, in 2013, that number had dropped to 7. That’s a ninety percent decrease!

It was also very clear to me when reading through the excellent parish profile you all created that incorporating children and their families into St. Andrew’s was of paramount importance for the ongoing health of our parish. It is for these two reasons (overall attendance decline in Sunday School and the desire to reach out to young families) that I shared with the vestry my intent to have a fulltime Director of Children’s Ministries in place by January of 2015.

 My goal is for this new person to havetwo main responsibilities. First, this person will oversee the restart of our Godly Play curriculum for Sunday School, as well as provide opportunities for those interested in serving as teachers to be instructed in Godly Play. Secondly, this person will also work with me in setting up a new service for families of children with special needs that ultimately will occur weekly at St. Andrew’s.

I hope you agree that this is the next great step our parish needs to take. In the coming months I look forward to hearing your input and sharing with you my vision for all of the opportunities we have at St. Andrew’s to serve God and our community. In the meantime, please keep St. Andrew’s and our work of ministry in your prayers. I truly believe our future is bright!

With Love,


June: An Abundant God


Sunday, June 8, is Abundance Sunday. It is a day in which we consider all our blessings, whatever they may be. For many of us our most dear blessings are our partners, spouses, children, family and friends.

In the weeks leading up to Abundance Sunday, you will have an opportunity to write on paper the “abundance” for which you are most thankful. The completed papers will be collected and presented on the altar June 8. What will you put onto that paper? For what abundance in your life are you thankful?

If I were to think of a word that would characterize Abundance Sunday, the word that comes to my mind is gratitude. And gratitude, in my opinion, is the foundation of good stewardship. Perhaps, more than just the foundation, it is the very birthplace of stewardship. I say that because when we decide to give out of our abundance, we do so simply because we are grateful. We are grateful to God for all the good things in our life, all the abundance, which God has provided for us.

Our gratitude also gives us the perspective to remember that the abundance we receive in our life is not our own – it really belongs to God. So, on Abundance Sunday, we honor our abundance by giving it back to God – its rightful owner. 

I hope you will plan and join us June 8. We will also be celebrating abundance in a wonderful way with Holy Baptism. What better way to celebrate abundance than by welcoming new infants into the Kingdom of God!

I look forward to seeing you then, as we celebrate the true abundance of God’s Kingdom. 

With love,




For the past nine years of ordained ministry, I have by habit taken Monday as a Sabbath. For a variety of reasons, I have decided to change my Sabbath to Fridays instead of Mondays. I mention this only because working at St. Andrew’s on Mondays allows me the opportunity to have conversation with parishioner David Roberts. David sits at Trish’s desk on Monday mornings, and hands out sack lunches to the hungry in our community. My heart was warmed when I saw that in addition to the sack lunches David offered our visitors, he also offered them fresh donuts from a nearby donut shop in the Heights which he had purchased on his way here. 

That kind of hospitality David offers mirrors the extraordinary gracious and warm welcome Marla, myself, and our family have received at St. Andrew’s. From the welcome Meet & Greets offered in parishioner homes to the Sunday lunch reception in the Parish Hall on our first Sunday, our family is so grateful for the outpouring of gracious hospitality received at this wonderful parish. 

I would like to thank the Meet & Greet hosts Liz Dennis, Anne Jones, Margaret Kroehler, Bob DeCesare and Sam Hsu, Rebecca and Kevin Robertson, Chris Barker, Martha and Jerry Gallagher, Sarrah Moseley, Elaine Massey, Mary Pauline McElroy, and Dorothy Yannuzzi.

As mentioned earlier, the Sunday welcome reception was glorious, and I am especially grateful to Laurie Hardwick, Lisa Mustacchia, the Hospitality Team, Nancy Simpson, and St. Andrew’s School for their hospitality. I know that there were likely others who assisted with this reception, and if I did not mention your name, please know how grateful I am!

Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to the entire Vestry, and to Sarrah Moseley (Junior Warden) and Greg Caudell (Senior Warden). They have been invaluable during my transition to St. Andrew’s and I am thankful for their work and service to St. Andrew’s.

As I write this letter, our family is now officially moved into the Heights, a few blocks away from the church. Although there are still moving boxes in our home, we are starting to feel more settled, and excited about living in the neighborhood. Personally, I am glad that we are in walking distance to Torchy’sTacos! If their chili con queso doesn’t prove that God is good, I am not sure what possibly could.

Thank you all for your support and prayers. Please continue to pray for our family as we settle into our home and into St. Andrew’s.

With love,




On the evening of February 19, 2014, my phone rang while I was in the middle of a class that I was teaching on St. Augustine at the Cathedral. I picked the phone out of my pocket, and saw a phone number on it that I did not realize immediately, so I elected to see if the caller would leave a message and I would get back to him or her after the class. After the class was over, I found myself outside the room talking with a parishioner who was curious about end-of-life planning (how we got to that subject from St. Augustine is anyone’s guess!).

In the midst of my conversation with this parishioner, my phone rang again. Again, I pulled my phone out of my pocket and saw the same number on the screen. I politely excused myself from the conversation and listened to the voicemail message from the first call. 

The voice on the message was immediately recognizable to me – it was the voice of your Senior Warden, Greg Caudell, calling to inform me that the Vestry at St. Andrew’s had just called me to serve as your next Rector. I called Greg back, and after accepting the call, Greg asked me how I was feeling. My response to him (several times) was simply that I was speechless. 

I think the reason why I said I was speechless was because since first hearing about Barbara Lewis retiring, St. Andrew’s, its Vestry, and its parishioners, have been in my thoughts and prayers. During that time, I actively and prayerfully discerned a possible call to St. Andrew’s. In my own prayer life, I know well that prayer is not about telling God what you want, and then expecting God to follow through with that wish. Prayer, for me, is very much the opposite – not telling God what I want, but listening rather for what God wants, and then patterning my life on that. 

I told Greg I was speechless because, in a profound way, the call to serve as Rector, is in every way an answered prayer. And for me, often the most profound word I can say before God is – silence. And so I am speechless, but also excited, eager, and hopeful about St. Andrew’s in looking toward the future.

I also realize I am standing on the shoulders of giants (Barbara Lewis, Paul Fromberg, John Binford, Haskin Little, and the list goes on and on…). I remain grateful to them and to their ministry in this holy place. I also want to thank Dorothy Gremillon, Ken Fields, Portia Sweet, Rich Houser, Greg Caudell and Sarrah Moseley for their excellent leadership during the interim. I would be remiss if I did not also thank the members of the search committee, especially co-chairs Elizabeth McCormick and Kevin Robertson. 

My wife, Marla, and our three boys, James (8), William (6), and Henry (4) are excited about coming to St. Andrew’s and getting to know you all. We are blessed to be coming to the Heights, and look forward to a good and healthy tenure of ministry with you. 

I hope that you will be able to be at St. Andrew’s on Sunday April 6. It will be my family’s first Sunday with you all, and we are looking forward to meeting you, as well as blessing the beautiful new playground facilities on our campus after services. 

The following Sunday, April 13, will mark the beginning of Holy Week with Palm Sunday observances at 8:30 and 10:30 AM. I hope you make plans to join us at St. Andrew’s as we begin the journey through the holiest of weeks together. It is the journey we all make – from life to death to life without end. Won’t you join us?

Grace and Peace,