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Saint Peter's United Methodist Church: A Light for Others
Dr. Marcus Freeman's face lights up when he talks about the committed lay persons at Saint Peter's United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas. Dr. Freeman is the proud pastor. The growth of Saint Peter's he says is due to talented and faithful laypersons who have great pride in their church and its ministry. Saint Peter's is an historic African-American United Methodist Church founded 140 years ago. Since 1992, the membership has grown from 202 to 276. The worship has grown from 110 to 187 during that time.
In the late 1970's, with the encouragement and financial support of the Austin District and the Southwest Texas Annual Conference, the congregation was challenged to start a new church in a new place . The annual conference had identified the present location as a new and growing part of Austin. The people cleared the land of thick underbrush and built a multipurpose facility as its first unit. The church was on the grow.
The church established itself in its new location with strong lay and pastoral leadership. In 1994 a sanctuary was built through a loan for $198,000 from The United Methodist Development Funds. Dr. Freeman said, "The sanctuary made all the difference in the world. It gave the church a presence in the community and gave the people a sense of pride. The congregation had a great appreciation for being in their new place."
However the building was not the end of anything but a new beginning. Dr. Freeman said that the congregation was looking for the completion of the story when he came. "There is a ripeness among the members of the congregation. They are anxious and willing to grow."
When Dr. Freeman was appointed in 1999, the District Superintendent told him that his predecessors had the task of leading the congregation in building in its new location. He was told his unique challenge was to organize for mission and ministry. In the year 2000, the congregation developed a Ten-year Vision for Saint Peter's. Last year the mission statement and church motto were adopted.
The motto is, "Committed Servants of God." The Mission Statement reads,
"We as servants of God protected by the Holy Spirit, are committed to teaching, preaching, and believing that through our love and diversity, we can be a light for others."
"We spent a year working on that mission statement. It surprised us all how long it took. However, it really describes who we are.", said Dr. Freeman. Currently the congregation is putting together a long range planning process to develop strategies that will bring their vision and mission statement to life.
The Staff-Parish Relations Committee, whose chair is a recently retired Motorola Executive, helped the committee develop employment and personnel policies. These policies have helped the church in its growing pains as it becomes a large congregation.
Communication is at the heart of the church's ministry. There are regular Town Hall Meetings where everyone is invited to come and talk about the life of the church. It is not a decision making process. It is simply a listening time, where everyone gets a chance to be heard. Community forums are also held at the church.
St. Peter's is a place where the community can explore issues of concern. Recently the church was filled for a US Military Veterans' Conference . A panel, made up of representatives from various agencies that relate to Veterans' issues, discussed pay, healthcare, housing, educational benefits, land acquisition, employment benefits and how to access benefits. Recently the community used St. Peter's as a forum to engage members of the local school district in a discussion around some issues of concern. The church also has a computer lab with Internet access open to the community.
A review of the December church newsletter reveals a church with a focus on bible study, prayer, worship, music, and community. It was filled with items recognizing youth and adults who had earned church, school, community, and military honors. There is a vital United Methodist Women's organization. The United Methodist Men are chartered and active in support of the church and ministries to the elderly. The people of Saint Peter's United Methodist Church love their church and it shows in the fine condition of the church grounds and facilities and it shows in its ministries.
The growth and vitality of this historic congregation is an example of healthy partnerships among lay persons, pastors, annual conference and district leadership, and general agencies including The United Methodist Development Fund.