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|1537: St Martin's,
Houston, Texas, USA
Martin's, Houston, Texas, USA.
The Episcopal Church, Diocese
A new church, dedicated on Easter Sunday 2004 and modeled on
a French or English cathedral, complete with cloister, on a
large campus which includes two halls, the old church, a chapel
which was an even older church, plenty of parking, gardens,
play area, and a wayside chapel. Although of cathedral proportions
and style, the outside is brick but the inside is grey stone.
The ceilings look like traditional vaulted ceilings and the
feeling is light and airy, partly because of a wider than traditional
nave with relatively narrow north and south aisles, presumably
enabled by modern technology not available to medieval builders.
From the wooden pews, one looks toward the altar, behind which
is a wooden choir screen and modest choir stalls, the pipe organ
in a traditional case, and (high up) a very attractive rose
widow. The choir screen would not look out of place in a number
of larger English parish churches, but it is more transparent
than those that completely cut off the choir in major English
cathedrals. A traditional English Anglican could feel quite
at home while enjoying the benefits of more space, modern lighting,
pleasant temperature and more comfortable and spacious pews.
The rose window kept catching the eye (I haven't labeled it
distracting below) but is complemented by modern stained glass
in traditional form along the side of the church. In my opinion
the building is a triumph and completely transforms the site.
St Martin's was Mystery
Worshipped in 2001, before the new church was built. My
last visit was in 2003, and I was curious to see what had happened
since the new building had been opened. The church claims upward
of 7000 members. Their website describes numerous ministries
and outreaches as well as a full history of the parish.
Houston, in southeast Texas near the Gulf of Mexico, is the
fourth largest city in the United States. An important railhead
and deep water port, it is home to several major energy industries
as well as to NASA's (National Aeronautics and Space Administration's)
Johnson Space Center, the so-called "Mission Control"
for manned space flights. St Martin's lies in the heart of the
affluent inner suburbs of West Houston.
The preacher was the rector, the Revd Dr Russell J. Levenson
Jr, although another member of the clergy presided. The sanctuary
party numbered 15 and I counted 40 in the choir.
The date & time:
November 11, 2007, 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist, Rite One.
How full was the building?
I estimated about 500, including those at the sharp end. Comfortably
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The person handing me the service sheet wished me a good morning.
People were very friendly and welcoming during the peace ceremony.
Was your pew comfortable?
Very much so – conventional pews with end to end comfy cushions.
Matching drop down kneelers. Plenty of space. Also good sized
book holders attached to the pews in front.
How would you describe the pre-service
Quiet to light conversation.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning. Please stand to sing the opening hymn."
What books did the congregation use during the
We were given a comprehensive 46 page service sheet containing
the order of service, readings, hymns and notices. Judging from
the notices, this is a very active community. Bibles and hymn
books were available but redundant.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and choir.
Did anything distract you?
Only trying to estimate such a large congregation.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
I understand that they consider themselves high church, but
there were no smells or bells. The procession was impressive
and included flags and banners. The service began with the singing
of the National Anthem, which everyone belted out with great
enthusiasm. Of the three large Houston churches that I have
reviewed this year, this is the one that uses the kneelers most.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 The rector included a moving story about the beginning
of his prison ministry, where he encountered Jesus in a prisoner
who ended up ministering to him. He also mentioned Lord of the
Streets, an Episcopal Church ministry aimed at Houston's homeless.
The church's bookshop carries a collection of sermons on CDs,
and I believe they can be ordered online as well.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
His sermon was entitled "Punching holes in the darkness."
Good works are like the gas lamps that, in the words of Robert
Louis Stevenson, poked holes in the darkness of an Edinburgh
night. Houston's streets must look very dark to the city's homeless
population. However, darkness must not weigh us down to inaction.
Matthew 25:31-46 makes it crystal clear that we should act to
help the hungry, the thirsty, strangers, those without clothes,
and those in prison if we want to serve Jesus and to meet him.
Jesus talks about unconditional giving – i.e., we should
help the needy without first expecting them to look for a job.
We should follow the example of St Martin. People will look
at the towers of St Martin's Church and say, "There are
the ones who punch holes in the darkness."
Which part of the service was like being in
Before the service began, the choir sang Anton Bruckner's beautiful
motet Locus iste. While the offertory and communion
anthems were also very uplifting, the Bruckner stole the show,
especially the bass and tenor voices. The choir seems rather
better than I remember from my last visit in 2003.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It all seemed so perfect, almost to a fault. It saddened me
to think that such perfection and organization is possible only
in a congregation the size of this one, with its ample resources.
I was actually relieved to notice one line of a response dropped
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
One could easily be overlooked. They had a greeters desk, but
I didn't learn about it until after I had read through all the
literature I had picked up. Coffee was served in a nearly empty
hall. There were supposed to be donuts as well, but apparently
they had run out. I picked up a coffee and walked around the
cloister to the bookshop. Then I turned and headed back toward
the church. No one appeared to notice me, although on the last
leg of my walkabout some folks did say good morning and some
even greeted me by name (I had picked up a name tag earlier).
Finishing the coffee, I then decided to walk to my car past
the sign-up stalls which lined the way. Some very friendly people
at the Lord of the Streets stall were the first to engage me
in conversation. But I could have walked back to the car without
being spoken to at all, had I not actively decided to walk past
the sign-up stalls.
How would you describe the after-service
Standard, unexceptional coffee in urns. Unfortunately I was
too late to sample the donuts.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 The service as well as the surroundings were lovely.
Despite being for the most part left alone, I felt that with
so many activities available, it would be easy to become a part
of this community once one began volunteering for the various
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
St Martin's triggered joy and sadness. Joy because it seems
so successful and they do so much good. Sadness both because
some churches I know could do so much more if only they had
the commitment I saw at St Martin's, and because I know some
struggling places with commitment which could do so much more
if only they had a portion of St Martin's resources.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The singing of the National Anthem. I found it very moving even
though I am not American.
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