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But the third surprise cuts the deepest: It’s where, exactly, that Jackson is preaching. Peter, founded in Spring Branch by German immigrants in 1848, is among the oldest churches in Harris County, and until recently, one of the most traditional — a place whose elderly congregation still hewed to their German forebears’ restrained style of worship, a place where hymns are accompanied by a small woman pedaling away at an old-school pump organ. Peter will celebrate Christ’s resurrection and transfiguration — and also the church’s own.Mosquitoes and malaria In 1848, a leaky ship carrying German immigrants to Galveston nearly sank in the Gulf of Mexico.It’s black and white and Hispanic, straight and lesbian and gay, babies and seniors and pretty much every age in between.At the weekly call to stand and greet your neighbors, the congregants swarm the church’s aisle, everybody hugging everybody — the white-haired woman with an oxygen tank, the lesbian couple visiting from Lubbock, the buff T-shirted minister with a man bun carrying his toddler daughter.Religious services are rarely just dry classes in doctrine. The pump-organ service would coexist alongside one with big-screen Oprah videos, a drum set, and gospel praise music?With their music, their style, their teachings about the nature of the world and how people should behave in it, they’re powerful assertions of identity and culture. Not to mention Jackson himself — a black, gay, button-popping preacher?It wasn’t easy, starting a church in the immigrants’ new land. Wet weather brought mosquitoes and malaria, leaving people too sick to care for their cattle. Twice — once in 1859, once in 1867 — yellow fever struck Spring Branch, wiping out so many people that they were buried in mass graves in the church’s cemetery. The prim white clapboard building looks a lot like the churches that similar German settlers built in small towns across Hill Country.
Peter’s would get the vibrant young people its congregation had prayed for.
The church he was envisioning built on no one’s tradition. He knew what a big change he was asking for, and from his management studies, he knew how hard change comes for any organization. As the two churches discussed the details, the idea began to seem almost inevitable.
But in the first months, when membership dropped from 23 to 15, he and his husband worried they’d made the wrong bet. And at last, the people they’d imagined began to show up: people of all ages, different races and ethnicities, straight and gay and transgender. By the end of 2018, Cathedral of Hope Houston had 85 members — a long way from a megachurch, maybe, but growing. Peter’s sanctuary, and last year, as his church began taking off, Jackson was considering yet another a move. Peter, as a landlord, would or could make the physical upgrades that his growing congregation needed. Peter’s counterpart with a list of fixes they’d need if they were going to renew their lease. Jackson would be head minister and would continue to command the big brick sanctuary on Sundays, but Sheil-Hopper would stay on, and would continue leading the restrained traditional services in the chapel.
Peter might have to merge with another congregation or close. After her sermon, when it came time to say the Lord’s Prayer, one of the congregants said it in German. She loved the church, and she stayed, becoming its lead minister. By 2018, only about a dozen people attended each Sunday. A couple of younger families did join the church, but even then, their children didn’t seem likely to stick. Even descendents of the seven families recognized that their church couldn’t go on that way. Jackson, the preacher, is 41 with two masters’ degrees.
“We prayed for new people to come,” said Kingsbury. One is in management, and in 2017, he had a good job overseeing the Houston Food Bank’s employee training.