By Neil Ellis Orts
For 94 years, Grace Lutheran Church has been a presence in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood. Then, on January 10, 2016, it held its final worship service. Grace Lutheran was no more.
For a religion whose central image is resurrection, however, it may come as no surprise that this is not the end of the story.
But first, it’s worth noting the history and significance of Grace for the Montrose neighborhood.
In 1996, the Grace became one of the first—and for a long time only—Lutheran congregation in Houston to become “Reconciling in Christ,” which is code for offering full welcome and participation to LGBT members. Its service to the LGBT community has been varied over the years, but in recent years has been visible as the home to Montrose Grace Place, a service to homeless youth with particular emphasis on LGBT youth on the streets. (Montrose Grace Place, it should be noted, continues on, a legacy organization of Grace Lutheran Church.)
Despite Grace’s presence and activity in the Montrose neighborhood, it was ultimately unable to keep its doors open in its current organization. A changing neighborhood and other factors found the membership dwindling to an unsustainable number.
The Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) (the parent denomination) still saw value to having a presence in the Montrose neighborhood. Here’s where the resurrection part comes in.
Rising in the same address, at 2515 Waugh Drive, is a new “mission restart” called Kindred. Still affiliated with the ELCA and still offering full welcome and participation to LGBT folk, Kindred will nonetheless be a fresh start in the old building.
Part of that restart is a new pastor, the Reverend Ashley Dellagiacoma. Pastor Dellagiacoma is a Houston native with a knowledge of the Montrose history, but also a fresh look at ministry and what a religious community in that environment might look like. “It’s basically the gutsy move to take a church back to ground zero and start over,” she writes in the first blog entry on the Kindred website. “It takes hutzpah and humility. And it poses the intriguing question, ‘If you had a blank slate to create a community of faith, what would you do? What would it look like?’”
At present, there are no worship services offered at Kindred, but that won’t last long. Beginning February 10 (Ash Wednesday), they will begin having what the website is simply calling “Gatherings,” and introduces them with these words: “In the midst of our week, we get together to pause, pray, share, explore, and dream. We can talk honestly about our real lives, our joys, and our fears.” The first Gathering will be at 6:15 p.m. in Spotts Park (401 Heights Blvd).
Sunday worship will then return on March 20 (Palm Sunday). Details are pending at this time, so watch the website for times.
To learn more about Pastor Dellagiacoma and the emerging Kindred community, check back with OutSmart next month, when we will sit down with the new pastor and hear more about building a community faith from a blank slate.
Neil Ellis Orts is a regular contributor to OutSmart and the author of Cary and John.