Generation Next at St. John’s

OUR COMMUNITY HERE at St. John’s is very much like a living organism. Like all living things, our community needs to continuously evolve. It’s a simple fact of life. Grow or die. At one time St. John’s parish was primarily made up of younger families, as was so evident in Bob Bowser’s photo reel at the recent 70th anniversary party. But all those young families have aged to the point that some of the kids in those photos are now parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents. It is no secret that our parish community is an aging community. We are well established and relatively wealthy and as we have witnessed, this has not been a place for younger people to easily attach. One glance around at any given service will confirm that. However, something is changing. These days, that glance around the congregation will also show small pockets of relatively younger, newer members. A re-energizing is slowly starting to occur. Younger families, some with babies, are starting to attend St. John’s. And to my old eyes this is a remarkably welcome sight. What is happening? I have been asked to write about some of St. John’s younger members. What it is that attracted them to St. John’s in the first place, and more importantly, what keeps them coming back. I reached out to two young couples: one engaged to be married in October, and the other one married six years and expecting their first child. Memories from both stages of my own life came flooding forth as I spoke with these couples. Each held such excitement and hope about the future.

My first conversation was with Rachel Templer and Harrison Hess, a young couple engaged to be married this October. Rachel was raised in Frisco and attended St. Matthias Episcopal, where a certain Fr. Houk used to be stationed. She is a nurse at Dallas Children’s Hospital. Harrison is from this area and went to the Spring Valley Bible Church but attended a prep school in Massachusetts where he received a hockey scholarship. As is trendy these days, this couple met on-line two years ago. At that time Rachel was at TWU Nursing School and Harrison was working at WW Hess Transport, a family-run long-haul trucking company. When they first contacted each other and decided to meet, the on-line app showed a location for each of them. Harrison appeared to be quite close when he asked for a first date. By the time Rachel responded she thought the app was broken because it showed Harrison’s location as 600 miles away. Turns out he was on a driving run to Jacksonville, Florida. Their first date was a success, as it turned into one of many “enduro dates” lasting over 12 hours talking about everything in the world. Once engaged, they started thinking about churches. The Houk connection from St. Mathias brought them to St. John’s for a try. They report to feeling very welcome and became hooked by the feeling of community. They really enjoy the small group of younger church members that get together for occasional lunches, informal dinners, Bible study and basic life discussions.

My second interview was with Mark and Alyssa Luff, married six years and attending St. John’s for two years. They met as students at Texas A&M and both are working on masters degrees at Dallas Theology Seminary, he in Counseling and she in Media Arts and Theology. While Alyssa was raised Methodist, Mark grew up in a “somewhat” Baptist environment. At A&M they both attended Grace Bible Church where they found a love of biblical history and tradition. Once they moved to Dallas, Alyssa found she missed discussions of the evolution and growth of the Body of Christ. Mark surprised himself when he realized he actually missed hymns, which are filled with theology and very connected to The Word. Once in Dallas they started searching for a traditional church community that wasn’t a mega-church. After a Google search for proximity they visited a few different denominations before deciding to give the Anglican service a chance. They felt the Anglican church has a strong respect for other denominations and is very connected to a wider Body of Christ. Two years ago they decided to try St. John’s. (Thank goodness for Google because Harter Road does not lend itself to a casual drive-by discovery.) On their first visit they felt very welcome. They report being approached by several members who genuinely and warmly welcomed them and invited them to return. On subsequent visits Mark and Alyssa were drawn to Fr. Houk’s message to “align ourselves with Christ.” They also strongly believe that the sacrament of Communion is the main reason to gather, and at St. John’s it is not considered an afterthought.

Both these couples, Rachel and Harrison and Mark and Alyssa, were searching for a church family and both initially found something satisfying at St. John’s. However both are continuing here because they are meeting other young people with whom to interact and share their life experiences. That personal connection is the glue that keeps newer members returning. Getting together and meeting other younger people was referred to on both interviews as The Small Group. The Small Group concept was inspired and organized by Mark and Jenny Kraemer. This group gets together twice a month on the 2nd and 4th Sunday afternoons at the Kraemers’ house and meets for lunch at a nearby restaurant on the 1st Sunday of the month right after the 10:30 service. Jenny actually had an article about it in the Easter edition of The Voice where she described the casual format of these gatherings: Everyone visits and snacks awhile (everyone knows food and wine are always at the center of any successful group!) and then they shift to a more structured meeting time. After study and a short prayer time, they continue to fellowship. Having a few more years than the rest, Jenny and Mark consider themselves to be the “gray matter” of the group. A very natural positive by-product of a gathering is networking. Rachel Templer directly attributes her getting in the door at Dallas Children’s Hospital to Kristen Johnson, Fr. Andy Johnson’s wife.

So it appears these Small Group Gatherings are playing an essential role in young adults feeling a strong connection to our Christian family here at St. John’s. It is this connection to Christian living which is Christ’s Liturgy, after all.

by Jack Reed