by Laurie Oswald Robinson
In the next two years, Houston Mennonite Church will witness the building of its new church, designed to symbolize being in the world, but not of it. That gospel principle is at the heart of the church’s desire to continue to be a welcoming presence that is also counter-cultural.
Houston Mennonite, planted by Western District Conference (WDC) in 1967-1968, sought to welcome others in Christ by reflecting its values of peace- and community-making. Over the years, that welcoming spirit helped to establish a 90-member congregation that is overflowing its sanctuary capacity.
The congregation has decided to replace its former building with a new meeting house on a section of the former four-acre hog farm purchased by WDC for the church plant. Several years ago, the congregation began discussions about its future. It considered moving to a new location but then felt led to remain on a little less than half of the original site that was once in the suburbs but is now part of the city proper. The congregation is selling a bit more than two of the four acres for $2.4 million to a residential developer.
By sometime in 2015, the congregation will break ground on the remaining acreage to construct a new 9,000 square foot building with proceeds of that sale. The current building is about 4,400 square feet.
“We have always been oriented around an Anabaptist understanding of peacemaking that is an alternative to the violent society around us, and we asked our architect to design a building that symbolized that,” Pastor Marty Troyer said. “The floor plan includes a building that is not at right angles. Many churches are symmetrical or square, but we wanted a shape that reminded us of our calling to be different.
The building is designed like a bicycle wheel with spokes, Troyer said. The foyer is the center of the wheel, and it is shaped like a triangle with no right angles. The sanctuary, one of the spokes off the foyer, has several cut-outs and odd shapes in it. One of its corners is a prayer room, and the nursery juts out into the sanctuary intentionally.
“The part I am excited about is that it will double our space and that will double our flexibility,” said Lynda Voran, chair of the campus development team and member of the congregation since the mid-1980’s. “With our new multipurpose area, we can better do fellowship meals and can offer space to groups in our community. “
In their excitement about the future, Troyer, Voran and other members of the congregation have not forgotten the vision and generosity on the part of WDC in the past. These “roots” are giving the congregation the “wings” it needs to grow its campus and its ministries.
A portion of a letter sent to WDC on November 4, 2013, reads, “From our beginnings in 1967, our relationship with the WDC has been strong and meaningful. In 1966 and 1967 WDC conference pastor Elmer Friesen was instrumental in catalyzing and forming the nucleus of what would become Houston Mennonite Church, and on April 14, 1967, he accepted the call to be the first pastor in Houston. In June of 1967, with monies from the Home Mission Committee of WDC, four acres of land at 1231 Wirt Road (our current location) were purchased. …On November 17, 1968, services were held for the first time in the new facility, which was constructed for a total cost of $48,500, with funds coming again from the WDC Home Missions Committee.
“We have benefitted greatly from the vision and generosity of Western District Conference! We stand on the shoulders of faithful leaders who sacrificed so that Christ’s message of liberating love could flourish in Houston. And the blessing to build a new space is offering us the opportunity to pay it forward and to bless and nurture other ministries and groups with whom we can partner in Houston,” Troyer said.