Following successful efforts begun in 1921 by field missionary Rev. John T. Gillison, a congregation was formally organized on April 16, 1922, as Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church of Houston. This was the first mission congregation in Houston of the United Lutheran Church in America, which body provided financial support until Grace became self-supporting. As a corporation, the congregation's life and activities have been overseen by elected members of the Church Council, with the Pastor ex-officio as president.
Members of Grace first worshipped in a one-room chapel at 2715 Waugh Dr. In 1921, the ULCA Board of Home Missions purchased the one-story, one-room Hyde Park Chapel from Second Presbyterian Church. When the present church site at Waugh Drive and Missouri was purchased in 1944, Waugh Drive was a major two-way thoroughfare, with a busy trolley stop at Westheimer and Waugh. Expansions; and additions in 1960, 1970 and 1985 resulted in the facility we know today. Enviably, the congregation is debt-free.
During its membership in the original ULCA, its successor the Lutheran Church in America, and more recently the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Grace has also had membership in the Texas Synod, Texas-Louisiana Synod, and the Southeast Texas/Southern Louisiana Synod, now renamed the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod.
Neighborhood Transition Affects Congregation
Although the majority of members in 1922 were of the church neighborhood, by 1930 numerous members resided well beyond Grace's community limits. That characteristic has held true ever since. A membership decline began in the 1970's. Children of the post-WWII period matured, married, and established homes far beyond the Grace area, and they usually joined suburban congregations. The Montrose community became commercialized and the Westheimer strip became identified by its "night spots." Grace families transferred out and the neighborhood became more transient. In his 1987 report, Pastor Akerman noted, "The figures indicate an ever-changing congregation." That characteristic, too, is still present.
For nearly two years in 1991-1993, Grace had the uncommon opportunity to share worship space and fellowship with the congregation of Augustana Lutheran Church while their sanctuary was razed and a new one built. Many new friendships were formed and greater understanding took hold as the two congregations merged their services, choirs, education, and social opportunities. It was with a mixture of sadness and joy that Grace members joined Augustana in dedicating their beautiful new building, marking the end of our time together.
Grace's 75 years have seen many changes. There has always seemed to be an awareness of the need for outreach and witness to the Montrose community but few positive results were seen until the 1980's. In recent years, Grace has provided space for meetings of substance abuse programs, voters of Precinct 13, the Spanish Seventh Day Adventist Congregation, The Upper Room Folk Community, HATCH, Lutherans Concerned, Hyde Park Civic Association, La Leche League, and many others.
Our outreach ministry has changed as the community has changed. With the designation as a Mission Redevelopment Congregation in September 2001, ministry to the community has become the prevailing focus of Grace's congregation. Many pews remain to be filled and we invite you to join us!
- Caryl K. Naffziger - 1923 through 1924
- William J. Hoebel - 1925 through 1939
- Nathaniel H. Kern - 1939 through 1954
- David F. Conrad - 1955 through 1973
- Leland Caulder - 1974 through 1977
- Harold Deal - 1978 through 1982
- H. Eldon Akerman - 1983 through 1991
- Kristine Franke Hill - 1991 through 2000
- Willard T. Pierce - 2001 through 2003
Supplementing the staff was Deaconness Sister Bernice Pantel from 1952-1957. With Pastor Conrad, Sister Bernice conducted youth programs and was active with Vacation Bible School, the Sunday School, Bible Study, visitation, and the auxiliaries.
Also serving Grace were interns Andrew Krey, Mike Sigler, Cynthia Forde, and Pamela Schroeder. Krey and Sigler came to Grace from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago; they provided visitation assistance and occasionally preached. Forde and Schroeder came via Wartburg Seminary; both were highly involved in community outreach and volunteer coordination.
Karen O'Malia served as Minister of Music and Outreach from 1993-1995 and is currently pastor of First Lutheran Church of Berwyn near Chicago IL.
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