A New Church for Christ the Redeemer Parish: Background & Master Plan
April 10, 2008
Shortly after my arrival at Christ the Redeemer Church in Houston, I began to hear about the desire of parishioners for a new church home. (And by “shortly,” I mean “within 15 minutes of pulling into the driveway to unpack my belongings.”) “We need more space!” seemed to be the rallying cry of nearly all I encountered, and indeed the five weekend masses at the roughly 800-seat church were filled to capacity. The mantra to newly assigned priests in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has always been to not change anything for six months. Don’t add; don’t subtract; just minister to the people and listen. It is good advice and so I set out to do exactly that.
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that we had outgrown our present sanctuary and I could easily track the census figures. From 500 families at its inception in 1980 to 1,350 families by 1990 to 2,000 families in 2000 to about 3,400 families at the time of my arrival, the parish and surrounding area has grown immensely. Today, we number more than 4,000 families. (If you are scoring at home, that’s a more than 20 percent growth rate in my first four years in the parish). Christ the Redeemer is located in far northwest Houston in an area that was once considered farmland. Today it is dotted by countless neighborhoods and the suburbs have turned into the exurbs. We are approximately 30 miles from downtown. Houston is the fourth-largest city in the country and it continues to grow at a mind-numbing pace. Literally in every direction around the church, there are new homes being built and, yes, new families are moving into those homes. The recent downturn in the housing market has slowed the pace somewhat, but we continue to far out-pace the national average. Still, my only goal at the beginning was to listen, ask questions, listen some more and then listen a little bit more.
By the spring of 2005, the listening paid off and we put together a Master Plan Committee consisting of eight parishioners and myself. We didn’t know what we needed or even wanted, but it was clear we needed and wanted something. It would be foolish to go any further without some direction. A Master Plan would at least give us a framework for moving ahead and a chance to hear from all parties. Best of all, it would include the parishioners in the decision-making process. I took suggestions from parishioners and Parish Pastoral Council members to select members for the Master Plan Committee. I was also feeling more settled in the parish and had come to know many parishioners, so that I felt the committee was well-balanced. It included some long-time parishioners and some newly arrived parishioners; some with kids and families, and some in retirement years. I tried to form a committee that reflected the parish without injecting my own wants and desires. It was to be their committee just as it is their parish.
We then set out to interview architectural firms to conduct a Master Plan. One of the first things we learned is that there are no Master Plan firms, only architectural firms. Master Plans are done by architects who would like to be selected for the project. I knew some of the firms and we also took suggestions from the archdiocese’s Construction Office. With so much building going on throughout the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, there is an Office of Construction in the Chancery, which serves only in an advisory role to pastors and parishes, making suggestions and recommendations, but final decisions rest with the parish.
We selected four firms to interview. There was no cost or commitment, and thus no harm in hearing from as many as possible, but in the end, four seemed to be a fair number. The interviews occurred during two consecutive nights; two firms the first night, and two the following night with one hour allotted for each presentation. We went with the back-to-back approach so as to keep the information fresh in our minds and be able to make a fair comparison. The firms sent material and resources to review in advance, but there is no substitute for meeting the people face-to-face, since we would be working very closely with them. In the end, it boiled down to a gut feeling about with whom we could easily develop a close working relationship.
Master Plan Firm Selection
The contract with the firm we selected was limited to the Master Plan process; thus, no future relationship was implied beyond the Master Plan. We wanted a comprehensive look at the parish: What was the condition of the parish now and where would we be in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years? We are blessed to own 20 adjacent acres to our current campus, so we wanted the Master Plan to give us an idea of how we might consider building out on this land to serve the present and future needs of the parish.
The architectural firm interviewed staff, volunteers, ministry leaders, and basically anyone with a stake in the parish. More than 50 one-on-one interviews were done. These were brainstorming sessions that included wish lists and dreams. What do you want? What do you have now (in terms of space), and what kind of space could you use in the future? It was a good, if exhaustive process, but I would add this caution: Dreaming too big can produce a Master Plan that is out of reach; we also had to be realistic about what is possible now and how well we can really predict the future.
The architects also met with volunteer leaders from more than 60 parish ministries. Not all leaders came to the interviews, but all were invited and a good number chose to participate. They, too, were asked their vision for the parish, where they saw their particular ministry going in the next 20 years, and what their dreams were for space needs. This was especially important for our Religious Education department. We have more than 1,900 children in RE classes – and the number will certainly increase. Clearly, classroom space is a priority.
In my next article, I will talk about the Parish Survey conducted as part of the Master Plan process and the formation of the parish Building Committee.
Rev. Sean P. Horrigan is Pastor of Christ the Redeemer Parish, Houston, Texas, USA.
Photo credit: Andrew Spies
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