Church of the Redeemer (Houston, Texas)
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The Church of the Redeemer, Episcopal in Houston, Texas is an Episcopal inner city church. During the late 1960s, under Rector Graham Pulkingham and for several decades, it was a center for liturgically-based worship revival. Redeemer was the origin for the Community of Celebration in the UK and the US, and the traveling worship ministry The Fisherfolk. As of Feb 28, 2011 the church is having to give up their current buildings, and will share the use of a nearby Lutheran church of the same name.
The church was originally known as the Eastwood Church, named after the planned subdivision where it was built in 1919, on a triangle of land donated by the Episcopal Diocese of Texas at the intersection of Eastwood, Dallas and Telephone. An adjacent "Teleph Hall" and three-story Education Building were added in the 1930s next to the small church building. In the 1950s Tellepsen Construction replaced the church with a new Sanctuary of reinforced concrete. The interior is striking with its use of curved forms, and a massive mural "Christ of the Working Man" by John William Orth.
In the late 1960s Redeemer set up a downtown "coffee-house" ministry to street people, which also drew in university students. The venue on North Main Street was called the "Way Inn". This disbanded in the mid-1970s as musicians and worship leaders of that group went to the UK to become the FisherFolk teams in the Community of Celebration. The same style of informal worship continued at the church on Friday nights, and on Sunday mornings with traditional hymns. As evidenced by albums recorded by the church, the music embraced a full range of musical styles, including several full settings of the Eucharist set to music by Betty Pulkingham.
Rev. Pulkingham drew around him a group of lay elders, including Lawyer Jerry Barker, Doctor Robert Eckert, Houston Light & Power lineman John Grimmett, and men from a variety of business backgrounds: Ladd Fields, Andy Austin. During the 1970s, young adults drawn to the worship were invited to live in extended family households. Each household had a common purse, and all took part in the weekly food co-op distribution of fresh vegetables, fruit and milk. The community was also sent young men registered as Conscientious Objectors to work in their Medical clinics. The church had a noticeable effect on the surrounding neighborhood, as residents improved their care of houses and yards.
Medical clinics were set up in the Fourth Ward of Houston and in Eastwood - this later became a City of Houston clinic. Dr. Eckert and his helpers also set up annual trips to Mexico offering medical clinic service. "LaRoca" minister after-school and evenings to the neighborhood Hispanic children and their parents. The church has a volunteer relationship with Lantrip Elementary School next door.
Note: An academic study, "The Political Impact of Christian Communities in the Inner City" assessed the church and several of the extended households in 1980. It's assessment demonstrated a vibrant egalitarian church and fellowship community without any widespread incidents that are described in the entry below. The entry below may reflect the viewpoint, bias or experience of an individual member or members but was not reflected in any of the broad based interviews conducted during the study of leadership, neighborhood members, lay staff or church members.
Entry called into question: Things began to unravel during the mid 1970s after CBS’s laudatory hour-long special in 1972 drew overflow crowds, overwhelming the church and its households. Pulkingham traveled to England to extend his influence by planting communities there, but left a cadre of authoritarian elders ruling the church in his absence. These elders began implementing the principles of a ruinous “discipleship movement” that was also sweeping contemporary Christianity – and devastating lives. Lifetime savings were stolen in bad investment schemes by "Heads of Households". Some families gave up assets to the church while elders kept there stock portfolios, ranches, etc. The Pulkinghams r rain their book and music publishing proceeds enabling them comfortable retirements. Children were removed from their parents homes and placed in homes of "stricter" and ultimately abusive adults serving as surrogate parents. Often sexual predators became members of Households whose children became targets. A top elder at Redeemer, Jim Clowe, was caught in adultery and the unrelated Jim Jones Guyana tragedy cast a pall over the notion of communal living. The household communities rapidly split up and even though Pulkingham moved back into 1980 to fix up the place, it was too late.
Not that Pulkingham was the best one to go around cleaning up anyone’s reputation. A husband with six children, he had struggled with a lifetime of homosexual urges. Believing himself rid of them forever after his spiritual transformation in New York, he let himself be enticed back into the lifestyle several years later and began to act on these urges in England. He and his wife moved into separate bedrooms and he began propositioning male followers for sexual favors. In Houston, other followers noticed his theology had taken a decidedly left-hand turn. As more sex scandals – again involving elders – rocked the church, he was forced out just two years after his return. The charismatic movement had reached every corner of the globe by this time, but many of its American originators had turned on each other.
- Duin, Julia (September 2009). Days of Fire and Glory: The Rise and Fall of a Charismatic Community. Baltimore, MD: Crossland Press. ISBN 978-0-9790279-7-0. OCLC 426816935.
- Pulkingham, Graham (1972). Gathered for power. New York: Morehouse-Barlow Co. ISBN 91-7336-0376.