This month marks the 175th birthday of Christ Church Cathedral. We kicked off our celebration on March 2, Texas Independence Day. The celebratory dinner was held at the Rice Lofts Crystal Ballroom, on the same site as the Republic of Texas Capitol Building, in which the original organizers of Christ Church chartered the parish. As the first organized house of worship in Houston, Christ Church was a “foreign mission” of the Episcopal Church in the United States!
My own family’s history is intertwined with that of the Cathedral. When I moved to Houston thirteen months ago, my father bestowed upon me an old traveling suitcase that had belonged to my great Aunt Fairy Thompson. Stuffed full of letters and photographs dating from the 1830s until the 1970s, the suitcase is the depository for the records of my family’s Texas roots.
Included in it is a tintype photo of my great, great, great, great grandfather Col. John Henry Moore and his wife Eliza (for whom my daughter is named). Moore came to Texas as one of Stephen F. Austin’s “Old 300,” and Eliza did the same with her father, James Cummins. Col. Moore commanded the Texians at the Battle of Gonzales on October 2, 1835, and he gave the land on which La Grange, Texas, was founded from his original league.
His daughter Tabitha married Ira Griffin Killough, a rancher also from Fayette County (and the ancestor for whom my son is named). Fast forward two more generations, and you reach my grandfather, Robert Faires Thompson, and his older sister, my great Aunt Fairy. By 1900 the family lived in Houston, where my great-grandfather John Hunter Thompson (who was from Bellville) ran the Guarantee Life Insurance Company and joined Christ Church. Hanging on the wall in my office is a photograph of him sitting at his desk in downtown Houston, circa 1910. Another photo from the same era shows Aunt Fairy as a child in a pony-drawn buggy, and inscribed on the back is “May Fete, Christ Episcopal Church.”
My grandfather moved to Arkansas as a young adult, but Aunt Fairy remained a member of Christ Church until her death in 1980. She loved the Cathedral dearly. In her later years, Aunt Fairy was poor as a church mouse, and yet her suitcase contains a June 1, 1973 letter from Dean Robert Gibson thanking her for her $100 contribution to the Cathedral Advance Funds Campaign. $100 would have been a princely sum for her.
Unbelievably, Christ Church has been a beacon of Christ’s love and grace at the corner of Texas and Fannin for almost two centuries. The Cathedral’s history parallels the history of Houston, and the parish membership roll has included many of the pivotal figures in the development of our city and state. I am exceedingly pleased that it also includes my own family.
Dieter Ufer, whose father’s steady hands hammered the beautiful brass top of the Cathedral’s baptismal font, tells me he lovingly touches that brass each time he approaches the altar for Communion. The font connects Dieter to his own family history. Each Sunday when I enter the Cathedral, I similarly think of my grandfather, who was baptized in that font; my great grandparents, who were buried in Glenwood Cemetery from this church; and my great aunt, who gave to support Christ’s mission in this place when she scarcely had anything to give. I am blessed to serve as the Dean of Christ Church and share in its blessed history.
At the dinner last Sunday, My predecessors as dean–Pittman McGehee, Walter Taylor, and Joe Reynolds–were present and participated in the program. They each spoke of the past ways in which the Cathedral boldly championed the love of Christ in downtown Houston. I then launched our Vision Action Plan, which will guide us as we seek to further God’s grace in the coming years. The plan hearkens to a verse from Jeremiah and is entitled “A Future Filled With Hope.” You can read it here:
A Future Filled With Hope focuses upon pastoral care, community, evangelism, worship, and spiritual formation. It’s most ambitious undertaking is the establishment of a Spirituality Center that will feed souls in a manner analogous to the way the Beacon (Christ Church’s outstanding ministry to the Houston’s homeless) feeds bodies. Our hope and plan is that the Spirituality Center will host labyrinth, icon-writing, centering prayer, and lecture on a host of topics ranging from Christian spiritual practices to interfaith understanding.
Our 175th anniversary celebrations continue throughout the month of March–and all year, really. This Friday evening, March 7, we will host the opening reception for our retrospective photographic exhibit in the gallery of Reynolds Hall. The photos are already hanging. My favorite was taken fifty years ago at the Cathedral’s 125th birthday dinner. It shows Bishop (and former Christ Church Rector) John Hines, Bishop (and the 1st Dean of Christ Church Cathedral) Hamilton Kellogg and Dean (and future Bishop) Milton Richardson. They stare out at me, and I gaze back at them. I cherish their legacy, and look forward to the Cathedral’s future filled with hope.