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Houston Canterbury: a diverse network of missional communities

The Canterbury Association at University of Houston traces its beginnings back to 1951, and since that time, it has taken many different forms. At one point, University of Houston Canterbury was based at a house off of Wheeler, where students came for lunch from campus and celebrated Eucharist in an attic chapel. When it was too hot, they took the service outside to the backyard - kneelers, altar, vestments, and all.

Later on, the ministry at UH was yoked with Autry House at Rice, the Church of the Redeemer, or Iglesia Cristo Rey. After the tragic death of Fr. Israel Ahimbisibwe, an Anglican grad student shepherded the small group based at the AD Bruce Religion Center through a time of transition. 2015 was a year of grieving, learning, and revisioning, which resulted in the launch of Houston Canterbury in January 2016.

Today, Houston Canterbury is a unique ministry that does not fit the classical Episcopal Student Center mold of college ministry. We are (at UH, TSU, and now UHD) and off-campus, gathering in the southeast and west side of town. Instead of gathering people to a central physical center (we have no building of our own), we develop outposts in the communities where students live and work. This approach works particularly well at a time when it is increasingly difficult to connect with students because they are taking hybrid or online courses, thus further minimizing their hours spent on campus. Instead of setting up a student center, we gather in living rooms, on patios, or in restaurants and cafes – places from which we can reach out to a neighbor and learn to practice welcome in new ways. Instead of focusing on being a student church for those away from home, we seek to connect students to multigenerational worship congregations or to equip them for service and leadership in their family’s congregation. The Gathering, a student-centered Christian worship community at St. Luke the Evangelist, provides a space for those who are seeking a younger adult-oriented worship community as well as opportunity to bring people together from our diverse groups for common prayer.

As a community-based network, Houston Canterbury is a ready partner for families, parishes, and community-serving organizations seeking to support students taking the long and local road through higher education, especially first-generation college students. We emphasize Christian formation, pastoral care, stewardship, and evangelism. Discussion groups come together on campus and off to create space for young adults to explore and take ownership of their own faith and questions. Each of these groups also assists us with creating a network of support as we walk a difficult journey together. “Stewardship” is not necessarily a word one would associate with college ministry, but, based on experience, we believe that learning to steward one’s time, capacity for relationship, and resources is the primary challenge of young adulthood whether one is living at home or not. We seek to help students discover disciplines of managing time, resources, and relationship that are purposeful and life-giving and that really work for them. Our understanding is that acts of service to the vulnerable in the community are a core practice of stewardship. Evangelism takes shape as we learn to recognize a God who is active in the world and our communities and begin to speak of that God through word and deed.

As we look to the future, we hope that networked, community-based student ministries will bring the presence of the Episcopal Church as a witness to the loving, liberating, life-giving ministry of Jesus Christ into places where we have not been present historically. We expect to see a strengthening and diversifying of Houston-area young adult leadership in church and community engagement. We seek to develop adaptive new expressions of ministry to commuter, community college, and first-generation college students. There will always be a place for the Episcopal Student Center on residential campuses, but as our educational system changes networks of missional communities based in the places where students live and work are making the church more nimble, adaptive, and diverse.

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