A Look Back - Investing in Core Belief
This story was originally published in the Summer 2009 edition of Methodist Money and Ministry; we are revisiting it ten years later, as we celebrate Black History Month and the hope United Methodist churches bring to their communities.
“In the final analysis, our decision to invest had to be consistent with our cultural values and our core belief – our spirituality,” explained Dr. Robert McGee, senior pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Houston, in describing the criteria important to him and his wife Lillian when opening an Individual Fund at the Texas Methodist Foundation.
When Lillian’s mother died last November at the age of 102, they wanted to use inheritance funds as a tribute to a life lived according to strong Christian values. An investment in the Methodist Loan Fund (through the Individual Fund) enabled them to reap better-than-average returns on their investment while providing the source for loans to United Methodist churches wanting to further their reach into their communities through new or improved facilities.
“What better way to honor my mother’s desire to bless us financially while strengthening the Church’s ability to improve the world through its ministries,” Lillian explained. “She was a strong-willed woman. I like to think of her tenacity continuing to shape vital church communities out there, however indirectly,” Rev. McGee added.
With Trinity UMC as an example of what a church can do to create a better world, it’s not surprising the McGees would want to use their investment to enable other churches to perform similar good works. Organized in 1848 for the slaves of members of Houston Methodist Church (now First UMC), Trinity is one of the oldest African-American churches in Texas.
An admirable example of Methodism’s emphasis on social responsibility and education, Trinity is known for its role in founding Wiley College and Texas Southern University and has been home to outstanding educators, a college president, ministers, and a bishop. In fact, 19 Houston area schools and facilities are named after members and throughout its history the congregation has been responsible for organizing other churches in Houston.
A retired middle and high school teacher herself, Lillian understands the importance of both tending to immediate needs and passing down cultural insights and wisdom from generation to generation. She recently completed child advocacy training to help abused children. “Children need us – not only to rescue them from dire situations but to teach them about where they came from, that they matter and can make a difference,” she commented.
Rev. McGee proudly noted Trinity’s wall of history picturing each pastor who served the church during its 144-year history. Trinity’s annual Founder’s Day celebration continues to lift up their illustrious past while raising thousands of dollars for current ministries. “Naming is important, especially in the African-American culture where so many of our brothers and sisters lived in anonymity,” explained Rev. McGee. “Naming is a way of honoring individuals, expressing gratitude, connecting to our collective history, and empowering young people with a sense that they can add to that history. It’s inspiring and hopeful,” he continued. Set in the midst of Houston’s famed Third Ward, hope and inspiration are dramatically rendered in Trinity’s stunning stained-glass windows and in the nearby Project Row Houses, also enthusiastically supported by the church. Both demonstrate the power of spiritual imagination to change individual lives and society.
Knowing their investment is helping other churches be a catalyst for hope in their communities is important to the McGees. “Trinity is one of the churches who have benefited from a loan from the Methodist Loan Fund. Robert Hoppe (TMF Vice President) was a big help with that. And when I served on the Board of Trustees at Wiley, we worked with Tom Locke and the Foundation to get a loan to build the chapel there,” Rev. McGee said. “Now it’s our turn to help others.”
Whether an historic church like Trinity or a new church start in the suburbs, an investment that helps congregations reach more people with the message that they truly matter, that they are united in God’s love and together can be a force for good, is an investment in “core belief” that will outlast all of us.
Rev. McGee and Lillian are now retired and living in Houston.