St. John’s Downtown Houston practices the Power of Touch
Touch, the title of Pastor Rudy’s book, communicates how this congregation transforms lives.
A twenty-seven-year-old man living “on the slab” had accepted society’s labels – 8th-grade dropout, drug and alcohol addict, homeless man. St. John’s United Methodist Church in the heart of downtown Houston, however, viewed him differently. When he walked into a drug rehabilitation meeting at St. John’s, primarily for the promise of free food afterwards, he was accepted as a child of God. Pastor Rudy Rasmus saw the Christ in him, saw all the good in him. Some 14 years later, after managing St. John’s HIV and STD testing for the homeless and earning his GED, associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, he understands the power of touch. “When Pastor Rudy hugged me that day, he changed the course of my life.”
Touch, the title of Pastor Rudy’s book, communicates how this congregation transforms lives. For a homeless man who has not bathed in weeks, an embrace is a sacred moment of absolute acceptance. Both noun and verb, “touch” conveys truth – not in terms of “what’s wrong with you” but the truth of how much God loves you. Truth is love, and love is not just an abstraction to be proclaimed: love is practiced.
At St. John’s givers and receivers meld into one, united by the grace of God. Grateful for what God has done for them, they want God to do the same for others through them. Examples abound. A few years ago, the current intake counselor at St. John’s Bread of Life ministry was, herself, in the long line of the homeless and hungry that snakes around the building every day waiting for one of the 7,000 meals served there each month. On this day she sits huddled over her computer helping a woman and her three children search for transitional housing. The receptionist, who found shelter at St. John’s after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina, greets the steady stream of visitors to the church. A former addict and victim of childhood incest and abuse now oversees HIV testing and education to the homeless.
St. John’s is not about the buildings – one of which recently sustained extensive damage from fire – or the stained glass, also in need of repair, or the hymnals or Sunday suits and dresses. The facilities, in fact, are in a constant state of upkeep – constantly being arranged and rearranged to do God’s work. The Sunday meal, for example, is served in the sanctuary. What better way to show that the spiritual and material are inextricable, that faith is breaking bread together, that love is to be useful?
Weekdays, classrooms overflow with children from the preschool and K-1 academy – children infected or affected by HIV/AIDs. For many of these children, the church at 2019 Crawford Street has been their home, their stability, since infancy. Around 3:00 p.m. after-school children spill into the gymnasium for snacks, homework, tutoring and recreation. At 6:00 in the evening, children from the Academy and the after-school program are loaded in vans for the trip home, often walked to their apartments so church staff can check on other family members.
St. John’s UMC lives – walks, talks, and breathes – the biblical notion of church, “ekklesia,” a community that is called out, called together, and called forth to demonstrate how the presence of the risen Christ transforms existence. Everywhere you turn you see people reconciled and redeemed – because everywhere people are exhibiting a new way of living together as an expression of their new life in Christ.
“St. John’s is the real deal,” observed Robert Hoppe, Vice President of Loans and Real Estate for the Foundation, who consults with them on their Foundation loan and other financial issues. “I think giving is just a part of their DNA. They don’t just feed the homeless – they wash their clothes, provide medical care and keep the doors open all night when the weather is too cold to sleep outside. They don’t just do HIV testing for the homeless onsite – they take a mobile unit to high-risk areas of the city. And on and on. They don’t try to fix people – they just give and give and God works through them to change people’s lives.”