Over the past year, members of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Liberty and community partners have found common ground in their shared hope for a healthier city. The fruit of that work is their newly-formed nonprofit, the dWELLing.
“From the beginning, I have been floored by the commonality of our vision, given to each of us first separately years ago, then God brought us together!” said Mary Poston, a team member and physician assistant.
In addition to a bold vision to “restore hope and vitality to improve community wellness,” the team has put in the hard work to engage the full community and remained faithful to a grand calling to serve all people.
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church has a long history of actively working to serve the people of Liberty. Some might say it’s in the DNA of the faith community. Former rector the Rev. Bob Greene formed the Texas Rural Leadership Program (TRLP) to provide leadership training for rural and underserved communities statewide. In 2016, with support from EHF, St. Stephen’s became the launching pad for Episcopal congregations’ involvement with TRLP. Following that effort, St. Stephen’s applied in 2018 to participate in EHF’s Holy Currencies Ministry Incubator to develop their big dream of a wellness center into a community-shared reality.
The big dream began with a vision to create a wellness center to serve all people in Liberty – a one-stop shop for connection and a destination for restoration. The big dream also included plans for indoor and outdoor facilities for physical wellness, yoga studio, garden, café, classes on everything from healthy cooking to parenting and budgeting, and open green space for gathering and celebrating as one community.
Alexis Cordova is the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension agent for Liberty County and was part of the Texas Rural Leadership Program (TRLP) work in 2016. As part of the Holy Currencies team that led to the development of the dWELLing, she knows that community-led work takes time.
“Holy Currencies paralleled TRLP for me, focusing on leadership, program success and sustainability,” said Cordova. “We must always keep moving through the process, reevaluating each one as we go. The Holy Currencies program truly put wind back in my sails.”
Part of the Holy Currencies framework is developing relationships and cultivating partnerships. A key partnership that has emerged is with the Liberty Independent School District.
In the middle of town, in an economically and racially diverse neighborhood, sits the vacant 14-acre campus of the old San Jacinto Elementary school. On that fenced site remains classroom buildings, a gymnasium, a garden and lots of open space for gathering.
It’s an almost perfect spot that combines relationships, big dreams, and available space. The former school site will need some work to eventually become the dWELLing, but the structures in place are in good shape and more people are ready to get involved.
Milestone, a local construction company, has also bought into the vision for the dWELLing.
“They came to see the land and hear our dream,” said the Rev. Ted Smith. “I will never forget sharing lunch later with Scott, the CEO, while he excitedly drew plans on a dinner napkin! He had truly caught the vision, and now shares it with us as his own with no focus on personal gain, but on the passion of the dream itself.”
Sharing the dream and cultivating relationships has also led to other work that has been donated, including development of the dWELLing website, photography, and graphic design work.
In October, the dWELLing will hold its first public celebration called The Liberty Music Fest. There will be bands, food trucks, guest speakers and a team of people listening to their neighbors on how this reclaimed space can serve their needs for wellness.
“This process has helped me see everything in a different way, I listen and ask questions now, instead of just sharing my thoughts and assuming,” said Katie Smart, team member and owner of Let Go Let God Yoga Studio. “The leadership team is working to invite everyone in town.”
The work has energized everyone connected to it and it has re-shaped for many their experience of community and wellness.
“For my ministry and pastoral relationships this has changed my total definition of health and wellness,” Rev Smith said. “Now when I’m in community, I look for signs of wellness and un-wellness. I have a pressing desire to be OUT THERE, being the body of Christ, where Jesus would be, while still pastoring my flock.”
Rev. Smith says that his greatest hope in this work is “to have people of ALL races, cultures, economic status and backgrounds come together in an absolutely neutral environment to create a safe place.”
“My hope is to unite our community without any walls,” Smart said. “We are all in this together.”
For more information on TRLP, Holy Currencies and how your congregation can deepen community connections, contact EHF’s Congregation Engagement team.