By Kirk Petersen
She knew there would be confetti, but she didn’t know it would be for her.
Aleeta Bureau has worked at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston for 20 years, but only just became a member. For years she worshiped in a Roman Catholic church. She’s part of the communications team at St. Martin’s, so she knew something special was planned for the main service on November 12. (Yes, the church is large enough to have a communications “team” — of five people.)
She also knew that she would be one of 31 new members welcomed at the service, breaking the 10,000 mark, but she didn’t know that based on the time she submitted her paperwork, she would be the milestone member.
Rector Russ Levenson called Bureau up to the crossing after welcoming the entire group of new members, and introduced her as No. 10,000. As he was leading a round of applause, the confetti canons fired.
“That was an experience,” Bureau told TLC. “It was very loud.” The celebration can be seen on a video on the church’s Facebook page, beginning at about minute 58.
“In the history of the Episcopal Church, in the history of Anglican Communion in North America, there’s never been a church that has reached 10,000 members,” Levenson told the congregation, drawing applause. Looking at the colorful confetti strewn around, he said: “I want you to know that we actually rehearsed this week. So we’ve already cleaned this up once. We’ll do it later.”
In many churches, you become a member by saying you’re a member. St. Martin’s has a much more structured approach. It’s starts with “Membership 101” — about six hours of classroom instruction.
“When folks join through this membership class, we’re real clear about what’s expected,” Levenson told TLC. Members are expected to actively participate in worship and Christian education, to join a ministry, and to make a financial pledge.
It’s a formula that works for them. St. Martin’s continues to grow, even as membership in the church as a whole continues to decline. To put the church’s size in perspective, consider that of the 109 dioceses in the Episcopal Church, fewer than 50 have as many as 10,000 members, based on 2022 parochial report data.
St. Martin’s famously is the church where former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, were members when they were still alive. Levenson wrote a book, Witness to Dignity, about serving as pastor to a president.
“I’m just happy that the Lord is working through St. Martin’s and we’re growing so quickly,” Bureau said.