Category: our story

community updates…

So a few things have changed since the first time we told you about ourselves on this blog.  For the life of me, I can’t decide how to order the telling of those changes, and will therefore order them using the first method that I remember learning in grade school…alphabetically.  (Interestingly enough, after I decided to order them alphabetically, I realized that this actually places them in chronological order as well.  Looking back, that probably would have been the more logical choice in the first place.)

First of all, Drew Bowen took some time out of his busy schedule of scholastics and racial reconciliation to marry the love of his life…the talented, energetic, hilarious and beautiful Amanda “Panda” (Shoemaker) Bowen.  Amanda grew up in Dubai, where her parents still work as teachers.  Amanda works at Lee Elementary in Abilene, where she spends most of her time loving on special education children grades 1-4.  The two of them first met at Texas A&M University, and eventually Drew was able to win her heart through his rugged good looks, excellent leadership qualities, and embodiment of the word “persistent.”  Amanda and Drew currently live near campus, next door to our good friends Laura and Adam Hollifield.

Benjamin Covington, a long-time friend of our community, joined us this Summer as we moved to College Heights.  Ben is a Master of Divinity student at ACU, with emphasis in Missions and “being a Jew like Jesus.”  He loves baking, sewing, giving massages (not joking), and reading ancient near-eastern texts.  He has been living in our living room for the past three months, but will soon move into Laura’s old bedroom, while Laura will be moving into the Kirby’s old bedroom, which leads us to our next bit of news…

Deborah and Joshua Kirby have moved into a new house two doors down, greatly expanding the square footage that we are able to cover in our partying and merriment.  It is a lovely, large home with plenty of room for Ann and Julian (our cats) to run around and plenty of space for guests and visitors.  Like several houses in our neighborhood, their house had previously been condemned, but has been reclaimed over the past several months.  We are very excited for them to have more space to hold all of the babies that they will undoubtedly begin producing very soon…pictures to come.

Keith Owens has finished his time in graduate school, and has recently been hired by ACU!  He will be working with technology services, a field in which he has great passion, skill, and experience.  In fact, the computer that I am currently typing at would not currently be usable were it not for his services.  Mad props, brother.  Mad props.

Those are the main updates for individuals.  Of course, life is always happening with everyone in the community.  John and Shannon are still John and Shannon, bouncing around making the world a brighter place.  I’ll get to see them in about 30 minutes at Hope Church of Christ, where The Light Parade will be playing tonight.  Laura is still wonderful, but that comes as no great surprise to anyone that knows her.  She’s in the kitchen cleaning something, as is often her way.  I can hear music being played from a car parked a couple of houses down, and I wonder if our elderly neighbor is considering telling them to turn it down (Harley, if you read this, I’m talking about someone else).  We met a young man across the street the other day, and he now likes to come by and tell us about his theories on politics and music…to give you a general idea of the nature of these theories, he’s positive that Obama is the anti-Christ.

And I can’t imagine my life without any of these people.  Come by and see us sometime.


a sign from God

In our moment of need, God brought a sign from the past that we couldn’t have ever anticipated. This story is one you’ve GOT to hear!

St. Ann Celebration!

It has been a year now since we were called to follow God as a community to the College Heights area of Abilene. We want to invite you to join us for a day of prayer and celebration, thanking God for the guidance of the past year, and asking that God lead us and all of Abilene closer to the Kingdom of Heaven.

From 12 AM Saturday morning (midnight) until 12 AM Sunday morning (midnight), we want you to join us in the courtyard at what was once St. Ann hospital for 24 hours of prayer and peace. The times on the schedule below are intended to be larger group fellowship times, so feel welcome to join for meals and especially for the celebration time at 11 PM. And while some of you may not be able to join us physically, your prayers would still be appreciated as we celebrate what God has done and continues to do. We want the entire day to be filled with prayer…if you would like to join us for an hour, two hours, or even longer at any point during the day or night, please call Rosten at 361.652.7792 or John at 713.305.5876, let us know in the comments below, or just show up at 1350 Cypress. That address is where you will find the parking lot, and we will be tucked into the small courtyard behind the parking lot. We look forward to seeing you there!

12:00 AM – Opening prayer
7:30 AM – Breakfast (provided by Lynn and Steve Holt)
6:30 PM – Dinner (provided by Janet and Doug Mendenhall)
11:00 PM – Time of Celebration, Song, Story, and Communion

unfolding stories

God has been unfolding many stories in the lives of his people and in the world he created. Some have been easy to spot, while others remain hidden. Some spring up quickly, while others are a long time in coming. And yet all testify to the goodness and faithfulness of God. We have been blessed to not only catch a glimpse of what God is doing in the College Heights community, but to be invited to join in the kingdom there as God’s great plans unfold.

We invite you to journey with us as we learn from new friends and neighbors about life, as we strive to follow Jesus’ example more closely, and as we learn how God is moving in the College Heights community.

introducing the St. Ann Community!

The St. Ann Community is a group of Christian disciples brought together by God for the purposes of living together in intentional community and working for reconciliation and development within the College Heights neighborhood of Abilene, Texas.

Our community is currently composed of seven individuals: four single men, one single woman, and one married couple. Drew Bowen is an undergraduate Christian ministry major at Abilene Christian University and also serves as summer director for Camp of the Hills. Five of us—Laura Beall, Rosten Callarman, John Kaczmarek, Joshua Kirby, and Keith Owens—are graduate students of theology, missions, and ministry at ACU, with diverse interests and ministerial involvements (including Camp of the Hills and various ministries in the Abilene community). We are also graced with the presence of an enthusiastic and talented high school science teacher (Deb Kirby) who works almost entirely with at-risk students. The strengths of this community as God has composed it are incredible, and we hope that as the community continues to thrive, God will choose to increase our number.

This community was formed in February 2010, when, through a series of events, God led us to the College Heights neighborhood, specifically to the abandoned St. Ann hospital building, from which we have derived our name. Though our entire story takes a few hours to tell well, let it suffice for now to say that God has confirmed to us over and over again in some astounding ways that there are plans for us in College Heights and in the kingdom.

The dream that God has given us is one with many facets, though those fall generally under a three-fold framework: community, neighborhood, and city. For the St. Ann Community itself, it is a dream of holy and purposeful covenant living that challenges us to grow in deeper relationship with God and one another. For the College Heights neighborhood, it is a dream of community development, not just in economic resources, but also in the residents’ quality of life and interpersonal bonds. For the larger city of Abilene, it is a dream of a network of connections between the city’s organizations, officials, and concerned citizens, all for the sake of the well-being of the city and its inhabitants. In all of these areas, we hope to see both reconciliation of relationships and the restoration of people and things to their intended beauty and function. It is a big dream, but that is why it is essential that we remember it is God’s dream, not merely our own.

This dream will work itself out in a number of ways and has already begun to do so. Since August 2010, the St. Ann Community has been living in intentional community together, strengthening our bonds and discovering how God has put us together as a group. In the summer of 2011, we will be moving to the College Heights neighborhood, and our relationships with our neighbors there will then begin to grow. A centerpiece of our ministry in the neighborhood will be our conviction that all people, regardless of life situation, are uniquely made in the image of God and therefore have something significant to offer. With this in mind, we plan to build mutually-enhancing relationships, learning from our neighbors and submitting to them appropriately—empowering them to live into God’s kingdom vision at our side rather than behind us. Since God has made it clear to us that the old St. Ann hospital building is of great significance to God’s dream for the development of the neighborhood, we have made inquiries into purchasing the building and restoring it so that it can be beneficial for the neighborhood and the city. Unless God shows us otherwise, this will be a major part of our endeavors. This venture has also allowed us to begin work in the third facet of our dream: networking relationships within the city. As all of these plans and efforts move forward, we fully expect to see God continue working (sometimes even through us!) in amazing ways to make the dream we have received a reality for the growth of the kingdom in Abilene.

Ben’s narration of an evening

Here’s an opportunity to hear a little bit from our friend Ben Covington about his take on an experience we had in the first week of April, when we spent an evening with some of our peers discerning what God might be up to among us with the St. Ann building. Ben’s got quite a way with words!

For a class that Josh and Ben and I are taking at ACU, Stephen Johnson’s Contexts of Ministry class, we were asked to spend some time narrating stories of the ministerial contexts we have chosen. For the three of us, our context is the College Heights neighborhood and whatever it is that God’s up to around the St. Ann hospital. When it came time to work on this narration, I couldn’t pick out one specific moment; for me the story of the most interest was the metanarrative of what God had been doing. Here are my initial thoughts on the matter. Unpolished as they may be, I hope they’re a blessing to you.

As part of our Contexts of Ministry class (which you’ll hear mentioned quite a bit here, I’m sure!), Josh and Ben and I were required to do some basic ethnographic exercises related to our ministry location. If you’re combing your brain, trying to come up with a working definition of ethnography, look no further than Wikipedia.

What you see below are some of my field notes from the day the three of us initially discovered the St. Ann hospital building. Of course, since it’s an attempt at an objective report, you won’t be able to grasp the depth of our initial excitement, confusion, and amazement about what the St. Ann hospital building might mean for us as a community.


Neighborhood Field Notes

March 25, 2010

Josh and I drove up to Grace Fellowship [a church in the College Heights neighborhood] at about 2:15, and Ben met us there. Getting out of our cars, we set out down the street to walk around a bit and see what we could see. We discussed whether or not certain terms like “well-kept” and “putrid” were value-neutral terms which could be included in our objective narratives, but we never came to any definite conclusions. Over the next hour or so, the three of us wandered around the streets of the neighborhood to the north and west of Grace Fellowship. One thing that was noticeable from the beginning was that there were not many people around. Other than two or three people sitting on their front porches and a few people passing through in cars, we didn’t see much of anyone. I noticed also that there were not many cars parked in front of the houses, unlike most of the neighborhoods I am used to in Abilene. Granted, it was during the middle of the day, so perhaps the majority of the residents of the neighborhood and any cars they might have were at work or at school. I wondered if that was the case or if fewer people owned cars. Some of the houses seemed well-kept by their residents, some with elaborate lawn decorations. We noted more than one religious symbol: a menorah in a window, a picture of Jesus on a front door, accompanied by a statue of Mary. Many of the houses had trash and various objects strewn about the porches and the yards, and some houses were falling apart. I noticed a higher number of empty lots than I was accustomed to seeing in most neighborhoods. As we walked, we came across an old and abandoned building complex. We looked around it a bit to see if we could determine what it had been used for in the past, but we could not tell if it had been a church, a school, or something else. Turning a corner, we were passed by two people in the car. Josh said something about smiling at them and them not smiling back. We noted a couple of houses which were vacant, some of them listed as being for rent or sale. Coming to the front side of the unidentifiable building complex we’d seen earlier, we saw that it too was for sale. We began discussing the possibility of buying it and living in it, so I called the realtor listed on the sign and learned more about the property. Apparently it was once St. Ann’s Hospital, was subsequently used as the Marbridge House to serve cognitively-challenged adults, and has been vacant for the past eight to ten years. The 25,000 square foot facility is on the market for $120,000. After finding out the information we needed, Josh and Ben and I kept walking. We turned down one street to walk towards a building that stood out from the rest of the neighborhood because it looked newer and much more expensive. It turned out to be some sort of a doctor’s office or a clinic or something. We had noticed earlier in our walk how close we were to Hendrick Medical Center, which was just a few blocks away. We walked through an alleyway. I noticed a small house or shed in the alley that had had its outside walls covered in shingles to protect it from the weather. No brick or wood or siding. Just shingles. We noticed another newer building that had a sign in front noting that it was the Women’s and Children’s Alliance center. I was curious about what that might be, so we went inside and asked questions of the women we met at the front desk. They informed us about the purpose and activities of the organization (once the YWCA). Back outside, the three of us continued walking. At one point, I saw a young girl walking towards us. I did a double take. I knew her. She was Bekah, a girl from Hope, where I go to church. I called out her name and waved her over, and she came to give me a hug. She explained that she was walking to meet her mother, Corina, who was just a few blocks behind us. I turned and waved to Corina, thinking about how the people who lived in this neighborhood were probably in many ways very much like Bekah and Corina, who are very dear to me. I began to think about the relationships I would be able to form with these new neighbors of mine whom I would meet. As we walked, we came across some more abandoned houses and an abandoned health center that looked like someone might have been using it to live in. We tried to open some doors but were unable to get in. We realized we’d come back around to the abandoned St. Anne’s building, so we explored around it a bit more. It looked as though someone had torn down part of an outer wall to make a way to get in. We didn’t enter, but we did find a few broken windows we could look through to see in. The hallways inside were extremely dark. Finishing out our walk, we stopped by the house owned by Grace Fellowship to see if the guy who lives there was home, but there was no answer to our knock. I noticed the beginnings of a community garden nearby, with a tall chain-link fence put up and piles of dirt nearby. The three of us walked back over to our cars and headed to Monks [a local coffee shop] to discuss what we’d seen.