At a recent high school awards ceremony in a small Texas town, John Standridge had a clear view of the gun in a hip holster on the man sitting in front of him. John laughed to himself, “People in Arlington, Massachusetts would call 9-1-1 if someone walked into a school with a gun like that, but nobody batted an eye.” As one can imagine, the differences in these two corners of the country abound, but John was surprised to uncover many similarities.
In the summer of 2012, after living and ministering for 16 years in Greater Boston, John, along with his wife, Kit, and their four school-aged children packed up their car and made the 2,060-mile trek to start a new church, Christ Church Presbyterian, in the Texas Hill Country. “We feel like genuine missionaries in a foreign land, with its own customs and culture,” John said, “It takes time to really get to know a community and function as an insider.”
On a recent trip back to Cambridge, John saw his trusted barber, greeted the familiar market clerk, and recognized people as he walked between destinations. The neighborhood-centric life in Cambridge reminded him, more than expected, of his new life 85 miles West of Austin in Kerrville, Texas. “I think big cities and small towns have a lot more in common than cities and suburbs. Boston is like a bunch of small towns stitched together,” John reflected, “Our time here was good preparation for building relationships in a rural area.”
With 95 churches for around 25,000 residents, locals often question why anyone would start a new church in Kerrville. They generally see everything as fine, appearing happy with the status quo. The real challenge is overcoming suspicion, building trust, and demonstrating love for a place by working to understand its culture. “We believe this new church is an indication of God's love for Kerrville, and when he loves places he brings growth, builds new connections, and advances the gospel,” John said.
Like Cambridge, Kerrville values tradition and associations of interests, like politics. An underlying belief in the community claims the way to construct a good life is by getting people on board with their own ideas and agendas to make the world a better a place. John explained, “There are times when all you can see are things that hinder the advance of the kingdom. This is what an actual mission field is - it is hard - you have to go out and die to live.” He often reflects on Tim Keller’s reminder that we are called to simultaneously love and challenge. “You have stereotypes about a place and then you go live there, and live the complexity of it. I remember moving to New England and seeing it as monolithic, and then realizing there's a difference between Boston and Cambridge – Massachusetts and New Hampshire – you don't know that at a distance. We spent nearly two decades in Boston, and left feeling like we only scratched the surface. There is great value in moving to a place without all conclusions made to get to know it.” John shared.
In many ways John sees CTK as a unique church experience in a place where people come together with no real connection for a new job or graduate school, which naturally moves them toward one another helping to create a life-giving community. On the contrary, people in Kerrville are rooted and not trying to create new community. The question for the Standridges is how they can help others understand the importance of a church community that stands at the center with everything else oriented and orbiting around it. Christ Church, in the formation stage, is building agreement among the members that the church is what the bible says it is, and thus deserves to be more than a single event on Sunday mornings.
After two years in Kerrville, they are just beginning to be able to form intelligent questions about the community, let alone derive answers. “Our eyes have been opened by tremendous, entrenched poverty here. In other states there are more government supports and programs. The mindset here is more, ‘if you're poor you haven't navigated life as well as I have, it's kind of your fault,’” said John. Caring for the poor in other states, like Massachusetts, is not really gospel-centered either, but the greater challenge is asking what you are clinging to, what defines you, and why it is hard to connect with and care for other people.
“When you are part of a place you love, you take on an identity defined by that place and begin to love that part of yourself. I still feel like a Bostonian in many ways – deep pride when the Red Sox win, missing Newbury Comics and the MFA, and longing to be with old friends,” John confessed, “but when you're wrested out and realize in a new place that your identity makes no sense to anybody – suddenly your pride is exposed. The call to Kerrville has come with some amount of suffering and heartache, which every ministry entails, but one big impact of such a drastic transition is how it gets you thinking about your identity in Christ.”
While he can not see the big picture of God’s call to Kerrville, a town where tradition is rarely, if ever, challenged, the Standridges hope their lives proclaim Jesus’s love to those around them. “I hope we can look back and see God's great and gracious work in us, as painful as it is,” John said, “and that we continue to battle anxieties about doing enough, doing it well enough, by praying and deciding that God is enough.”
Please pray with us for John and Kit Standridge, and their four children, Walter, Clayton, Theo, and Lucy, as they continue to build relationships and a new community of believers in Kerrville, Texas.