Martin Garrison is the new pastor of St. Peter’s Church of Coupland. Today was his first official day on the job. His first sermon as the pastor of St. Peter’s will be on Sunday.
I visited with him a few days ago. My first impression was that he is not as young as I had expected. There was wisdom and maturity behind those eyes. He is very easy to talk to and I spent quite a bit more time than I had intended.
He told me he went to high school in Hurst, which is in the mid-cities area of Dallas-Fort Worth. He attended the University of Texas, studying journalism and computers. He worked in television for a while as a Newscast Director. He also did some commercial copy and was the video editor for Central Texas Gardner on KLRU. That period was eight years of his life. He also did some residential remodeling before he decided to attend the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
I asked what led him to enroll in seminary. He said that because he had attended loving churches as a youth, he grew up to love church. When he was about 30 years old, he was reminded of his love for church by listening to books on tape while doing his remodeling work. He specifically mentioned Gilead, a novel by Marilynne Robinson. He also said that Bobbi Kaye Jones, a Methodist pastor in Austin, encouraged him.
He spent four years in seminary and was also working for Elephant Productions, a video production company in Austin. Unbeknownst to me, he has some history in Coupland because he served as the youth minister at St. Peter’s from 2011 – 2012. He said he got to know some of the kids and their parents at that time but that he otherwise has not had the opportunity to become acquainted with the general community. He is not certain how his role in the larger community will develop but I had the impression that he intends it to develop naturally over time.
Pastor Garrison met his wife, Emily, at the University of Texas and they have been married for 15 years. She is an executive assistant at a company that does software and marketing for community banks and credit unions. He says Emily expects to become involved in the community.
The Pastor and his wife have an adopted son, Jeremiah, who is 18 and on his own now. They also have two very sweet dogs named Shiner and Snoop-dog. Both are 12 years old.
I asked the Pastor about the future of the church. He said, “St. Peter’s is in a surprisingly good place.” He said that it is doing very well compared to other small churches. He says his calling is an expression of the church council’s energy and that they have a desire to be active in the community. He could not predict how that would manifest. I had the sense that he is not coming in with a pre-conceived notion of what the church community needs or how he will guide it.
The Pastor and Mrs. Garrison moved into the Parsonage two weeks ago. He said the movers were church volunteers. Their assistance made the move much easier for them. He took me on a tour of the Parsonage. It is in excellent condition. The Garrison’s furnishings and decor were modest and welcoming. He showed me areas that had recently been remodeled, including the kitchen. He said, “They did a great job preparing it for us. Emily has already baked a cake.” He later noted that the cake was a great success.
I sent a follow-up question to Pastor Garrison by e-mail. As regular readers of the Coupland Times know by now, I am not afraid to stir up a bit of controversy from time to time. Certain moral and political issues rarely find their way into American church services and I have noted the silence of the churches on recent persecutions of Christians in the Middle East and even in America. I was so impressed by Pastor Garrison’s response, I asked for his permission to include it in this story. My question and his response follow.
My Question: “Without necessarily providing your personal opinion on things like abortion, immigration, recent Christian persecution in Iraq, Syria, & elsewhere, etc., what do you feel is the proper role of a local pastor with regard to such national and international issues of the day? In a similar vein, with regard to political issues, if you were living in the years leading up to and during the American Revolution against the British monarchy, would you have been a member of the Black [Robe] Brigade?*
Pastor Garrison’s Response: “As a teacher of the church the pastor should always be reminding us (myself included) that we have been called to be a conduit for Christ’s love to the world. We are to be the Body of Christ for the world. Even in the most stark situations it is often difficult to know without doubt what is the most loving position. Often our best intended attempts at intervention only exacerbate problems. So most often I imagine that it is not my roll to make political pronouncements. But for every political decision the church should constantly be asking, ‘Are we making this decision out of love or out of fear?’ Pastors like Andre Trocme, and Martin Luther King Jr., who have decided that the loving path forward was indeed clear and who have intertwined their ministry with important movements have my utmost admiration. Hindsight allows us to say they were clearly in the right. But at the time, it would not be easy to dismiss others who questioned the lovingness of putting parishioners, and even church children, at risk in these struggles.”
“I can’t say about the Black-Robe Brigade, I don’t know their stories well enough. I’m certainly not a fan of monarchies, but [I don’t believe] I would preach to promote armed revolt. I’m not a pacifist, entirely, but I do think it’s important to remember Paul’s Christ Hymn (Phil 2:5), which draws our attention to Christ not taking on the powers of God, but rather taking the form of a slave.”
“Again though, a preacher like Andre Trocme, who encouraged his church to hide Jews in France during the German occupation; that’s a preacher whose story I would look to if we found ourselves in such desperate times. Trocme, though disregarding Vichy government edicts to hide Jewish people, also wouldn’t lie to officials. When Vichy officials visited his town he had one of the children deliver them a letter admitting to their work hiding and smuggling Jews into Switzerland. The letter ended, ‘We have Jews, and you won’t find them.’”
Sunday services at St. Peter’s Church begin at 10:15 AM. God willing, I’ll be there to help usher in a new chapter in the life of St. Peter’s Church of Coupland.
*The correct term is Black Robe Regiment.