March 2020
Beyond the Red Doors

We are SMM

Sitting atop a small hill in a mostly flat town is a place that welcomes followers of all beliefs through its red doors. St. Mary Magdalene (SMM) in Manor, Texas, is a multicultural, multigenerational community that is being transformed by God's generosity. The majority of those who attend our services and have become part of the SMM community, have either never attended church or stopped attending a long time ago.

A relatively young community, SMM began in 2010. We worshipped in a number of places in Manor until 2014 when we moved into our new “home on the hill.” After settling in and figuring out the logistics for managing our worship and parish life, we felt we were in an appropriate place to begin looking for ways we could help address needs and shortages outside our walls.

Opening our doors to serve the community beyond

After conducting surveys in the city of Manor and attending neighborhood group meetings, SMM identified a need for affordable places where local nonprofit organizations could meet. The church has traditionally been a place of gathering, and SMM carried on that practice, opening its facilities to outside organizations that include We Are Blood, Toastmasters, Alcoholics Anonymous, the Foster Community of Central Texas, Organic Food Gardening classes and the Prom Dress Boutique, where teen girls pick out donated formal dresses, shoes and accessories for their school proms. These non-profit groups and others were welcome to use the church free of charge.

The Manor Community Wellness Alliance, a collective effort made up of area residents, church leaders, school district staff, social workers, volunteers and medical professionals who saw the need for a free clinic for the uninsured and underinsured met at the church for two years and held its “Manor Free Clinic” rehearsal there. Now active in the area, Manor Free Clinics are operated on a volunteer basis and offer services free of charge to anyone who does not have health insurance.

Currently, the Welcome Center for Immigrants is hosting English language courses at SMM, as well as providing low-cost immigration legal services and citizenship workshops. It aligns with the value SMM places on welcome, and we’re enthusiastic about offering a safe space for these activities. We also arranged to host the El Salvador Mobile Consulate for the first time. Previously accessible only in Houston and Dallas, the Consulate provides services that include passports, free legal help, marriage licenses and identification cards.

Member-led projects build relationships and confidence

Our members reflect an abundance of interests, and with our assistance and encouragement they have been able to realize some of them. Member-led projects and the good will they generate were catalysts for expanding SMM’s local reach. Last year, we started a Men’s and Women’s Ministry, a book club and multiple campaigns that included Socks of Love and the Sewing Workshop.

Socks of Love, a well-known campaign, collects white tube socks, fills them with toiletries, water and snacks and distributes them to the homeless. The project was initiated by Yasmin Aguilar, along with the Women’s Ministry. With Christmas a few months out, they took advantage of the season’s spirit of generosity to bring this campaign together.

While a young congregation brings energy and enthusiasm, it can also bring hesitation and confusion. Socks of Love was our first opportunity to begin a project ourselves, to explore our networking skills, find sponsorship and creative ways to ask for community contributions. Every action in the project was a celebration. It took roughly a month-and-a-half to gather the necessities, coordinate several “sock filling” assembly lines and prepare to distribute to local and neighboring areas. We are grateful and proud of the Women’s Ministry for sharing this vision and for their courage in using their abilities to bring our congregation and neighbors together.

The Sewing Workshop came about through a need for clothing protectors for the residents at our local nursing home. Edna Fournier, an SMM member, had sewn a few of these and offered to make a few more. When we learned that the nursing home had more than 70 residents, another community project was born. Friends, family, neighbors and SMM members donated a large amount of cotton and flannel material with lively prints. It was fascinating to see how many seamstresses we had in our congregation and surprising to learn that people outside of our church were interested in putting their hands and sewing machines into this work as well.

After hosting an enjoyable evening of tracing, cutting, sewing and ironing, we had 83 clothing protectors, and are looking forward to the next sewing workshop. We are grateful for members like Mark Longley, who discovered this need through an associate and friend; Edna Fournier, who has directed several campaigns with her infinite skills and attentive eye for quality-control; and Amy Rodriguez and Elizabeth Diaz, passionate needle workers, who spent late nights sewing the majority of the clothing protectors.

Through these projects, I learned that growth happens within you when you are in a community with people who have experienced more life than you. Sharing the drawing board with this level of diversity and learning about one another’s lives has helped us value one another. SMM’s culture of inclusivity and unfailing support has come from the grace and patience of our pastor, the Rev. Alex Montes-Vela. His introspective nature gives him the ability to model by example, through listening effectively and recognizing when adjustments or a reset are necessary.

In the short time that I’ve been a member of St. Mary Magdalene, I have seen a burst in curiosity and profound devotion in our parish for the needs of the Manor community. With the momentum that built this past year, I’m eager to see what relationships will develop this year and how we can be a link to the next project.

Karen Peña is 28, bilingual, a first generation Mexican-American and a first-time Christian. She is senior warden at St. Mary Magdalene in Manor, Texas and manages the church’s weekly e-newsletter and social media communications.


This article is part of the March 2020 Vestry Papers issue on Beyond the Red Doors