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She was christened in the church 84 years ago, and married there, too.She remembers when the church had big barbecues, with men staying up all night to cook.The little white building stayed the same, even as the world around it changed radically.Spring Branch’s forests and farms gave way to suburban houses and strip malls.That was hard, she remembers, when a visiting preacher spoke only German, a language she didn’t understand. Peter’s other traditions remained — even as its denomination merged with another denomination, and that one in turn merged with yet another.Eventually the church found itself a member of the United Churches of Christ, a loose-knit denomination that largely lets individual congregations set their own rules.
Peter — is the great-granddaughter of Jacob Schroeder, a patriarch from the seven families.
The church he was envisioning built on no one’s tradition. He knew what a big change he was asking for, and from his management studies, he knew how hard change comes for any organization. As the two churches discussed the details, the idea began to seem almost inevitable.
But in the first months, when membership dropped from 23 to 15, he and his husband worried they’d made the wrong bet. And at last, the people they’d imagined began to show up: people of all ages, different races and ethnicities, straight and gay and transgender. By the end of 2018, Cathedral of Hope Houston had 85 members — a long way from a megachurch, maybe, but growing. Peter’s sanctuary, and last year, as his church began taking off, Jackson was considering yet another a move. Peter, as a landlord, would or could make the physical upgrades that his growing congregation needed. Peter’s counterpart with a list of fixes they’d need if they were going to renew their lease. Jackson would be head minister and would continue to command the big brick sanctuary on Sundays, but Sheil-Hopper would stay on, and would continue leading the restrained traditional services in the chapel.
But two of the immigrant families journeyed to Spring Branch, a flyspeck settlement of five other German-speaking families already busy turning forest into dairy farms.
“The seven families,” as Spring Branch history buffs call the city’s founders, met to give thanks for the newcomers’ survival.For its enormous turkey dinners, her Grandma Hillendahl would mix dressing in a brand-new washtub.