St. Patrick’s: Seeing The Blessing in God’s Pace
“Everything goes really slowly, slower than you want and expect or hope,” says Mark+ Walz, pastor of St. Partick’s in Dallas. But, he adds, that slow pace has been a blessing in disguise in the church-planting process.
St. Patrick’s launched in fall 2021 as a church plant from All Saints Dallas. For the first year, a group of 35 or 40 worshipped together on Sunday evenings. Though attendance went up a bit as people began coming more often, growth was slow. But, Mark+ says, “It gave us a chance to really come together as a group. … It was a good time, a formative time. … We were just waiting on the Lord to do something.”
As they waited, they dealt with the numerous challenges of launching a church in the height of a pandemic, including differing views on masks and distancing, as well as the frustrations of bad weather while meeting outdoors. Mark+ also saw how COVID-19 changed many people’s mindsets in ways that made it harder for the church to grow. “It got people out of the habit of gathering together. We lost our understanding of the theology of the Body and how important it is to be in physical space with one another to worship the living God.” Mark+ recalls that many times, he and his team were reaching out to people who hadn’t been to church in a year and a half and didn’t see the value of gathering in person anymore.
Two Leaps of Faith
In fall 2022, it became clear to Mark+ and his core team that the church needed to make two significant shifts: finding a new location and transitioning from Sunday evening services to meeting on Sunday mornings. Mark+ began making cold calls, including one to a church he’d heard had a sizeable facility and a nice preschool but not a lot of people.
For six weeks, Mark+ heard nothing back. But then he got a call from the church, asking if St. Patrick’s was still interested. “I immediately said yes,” he recalls. And at the end of November, St. Patrick’s began meeting on Sunday mornings in the church’s chapel.
The new location has been a blessing on numerous fronts, Mark+ says. “They’re so interested and want us there. They bend over backward. If we have events after hours, they make the facility available.” He enjoys having his office close to the offices of several staff members at the host church, and numerous members of that church have come to events held by St. Patrick’s. “That’s been really encouraging as well to see that kind of teamwork.”
While the move to Sunday mornings was also a blessing for many attendees, it meant losing the man who’d led music. But God soon brought a young family inquiring about Anglicanism and interested in getting involved. “I remember thinking how grateful I was for this one family to be drawn to what we’re doing in northwest Dallas,” Mark recalls. “That was a big deal.”
Within a month, Jake became the church’s Director of Worship and Outreach. “They’ve been a huge addition to the church plant,” says Mark+ of Jake and his wife, Ally.
Though in hindsight, it’s easy to see how God has worked through changes in the church, the decisions to move and to hire a new staff member were both big leaps of faith. “We were all wrestling with if we should jump into this. It would be something that would stretch us for sure,” Mark+ shares. He recalls a clarifying question raised in one of the conversations about the potential shifts: “What will happen if we don’t do this?”
“Looking back, it’s one the best decisions we made,” Mark+ recalls. “You’re constantly keeping your hands open before the Lord and trusting him to provide at every step.”
Blessed With Growth, Mindful of Limitations
In the year since the move, attendance at St. Patrick’s has more than doubled, and over the summer, they began meeting in their host church’s sanctuary. The congregation is comprised of numerous young families and several empty-nesters, and Mark+ has seen God bring people with diverse personalities and talents. “They’ve got giftings that fit perfectly with our church, and their relationships with the Lord are strong and vibrant. That always just amazes me,” he shares. “It’s a recognition that I don’t know everything and that God does, and he’s orchestrating this in his perfect and good will.” He adds, “It’s just an encouragement to me that and my wife and I are not the only ones out there who love the Lord and want to see the Lord move.”
Amid the growth, St. Patrick’s has been mindful of its capacity as a young and still relatively small congregation. “We’re just taking it at God’s pace and not trying to rush anything,” Mark+ explains. “Because of that, we have limitations. There’s only so much we can do.” A limited number of volunteers equals a limited amount of energy for outreach programs. The church recently launched its first Alpha program, recognizing that, with that addition, its current capacity is capped. “We can’t say yes to everything. If we say yes to something like Alpha, that means we can’t do a dozen other things because there’s no more manpower or space or time in the day.”
Mark+ applies this principle to his family’s involvement in the church as well. “Not only does our congregation have limited time and energy and resources, so does my family. They are incredibly involved in the church. My wife does a ton because she feels like this is partly her call too, that since I’ve been called to this into this, she has as well,” Mark+ says. “It’s all part of the slowing down and being at ease and knowing that God is going to make this all work.”
Mark+ sees how God worked in the slowness, even when, he says, “I felt myself constantly on the gas pedal saying, ‘come on, let’s go’” in preparation for the church’s launch.” In hindsight, with the perspective of the past few years, “I think I would look at myself and say, “It’s okay to even slow down more than that.’”
He also reflects that he wouldn’t worry about money as much. “If God’s in the midst of this, I realize that the money’s going to show up. Your needs are going to get provided for.”
A Vision for Involvement
Looking ahead, Mark+ wants to see more people become part of worship services at St. Patrick’s. He cites a phrase often used at All Saints: “We lead with worship”—the idea that people come to understand what Anglicanism and the local church are all about by being part of worship. “It’s a noble and a balanced and right perspective,” he says, and he recognizes the need to get more people, especially those who are newer to St. Patrick’s, involved and assimilated in worship.
To that end, the church has planned volunteer training and membership classes as part of the bigger goal of integrating people into the church so that there’s no hard line between the “professionals”—the staff and leaders—and everyone else. He sees how growing too fast could easily lead to the majority of people becoming users or consumers. “That’s not what we’re interested in at all.”
Instead, Mark+ has a vision for involvement. “If you’re coming and you’re being a part of St. Patrick’s, then liturgy is a work of the people. Let’s get all these people to work, starting with worship.” And for that vision, slow growth is a visible blessing.