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Meet Evan McClanahan of First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Midtown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Evan McClanahan.

Evan, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I came to Houston in December of 2009. My first call was a large, suburban church in DFW, so being a solo pastor in the heart of the city was quite a different opportunity. Coming to First was like that episode of The Simpson’s where Bart buys a factory for $1. Here was this incredible building in an amazing location, just full of potential. In time, we figured out what our key ministries would be and God blessed us with a fire in 2011 which, in a series of totally unexpected events, jump started several of them. Since then, we started First Friends (a Mother’s Day Out program), Bonhoeffer House (an intentional Christian community in the former church parsonage), the First Word Debate Series, Houston’s only ongoing formal debate series, and the Sin Boldly radio show/podcast through KPFT 90.1 FM. That’s in addition to the usual Sunday school and worship services, of course.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
In the life of the church, it never should be a smooth road, so I had better not complain! If the church becomes popular, we are probably doing something wrong. But to be blunt, we seem to live in the era of church contraction. Church, faith, Christianity…these just seem to be less and less important. The younger generations don’t seem angry about faith per se. Just more apathetic. Maybe as a society we are regressing to the mean. I speak for my church when I say we don’t mind the hard work and I don’t believe we mind the occasional struggle for the faith itself. But there is no denying that the next generation is not taking up the cause of former generations. At least, not yet.

But I can also look back and see special and unexpected blessings along the way that I am truly thankful for, or at least ought to be. There have been a number of people and situations that came at just the right time in almost miraculous fashion. That definitely keeps me going.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about First Evangelical Lutheran Church – what should we know?
First Lutheran is Houston’s oldest Lutheran Church. Back in the 1850s it was a German immigrant church when Houston was only a few thousand people playing second fiddle to Galveston. It remained a German immigrant church, in culture if not reality, until recently. I often say that as a congregation, we have already undergone our death and resurrection.

I’d like to think that we would be known for two things: keeping the traditions of our elders and experimenting with finding the next generation all at the same time. It seems like a lot of churches sacrifice one at the expense of the other. They’re great at maintaining traditional worship and order, but there’s no effort to do outreach. Or they’re contemporary to the max to appeal to the next generation. But what of the beautiful traditions that have gone before? In our teaching and worship, I have to say, not much changes. That’s as it should be. But we are present at pubs and coffee houses to do evangelism, we host atheists in our sanctuary to debate, and we have a presence on secular radio. I love being part of a church with that mixture of old and new, of keeping the best of the tradition, but wanting to bring new folks into that tradition as well…and doing whatever it takes to find them,

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
When I came to First in 2009, one of Houston’s truly great pastors was the interim pastor. Pastor Edwin Peterman is a legend in my eyes. His preaching is some of the most incisive and thoughtful sermons you will ever read. He also ran a tight ship. If not for Pr. Peterman, First would probably have ceased to exist in the mid-2000s. Even though he was in his 70s at that time, he related to young people, and they joined our church when we needed an influx of people. Carroll and Dorry Shaddock have also set the tone for an incredible music program. We pull mostly from the incredible music of the Renaissance and Baroque eras on Sunday morning and the music is always transcendent. Many other faithful council members, “church ladies” (yes, that’s what they want to be called!), and property helpers have played a huge role as well. Too many to name. It’s really mind boggling how many volunteer hours are needed to keep a church going.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Kamil Zelezik

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