Trinity Mar Thoma Church

This profile was last updated in 2003

History

Trinity Mar Thoma is the oldest Mar Thoma congregation in North America, has the oldest self-built church building in the diocese, and was the largest congregation for many years. In 1974 two dozen Mar Thoma families attended a visit by a Marthomite priest, at which the priest exhorted them to meet with each other regularly. When a young priest came from India to attend a seminary in Dallas, the Houston Marthomites invited him to hold monthly services for them, and the congregation was officially formed; it was approved by the 1978 church synod.

By the early 1980s, the community had outgrown house-meetings and was regularly meeting in local Episcopal churches. The relationship between the Mar Thoma Church and the Episcopal Church in Houston has always been positive, and churches were generally very willing to let Mar Thoma services be held after their own Sunday services. However, the growing Mar Thoma population desired a Sunday morning service and a place of their own, and so they purchased land in south Houston and began construction. Immediately after the purchase, however, an economic downturn in Houston left many of the male members of the community unemployed, depending on their wives (most of whom were in medical professions) for financial support, and leaving the building project very strapped for funds. Through great effort, the community pulled through, and the completed building was dedicated on July 14, 1984.
The congregation grew quickly, both from new immigration and from a new American-born generation. By 1994, the church building was packed with over 500 families, and construction to alter the building structure was impractical. A split occurred, with half the families leaving and founding Immanuel Marthoma Church. In general, the families remaining at Trinity are more traditional than those who left for Immanuel, but both churches have strong ties to their past and relations between the two congregations are good. The parishes share a youth chaplain and have regular community events.

The Congregation Today

Trinity Mar Thoma is full every Sunday morning, at the English services as well as at the Malayalam ones. Men’s groups, women’s groups, youth groups, local prayer circles, and sports activities are all well-attended. A common concern among church leaders is that people living in American culture will become too individualist, desire too much self-sufficiency, and, as a result, will create a performance-based church not in keeping with the nature of the Mar Thoma Church. To counteract that trend, fellowship events are highly encouraged and group projects are popular. Evangelism trips to India and support for missions there are very common, and there is a new move to expand the evangelical drive to include non-Indians in the US as well. Many of the younger members and some of the clergy believe that the key to the future existence of the Mar Thoma Church in America is a move away from being an ethnic church, not only to draw in outsiders but also to keep assimilationist youth within the church.

Struggle for Youth

A central concern at Trinity is how to keep the second generation from leaving the church. One active young member complains, “a lot of the youth doesn’t understand what it means to be Mar Thoma rather than just Christian.” Children are given a very strong and thorough theological grounding, and very few abandon religious practice altogether. However, when they go to college or otherwise leave home, young adults often attend local non-Indian churches. A large number of Trinity youth have attended the huge nondenominational Houston church Second Baptist and Lakewood Church, and several young families have joined those theologically conservative churches. Their parents do not often express concern for the spiritual well-being of children who seek out non-Mar Thoma churches, as they usually attend very conservative churches and not the more liberal mainstream denominations, but they do worry that their children are losing a pearl of great worth by abandoning the rich history and depth of the Mar Thoma tradition.

Trinity has begun several programs in order to help keep young people in the church. For spiritual growth, there are Monday night Bible study groups and a Wednesday night youth worship meeting held with Immanuel Marthoma; for fellowship, there is a sports league for children and young adults, with an occasional Bible study or devotional after a game. Trinity recently launched a mentoring program to help young people feel more connected to the church and learn more about the denomination. Additionally, many members attend youth conferences where speakers like popular musician Kemper Crabb teach them about the uniqueness of the Mar Thoma Church and make them excited about the wealth of tradition the Mar Thoma Church has to offer to America. Leaders among the youth are pleased that members come out of these conferences better aware how to integrate American and Indian culture, and the general mood among the youth is one of excitement and of optimism for the future of the church.
The only common concern is the lack of Malayalam language skills among a large portion of the youth, who can usually understand casual household conversations but not enough to comprehend a theological sermon or the ancient liturgy and will not be able to teach it to their children. Malayalam courses were offered in the past, but there was very little interest in them. Rather than demanding that the second generation accommodate the church on this matter, Trinity led the North American Diocese by offering regular English-language services and providing a bilingual service guide translating the liturgy. In this way, rather than segregating young members into nonliturgical contemporary services, the youth are accommodated in their desire for English, families continue worshiping together, and none of the liturgy and tradition is lost. John George, the youth chaplain, praises the church for their strategy for the youth, saying, “young people do not come to the church; the church has to go to the youth, and only then will the youth want the church life.” The initiative for most of these changes came from a small group of very active young members unwilling to see their companions leave the church, and this group is very pleased with their success and their vision for the future. They have spread this renewal fervor to Immanuel Marthoma, and young members of both churches now confidently state their belief in the continuation of the congregations far into the future.

Activities and Schedule

Sunday Morning services:
-1st and 3rd Sundays, Malayalam Service, 9:45 A.M.
-2nd and 4th Sundays, English Service, 10:30 A.M.
Sunday School:
-Weekly at 9:15 A.M.
Youth Service:
-Wednesdays 8 P.M. (contact chaplain for location)