What was once a flourishing Memphis parish, the Church of the Holy Apostles had fallen on hard times when the Rev. Barkley Thompson, a young seminarian, visited in 2003 with a small core of parishioners who were not willing to give up on the church. Father Thompson began serving the small congregation of 35-40 parishioners in June 2003 in the Agape Chapel on the campus of St. George's Independent School in Collierville, Tennessee. Scarcely three years later, the parish had an average attendance of almost 200 each week. Thompson noted, "a crucial factor is that Holy Apostles is a parish that isn't afraid to address vexing church issues, but, at the same time, it's a place that makes space for all viewpoints and convictions."
The generous spirit of the growing parish was astonishing. When the church decided to begin a capital campaign for a new facility, it's consultant thought raising $1 million would be impossible. But the church raised $1.5 million and in 2006 the congregation moved into its new facility on a campus that included a 350-seat Gothic nave, classrooms, parish hall, kitchen and administrative space. It was the first new Episcopal church to be built in the Diocese of West Tennessee since 1994.
"Our growth has been exciting, said Carey Mayfield, whose family have been church members since 2004. "It does not take long to see that Holy Apostles is a special place. I also love that our ministry opportunities grow as the parish size grows. There is an opportunity for everyone to plug into areas that interest them."
It was quickly apparent that even more space was necessary and a second capital campaign was begun to add 5,300 more square feet for a parish life center to allow for meetings, education, and youth sports. However, before work could begin, Fr. Thompson left in the summer of 2007. Later that year, before construction was completed, the priest in charge resigned. The Reverend Paul Stevens provided interim leadership, and a search committee was formed to look for a new rector.
In December 2008, Holy Apostles called another young, energetic priest, the Reverend John Leach, as rector. Coming to the church in the middle of a national economic recession, Fr. John was faced with leading the congregation though challenging circumstances. "That was definitely a tumultuous time for the church and for the nation," said Father John. "In the midst of a building expansion, many families at Holy Apostles were suddenly experiencing income reductions, job losses and even job transfers away from the area. My intention at that time was to provide hope and support and help make the church a place of joy, of calm amidst the chaos."
The church finances were also profoundly affected by the economic distress and the budget shortfall for 2009 was significant. A faith-based budget was adopted and parishioners were asked to take the necessary steps to offer the resources that would enable Holy Apostles to uphold our mission statement, “To provide a welcoming community in which all can, with open hearts and open minds, receive God's Grace through worship, fellowship, learning, and outreach to others.”
Once again, Holy Apostles wrestled with adversity and not only recovered but flourished. Since 2008, we have doubled our staff, more than doubled our budget, and most significantly, increased our outreach giving by 500 percent. We partner with more organizations than ever before to be more visible to the larger community, and our buildings and grounds are once again bustling with activity. "We have walked together through both adverse and joyful times, and the parishioners at Holy Apostles have always responded with faith and affection for each other," John remarked.
In 2014 the Reverend Susan Crawford “returned home” to Holy Apostles, joining the staff part-time to assist Fr. John in liturgical ministry, and to establish and guide The Prime Timers, a program for senior adults. Susan was baptized and confirmed at Holy Apostles in the early 1970s, and she was sponsored by the parish as she pursued and completed her study for the priesthood.
As Holy Apostles' longest-serving rector, one of Father John's greatest assets has been discerning people's gifts and empowering them for ministry. "The people here are genuinely interested in learning about faith and truly following Jesus," Fr. John observed. "I've been amazed that parishioners are willing to take on any ministry - from gardening to pastoral care, from the smallest, most unsung tasks to the heavier, more emotionally challenging issues. All I've had to do is ask."
Robert Capra and his wife Carole, parishioners since 1969, have been through all of the church's ups and downs over the years. Through it all, he told a reporter from The Living Church, "the sense of community has remained strong among parishioners, and there has also been a continuing recognition of the importance of outreach ministry to the larger community. For many of us, Holy Apostles is like a second family, and this church is one of the reasons my wife and I chose to remain in the Memphis area. I feel one cannot help but see the hand of God in the remarkable rebirth of this parish."
Please join all the past and present parishioners of Holy Apostles as we celebrate worshipping together, loving one another, and trying faithfully to follow in Jesus' footsteps for 50 years.