The Forge for Families and SJD

by Ann Lee Philips

A beautiful community partnership was launched nearly a decade ago when Deanna Lawson, director of children’s ministry at St. John the Divine (SJD), invited the children from The Forge for Families to Vacation Bible School. The Forge for Families is a Christ-centered urban ministry in Houston’s Third Ward that exists to holistically equip families to fulfill their God-given potential. While the Third Ward has a rich cultural history, which includes playing an important role in Houston’s civil rights movement, recent issues with education, health, crime, economics, and gentrification have challenged its progress. According to the 2000 census, 47% of its residents lived below the poverty level and 45% of its residents age 25 and older reported that they had not graduated from high school. The Forge for Families believes that family change can happen in a single generation, and strategically invests in and collaborates with families to help them grow educationally, economically, and spiritually.

Lawson soon realized that not only should The Forge children attend VBS, but also that SJD’s VBS community would benefit from The Forge’s leadership. A group of college students and young adult leaders from The Forge’s leadership program partnered with SJD’s VBS leadership. SJD’s youth and leaders have become dear friends with The Forge’s youth and leaders, forging relationships that span generations.

St. John the Divine’s Go Outreach ministry and Episcopal Church Women have expanded upon this amazing relationship over the years. Each year, parishioners buy new, unwrapped toys for boys and girls 6-12 years of age and $25 gift cards from Walmart or Target to stock the Forge’s “Holly Jolly Toy Store.” Unlike the usual toy drive, the Holly Jolly Toy Store does not give the gifts away. Instead, it provides the opportunity for Forge parents and grandparents to shop for Christmas gifts at more affordable prices to manageably show love to their children.

The annual Gospel Brunch held at the Forge has also been a highlight in SJD’s relationship with the Forge. This year, SJD families will help sponsor the attendance of Forge families, with everyone dining together in celebration of the joyous Christmas season with great food and music. We are involving some of our youngest parishioners in discipleship, with our Cherub Choirs and Preparatory Choirs performing at the brunch along with the Forge children, and our amazing choir families serving as host committee members. The Rev. Michael L. Pickett, world-renowned gospel singer, songwriter, and producer, will perform. Rev. Michael is the Minister of Music at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Houston. His music was used to minister to the space shuttle Columbia crew on the space station before their tragic accident upon re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere. The Gospel Brunch is a unique, heart-warming, soul-filling event that reminds us all of the reason for the season, and calls to mind Romans 15:29: “I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.” We invite you to join us in getting to know and supporting the Forge for Families this holiday season.

You can be a part of St. John the Divine’s ongoing relationship with The Forge this winter by volunteering at the Holly Jolly Christmas Store on December 13 or 14 from 10 am – 2 pm. Email Tany James, director of outreach,, to learn more and sign up.

The Gospel Brunch has had to move to February 2024. More information on a new date coming soon!

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