by The Rev. Reagan Cocke
I grew up in a family that went to Christ Episcopal Church in San Antonio. I've never known another denomination and I've always felt at home in the Episcopal Church. In Philadelphia, I got a Master's degree in Architecture and married Stephanie. We then returned to San Antonio and I practiced for nine years and raised a family. During that time, I got more and more involved in the life of Christ Church San Antonio and I just kept feeling called into full-time ministry. After about a four-year period of discernment, Stephanie and I decided to move forward.
I was very blessed that my sending Bishop allowed me (and Stephanie) to study theology at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford. My family had a fantastic time being together there. We came back to San Antonio after two years, and I did one semester at Sewanee. I was blessed by a friend who paid for me to fly between Nashville and San Antonio every week and that made that possible.
Stephanie, our children, and I moved to Brownsville for my first posting. We loved the people at Church of the Advent and we loved being in Brownsville, but we knew that time was coming to an end. So I sent out 24 letters to 24 different rectors asking them if they had a position, and if not, would they pass my name on?
Out of those 24 rectors, Larry Hall was the only one who responded. He called my house and spoke to Stephanie. I came home that day from work and Stephanie said, "We're going to St. John the Divine. I like Larry Hall." I said, "Well, don't I have a say in the matter?" Within a week or so, we were in Houston interviewing, and Larry offered me a position. By April 1, 2002, we were here, and we have loved it ever since.
It has been a joy for me to watch children that I baptized grow up and go to college. In the early days, the Homebuilders group was really important to us, and we had a blast being with them. Homebuilders were young families that would meet on Wednesday nights and study together, pray together. We put together a family retreat that impacted the destiny of those families and of St. John the Divine.
It’s been interesting to see the culture change over the past 20 years. Wednesday nights are so difficult now to get young families together. Houston is bigger, the traffic is worse, and there are more homework assignments and sports activities on Wednesday evenings as well as during the rest of the week. We focus now more on Sundays than any other day.
Another significant time in my ministry here was when our former rector Clay Lein started life groups. Charlie Holt and I decided that we were going to try to do 100 life groups during Lent. Kim Jameson and I worked for two months getting everything together and we ended up with 70 life groups, which was a major undertaking. It was so much fun connecting people and getting people to participate. That was, to me, a real joy.
I’ve enjoyed doing a lot of creative things during my time here. I wrote a book, ‘Encountering Truth’, and loads of devotionals and Bible studies. I thoroughly enjoyed creating Messiah devotionals for Advent and Lent one year that had QR codes to the music. That was unusual and fun to do.
The thing that has perhaps brought me the greatest joy on a Sunday morning was working years ago to start the Awesome Worship service with Bridget Barnes. When Deanna Lawson came, we revised it, amped it up, put it in the HLC, and added the band. To see the Awesome Worship service this Easter with over 300 people in it and just all the excited families and kids - I just love that! To me, there's nothing like an excited child in the middle of worship.
I'm really enthusiastic about being at St. John the Divine under Leigh Spruill's leadership and the direction we're going. We're focusing on doing ministry to the parish and outside the parish at the same time. Leigh has the pastoral side of Larry Hall and the strategic side of Clay Lein. I think he is preparing the staff to go in this direction with him, and it's a healthy way of looking at the Church. I'm excited about the people who are on staff now as we are prepared to go forward. We've had great staff members over the years, and we continue to hire new and exciting people. I like that we're hiring some younger staff members and bringing some new thinking to the table.
One of the things that's been really important to me here is that Stephanie and I have been able to do ministry together. It's been fun to teach with Stephanie. One of the things we've really loved is taking people over to Wycliffe Hall Oxford for Summer school and studying. We started that in 2007 and have tried to go back about every two years. It's been a delight to see how people love Wycliffe Hall and love learning. They want to learn and grow. They don't want to just stay settled in their faith. That's the exemplary thing about the people of St. John the Divine. They're actually one of the most mature groups of Christians that I have ever been a part of. What a 20-year blessing!