[Episcopal News Service] Aleeta Bureau has worked at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, for the past 20 years. Raised Baptist and married to a Buddhist, she converted to Catholicism in 2006, three years after she started working at St. Martin’s.
No one at St. Martin’s ever pressured Bureau into formally joining the church as a parishioner, and she never considered it because she was content with her Catholic faith. Everything changed, however, when her daughter died in 2021.
“When I lost my daughter, my priorities began to shift,” Bureau told Episcopal News Service. “I was just standing at work one day this year, and I got a little knock on my head: ‘What are you doing? You’re not going to church faithfully like you used to do. You’re not happy. Where are you happy?’ And I love working here. So, why not explore membership?”
Bureau submitted the paperwork to join, and on Nov. 12, she and 49 other new members were welcomed into the parish at the 11:15 a.m. Sunday service. Little did she know at the time, she would be recognized as St. Martin’s official 10,000th member.
“I felt this overwhelming joy, that after working here for 20 years my heart and God have finally led me to my final church home. And it was joyful,” she said.
She and the other new members were celebrated at the service with applause, confetti and encouraging remarks from the Rev. Russ Levenson, St. Martin’s rector. Texas Bishop Andrew Doyle also sent his regards.
“In the diocese, we believe in the presentation of the Gospel of Jesus in such a way the people discover the love of God and choose to serve God and others through the Episcopal Church,” Doyle said in a written statement to ENS. “The Rev. Dr. Levenson and people of St. Martin’s are faithful to this ministry.”
Founded in 1952 and known as the home church of former President George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush when they were alive, St. Martin’s is The Episcopal Church’s largest parish by numbers. Its nave seats 1,350 people. In a time when many Episcopal churches are closing or consolidating, St. Martin’s continues to grow.
“It’s the people of St. Martin’s who are very warm and welcoming, who are deeply committed to their faith and the practice of their faith,” Levenson told ENS. “We just love Aleeta for who she is and what she brings to the church.”
When Bureau’s name was called out in front of the entire congregation, confetti cannons went off and showered the altar with colorful ribbons. All four bishops from Episcopal dioceses in the state of Texas wrote letters to congratulate Aleeta for her new distinction.
“Their 10,000th member is a sign of that faithfulness,” Doyle said in his statement to ENS. “It is not just this amazing new member who makes this so miraculous – it’s the clergy, staff and people of St. Martin’s who, through their stewardship and hospitality, allow us to see God’s mercy and love. It’s not the work that is so miraculous at moments like this, it’s the people. I’m so grateful for the people.”
On average, St. Martin’s baptizes 100 people every year and has experienced more than 20% growth in membership since Levenson became rector in 2007. The church offers both traditional and evangelical Episcopal worship services every week.
Bureau will take another step forward in her faith journey on Nov. 19, when she will be officially received into The Episcopal Church. She told ENS that joining St. Martin’s as a parishioner feels like “the ultimate homecoming.”
“I’m surrounded by my work family, who are now my church family,” she said. “It’s a God thing.”
-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.