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Ties that bond: Longview's Trinity Episcopal Church, school reach new parent-child phase of relationship

By Richard Yeakley
Sept. 6, 2013 at 11 p.m.

Trinity Episcopal Church and Trinity School of Texas have reached a new, more mature phase in their relationship, said Kevin Wittmayer, reverend of the church.

"We consider it to be our primary mission of the church," Wittmayer said of the school.

Trinity Episcopal Church made its home on Padon Street in Longview in 1935. Twenty-two years later, the church established the private school, Trinity School of Texas. The school, originally housed inside the church, was established as a day school to serve children through fifth grade. The private school is now located in its own facility on Teague Street, just east of the church, and serves students through 12th grade.

Wittmayer compared the relationship between the two entities to that of a parent and child.

"There is a point where your kid goes off to college and secures their own independence and differentiates themselves from the parents and family ... You get to that sweet spot where you start relating to your kids as adults, and it's a whole different kind of relationship, but in some ways a better relationship," Wittmayer said.

"I think analogously that is where this church relationship with the school has gone. I think there was a season, probably prior to my coming here, where there was a greater sense of independence of the school from the church and it wasn't beneficial for either the church or the school, but a necessary stage to go through to come to a more mature relationship."

Head of School Gary Whitwell, who has led the school for three years, said he perceived church members to feel more comfortable volunteering with the school today.

"Well, there are probably more people from the church volunteering time here at the school," said Whitwell, who serves as a lay leader at the church. "I think maybe there is more awareness now at the church about what the school is really about, maybe church members know more about the school and feel more comfortable getting involved."

Wittmayer said the development of the relationship can be seen in a variety ways.

First, the school and church are beginning the development of a master site plan for the future development of the contiguous properties owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.

"We are taking steps to engage an architect ... to assess our needs for the future and what kinds of facilities need to be improved and which ones need to be added to benefit both the church and the school as we look toward the future," Wittmayer said. "Our hope is that in the site plan, one of the things we will be looking into is the joint usage of buildings."

The relationship has also been grown by the September 2012 employment of two new directors for the church. Tim Baker, who oversees student ministries, and Tisha Grotemat, who previously taught at the school and who now directs children's ministries, help bridge the relationship, Wittmayer said.

Grotemat has worked to maintain and build relationships formed from when she worked with the school, and Baker not only spends time at lunches, but helps organize youth ministers to visit the campus. Last summer, Baker organized a joint missions trip for students from both the church and the school to go to New Orleans.

Trinity School of Texas graduated its first senior class in 1990. The school has a total enrollment of 272 students and serves 65 high schoolers. It is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and School and the Southwestern Association of Episcopal Schools. The campus is a member of various national and state organizations, including the Texas Association of Non-Public Schools and the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools.

Wittmayer and Whitwell agree in their hope that the strengthened relationship will bring good things for both the church and the school.

"It is good to have people who care about you and pray for you when you need. That is one thing that does happen; the congregation does pray for it, and if there are needs that kids here have they are often placed on the prayer list," Whitwell said. "It is good to have that kind of nurturing relationship."

Wittmayer said the school could be a place where unchurched family connect to a church home.

"I am hoping there is a deeper shared life together," he said. "As our culture shifts, more people in our culture will be unchurched, and it will be easier for people that don't have a church home to connect with Trinity Episcopal Church."



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