The crises that affect people’s lives don’t necessarily come between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.,” observes the Rev. Tom Bagby, founding pastor of Houston’s St. Martin’s Episcopal Church.
Because of that conviction, the proudest achievement of Bagby’s 25 years at St. Martin’s is not his grand $1.3 million main church but rather a modest (15′ by 15′) structure called the Wayside Chapel for All People, built in an adjoining 2½-acre glade. Long frustrated by the fact that churches were forced to lock their doors at night to guard against vandalism, Bagby vowed that someday he would build a place of worship that would be open 24 hours a day for “saving marriages, strengthening a drug addict or helping people with problems.”
In 1976 Bagby’s cherished vision became a reality when he learned the vestry wanted to honor him for building St. Martin’s into one of the largest Episcopal parishes in the U.S., with 3,800 communicants. He rejected traditional gifts like a trip to the Holy Land or the establishment of a Tom Bagby Chair at a seminary, explaining, “If you do something good and get credit for it here, you ain’t gonna get credit up there.”
The Wayside Chapel, dedicated last fall, is a glass-walled enclosure with floors of brick, pews of stone and a small granite altar. Outside, there is a simple fountain, a mammoth (11′-high) cross hewn from Texas red granite and tasteful floodlamps for evening worshipers. The project cost $145,000.
Ironically, while St. Martin’s has been burglarized and vandalized three times in the past year, the chapel has never been touched. It is nondenominational, and Bagby has forbidden any of his junior ministers to approach it while wearing a clerical collar—lest potential visitors be intimidated. “It’s a special place,” says Bagby, “where anyone may pray or offer thanks—a quiet and unique place for anyone seeking the peace of God.”