Couple’s connection to Montgomery church is emblematic of plant’s mission to reach, minister

For Everett and Debra Luten, Mother’s Day evokes bittersweet memories and profound gratitude. Only last October, they lost their adult daughter in a kayaking accident. That grief is still fresh as the couple stays busy raising their nine-year-old granddaughter, Penelope. 

The Lutens say they are not alone because of their Savior and because of Cornerstone Community Church in Montgomery, a town of around 2,000 people located 50 miles northwest of Houston.

As involved grandparents, the Lutens first heard about Cornerstone from their granddaughter’s pre-K teacher, who invited them to visit about four years ago.

The Lutens, who had been attending another church, soon found unexpected connection in the newly planted smaller church. They got involved in community groups gathering in people’s homes.

“We have food together and we talk and everybody shares their stories. We talk about the sermon. … We have a lot of praying,” Everett said of the group he and Debra now attend, which is held at Pastor Ralph Clements’ home. “Everybody [at church] is involved with everybody else.”

At Cornerstone, the Lutens were discipled: Debra by Amy Clements, the pastor’s wife, and Everett—a sergeant retired from the Harris County Sheriff’s Department—by an elder, Gerald Coleman. The men have gone through books together over breakfast at a nearby restaurant for the past few years. Everett said he now prays every morning and spends time in the Bible.

Last February, both Debra and Everett were baptized by Clements, surrounded by many from the congregation. For Everett, the baptism marked his growth in faith.

“I realized you don’t have to be perfect to accept Christ. After you do that, you’re not perfect,” he said. “And He will still hold you in his arms and forgive you if you are contrite. The Holy Spirit will guide you.”

Everett and Debra Luten are raising their granddaughter, Penelope, following her mother’s death. The Lutens, who were both baptized this year at Cornerstone, praise the church’s love and assistance. SUBMITTED PHOTO

“I realized you don’t have to be perfect to accept Christ.”

On the same page

The family’s hearts broke when their daughter died. “We didn’t know it was going to happen, but God did,” Everett said.

They found comfort and strength in their church. “The Lord leading us to Cornerstone [gave] us spiritual strength to get through this,” Everett said. 

“Cornerstone has been exactly what the name is to us: a cornerstone,” Debra said. “They have helped us so much with our salvation … getting into God’s Word. They’ve stood beside us through these things with my daughter. They are there and will be for us raising Penelope.”

There are challenges, Debra added. The couple and Penelope have lost so much: “It’s really been a struggle for her and for us also. We are struggling for ourselves, the loss of our daughter. But she doesn’t have a father, either. … Cornerstone has been there for us,” she said.

Realizing the importance of God’s Word has changed Debra’s life, she said. Now her heart is to “be led to be God’s tool” for conveying that to Penelope. 

“Pastor Ralph tells the congregation that when you bring your kids in here, you really need to know we are not babysitting them. We are making disciples,” she said, adding, “Cornerstone has brought us together close to God as a family. It’s so joyful to me. We are on the same page.”

“Cornerstone has been exactly what the name is to us: a cornerstone. They have helped us so much with our salvation ... getting into God’s Word.”

The Cornerstone story

As a relatively young church plant, Cornerstone’s story is unique. Clements calls himself “co-vocational,” or intentionally bivocational. He planted a church in 2007 while studying at the Houston extension of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. When that plant folded after five years, he and Amy were “worn down” and spent the next several years attending another church.

In 2018, God moved again. They saw a need in Montgomery, started talking with various folks in their neighborhood, and began hosting a Bible study in their home. By February 2019, that Bible study group had grown to a “pretty good crowd” and by the summer, the conversation turned toward an official church launch.

In September 2019, Cornerstone began Sunday services in Montgomery High School. The congregation was six months old when COVID-19 hit. What could have derailed them instead promoted growth as the then 35-person congregation was allowed to continue meeting in the school’s 750-seat auditorium where social distancing was not a problem.

“When several churches were shutting down, we were able to stay open,” Clements said. “We couldn’t do all the outreach we wanted, but the Lord used it. We continued to grow.”

Much of this growth, Clements said, has occurred organically: “People loving on neighbors,” people inviting people. 

In 2021, they moved into a building purchased from another denomination whose congregation had dissolved. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention began supporting Cornerstone with church planting funds in October of that year. While the assistance was promised for three years, Clements and the church contacted the SBTC in early 2023 to say the funding was no longer needed as of that May.

Church leadership decided to forego additional support, believing it the church’s responsibility to care for the shepherd, Clements said. “The church was doing well. Giving was over budget. The year had ended. It was an opportunity for us to take over [financially].”

Growth has continued, slow and steady. About 60-70 regularly attend now. “It’s what we prayed for. We didn’t want to grow big and not be able to handle it,” he said.

‘They are what we are’

The Lutens’ story is “the story of our church,” the pastor said. “We are walking through some difficult times with them right now. …They are what we are trying to do: seek the lost or those who are uncertain—help them understand and grow in discipleship.” 

“I believed for the longest time that everything in my life depended on what I did as a person,” Debra said. “I think in being at Cornerstone, I have realized that everything that happens has already been determined. I just need to reach out to Jesus … to pray about it … to rely on God to place in my heart what I should be doing … knowing I will get that answer.”

“Like babies still drinking milk, we are learning every day,” Everett added. “My wife and I are on the same page about something besides when I should take out the trash.”

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