Just a few generations ago, conversations became muted as the family car drove by a nondescript house, usually on the wrong side of the tracks in many small Texas towns. This was the home of “unwed mothers,” those who had been sent from their own homes to give birth some distance away from the view of family and friends.

Today, houses of worship would never dream of imposing such stigma. Instead, groups like the national Embrace Grace movement encourage and educate single moms within their faith tradition. We spoke with a local chapter at The Harbor, a major north county church.

Nicole Morales is one of the leaders who felt drawn to this group by her own history.

“I became involved as a leader in Embrace Grace after hearing Amber Cole, who heads the group, address our church one Sunday morning,” Morales recalled. “It became a way for me to use my journey to give hope to other girls who are finding themselves in the situation I had been in almost 27 years ago. My daughter, Lexxye was that ‘unexpected blessing’ for me. She is now 27. She is an accountant who works for a company in Los Angeles. She has exceeded all the statistics of a child born of an unplanned pregnancy and an unwed teenage mother. That is not the outcome the world would have expected for us.”

Embrace member Holly Barker said it was impossible to encompass the group without actually attending it.

“When I started going to The Harbor, I wasn’t sure about going to church while obviously pregnant and obviously single,” she said. “But I was greeted with open arms and big smiles. My mom called the church looking for recommendations for child care and we were told about Embrace. Amber called me for coffee--little did I know that it would be the start of something so much bigger. I had no idea how much these ladies were about to impact my life. They spread positivity, love and encouragement, not only every Wednesday but daily with texts, calls and posts. There was even another group that I hadn’t even met, praying for me and my baby every day.”

After her baby, Cole and company set up a “meal train” and other support services to make motherhood easier.

“Their faith-based curriculum reminded me how much Jesus loves me and my baby,” Barker added. “I now had so much to look forward to and was excited to have a group that I could rely on to always show me support through this next chapter of my life.”

Volunteer JoAnne Heyder sums up her Embrace experience simply.

“The first night, we are all strangers to each other,” she said. “By the last night, we are crying because we don’t want it to end because we truly love each other.”

Embrace provides baby showers for new moms as well as Celebration of Life showers for those who choose adoption for their offspring.

“We bless the momma with gifts for her as we celebrate her choice to bless another family with her sweet baby,” said Amber Cole, who founded the group here in 2016 after learning about it on Facebook. “Back then, I began to read all I could and felt God stirring my heart towards these beautiful women. With a strong desire to change the fact that, due to guilt and shame, the church was once the last place a woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy would turn, I approached leadership at our church about the prospect of starting a group at The Harbor (then Friendswood Community Church).

Nationally, Embrace Grace was started at Gateway Church in Dallas in 2008 by Amy Ford and Salina Duffy. It currently has 586 groups in 46 states as well as 10 countries overseas. A semester of Embrace Grace currently provides 13 weeks of weekly support group and Bible study, a baby shower and a special day at the end of the semester known as Princess Day.

At The Harbor, this day includes the moms being pampered by College of the Mainland Cosmetology students and treated to a fine dinner.

For details or donations, call 281-388-3500 or email embracegrace@theharbor.life.

Next week in Our Faith: An historic church anniversary.

Rick Cousins can be reached at rick.cousins@galvnews.com.

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