Balancing Matters of Church and State
Originally published in, The Bulletin: by Christ Church Cathedral; Houston, TX
An attorney-turned-preacher, the Rev. John R. Pitts has a dual calling, serving as an assisting priest to the Diocese of Texas while also working as a lobbyist. Six years ago, he founded the public affairs firm Texas Star Alliance after years spent as general counsel to former Lt. Governor Bob Bullock and also as chaplain to the Texas senate.
Rev. Pitts keeps his church and state duties separate, trading his clerical collar for a business tie as appropriate. Regardless of his role or duties, however, Pitts says he draws on his trust in God.
Laws and Orders
Pitts clearly remembers his call to the ministry decades ago. As a thirty-something attorney, he was a pallbearer, sitting in a pew at the funeral, when Jesus spoke to him. “He told me that he wanted me to be in that pulpit preaching,” Pitts recalled. “He wanted me to be at that altar. I laughed and then became scared. Each time I turned away from that call, it seemed that doors in my life closed. Each time I turned toward that call, doors seemed to open.” Echoing Psalm 23, Pitts says, “God is with me wherever I go and whatever I may be doing.”
That sense of God’s presence follows him even in his current work as a lobbyist. While some legislators and lobbyists might believe the end justifies the means when pursuing their agendas, Pitts says his clients do not expect him to sell his soul to support their efforts.“ If that were the case, I would not accept the representation,” he says. “We lead with integrity.” This session, many of his clients have been involved in children’s issues, such as the Pre-K Initiative and the mentoring children of incarcerated parents.
He believes each undertaking allows him to bring his ministry into his everyday life. Assisting children this session has been rewarding, and Pitts believes it is truly an extension of his ministry at the Cathedral.
From the Capitol to the Cathedral
Recently, Pitts has been surprised to learn from others that trusting in God has been a common theme of his preaching. “I need to hear it myself and be reminded of it,” he says. “I do trust God.” As an assisting priest, Pitts has the opportunity to share that message with congregations throughout the diocese. He preached at the Cathedral in May, and will return to assist twice in June and once in August.
Ordained in 1987, Pitts attended Virginia Theological Seminary. After seminary, he served at St. John the Divine in Houston, followed by a term as canon to the ordinary for Bishop Maurice Benitez. He moved to Austin in 1991 to become rector of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, which was then suffering from heavy debt as a result of a real estate downturn. During his five-year tenure, the church came out of debt and became of the fastest-growing Episcopal churches in the country.
It was in Austin that Pitts began his role as chaplain to the Texas Senate. Later he got a call from Bullock asking him to expand his ministry, serving full-time both as chaplain and as Bullock’s general counsel.
“I accepted,” he recalled. “I told Bishop [Claude] Payne that when Bullock ‘asked’ something, I had better say, ‘Yes.’ That position propelled me into the lobby field and today.” Today, many in the capital recall that Pitts the lobbyist was once the Senate chaplain. Even though he no longer serves in that capacity, on occasion he still performs a wedding ceremony. What will the future bring? “I trust that that same God who I discovered walking beside me in the Episcopal Church will continue to be by my side as the future is laid out before me. I am looking forward to discovering it.”