Dr. Ed Robb
When Dr. Ed Robb, son of a pastor, left the West Texas home of his youth and headed for Asbury College in Kentucky, he wasn’t setting out to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“I was always drawn toward the church and had a, shall I say, spiritual bent and an interest in Scripture,” he says, “but that had not crystallized as a call, nor had I thought of it in those terms. When I graduated college, it was like, ‘What will I do next?’”
By this point, he’d already met the love of his life, Bev, at the college, so they settled into the routine of life in Kentucky as he worked in journalism and public relations for the school. Across the street stood Asbury Seminary.
“I just had the sense that I ought to go to seminary,” he says. After working out a deal with his boss, he enrolled in a class there. “I loved it. I thought, ‘This is for me.’ I cared about things having to do with the church and spiritual life or spiritual formation, so it just fit.”
He transferred to Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas the next fall to complete his training, also working as a youth director in a small country church as Bev worked as a teacher. Even after seminary though, he took a journalism job at Good News magazine back in Kentucky because he wasn’t sure the life of a pastor was where he was being led.
“It still had not crystalized,” he says. “I think my dad being a pastor both opened a door of understanding what the nature of the position is — so it wasn’t strange and foreign — but it’s also, ‘Am I just walking down a familiar path or am I being called?’ That made it harder to discern.”
Eventually, a call from a bishop set his future and the life of The Woodlands United Methodist Church in motion.
“It’s that bishop who said, ‘You need to start a church,’” he says. “This wasn’t something I’d sought out.”
The bishop told him they were going to plant one in a new community north of Houston. “He said, ‘There are not many people there now, but someday there will be.’ And I said, ‘Ok.’”
The Woodlands United Methodist Church
The family moved to The Woodlands in January 1978, and Dr. Robb immediately set about growing the church using what little experience he had.
“I didn’t know anything about how to start a church,” he says. “Nobody told me anything either. I just started knocking on doors. It was very slow growth.”
After the first year, the church had 160 members on the church rolls, but not necessarily showing up every Sunday. And even that early growth seemed to plateau, though, due to how small the area was at the time.
“It was like everybody who was living out here who was interested in coming to church had come to church, and I was knocking on doors a second time and third time,” he says. “It was very slow in those early years. There wasn’t much population, and there was another Methodist church on Sawdust Road.”
Dr. Robb credits the bishop’s vision for the church’s eventual success.
“He realized that The Woodlands was being branded and that the people who moved here didn’t see themselves out in what would’ve been a somewhat country church. They needed a church that would be identifiable with The Woodlands.”
In September of 1980, the church moved into its first building phase, working on a 10,000 square foot construction on East Panther Creek Drive. Over the years, it would build on that same piece of property five times, the steady growth eventually kicking in and even defying the oil downturn of the early to mid-‘80s.
“We just kept plugging along,” he says, “building the next little building. I was always outreach-oriented, growth-oriented.”
The final sanctuary on that property was built in 1992, but the church was still growing. Construction on a Family Life Center repeatedly got held up because of a parking headache. There was even talk of elevating the building and putting parking underneath.
Around this time, an opportunity arose that changed the course of the church forever. “The (Trinity) Episcopal priest said, ‘I wonder if you’ll be interested in talking to us about selling us your campus and you relocating?’” Dr. Robb explains. “Out of nowhere. I guess one might think maybe providential.”
Having had already raised money in a capital funds campaign to build the Family Life Center, the proposition was incredibly tempting, yet daunting.
“We put it on pause and started these behind-the-scenes, quiet, unannounced discussions with the Episcopal leadership,” he says. “And when we thought this might could happen — if it could, we’d want to do it — I had to go to the church and say, ‘By the way, you know that Family Life Center that we made pledges toward and you’ve been paying for this last year and that we’re going to be breaking ground on here in the next few months? We’re not going to build that after all. We’re going to try to sell this campus to the Episcopalians, but I still need you to pay your money for those pledges, because if you don’t, we won’t have possibly enough money to make that happen.’ And we didn’t lose a family. It’s a miracle.”
Trinity Episcopal’s property was bought by WoodsEdge Church, a new congregation at the time, which allowed Trinity to buy The Woodlands UMC’s property. All of this enabled the move to the latter’s current location on Lake Woodlands Drive.
“God sort of graduated three congregations for His greater kingdom,” Dr. Robb says. “That was beyond something we could’ve orchestrated.”
Over the years since the move, the current campus has grown by leaps and bounds. It is still growing, in fact, with the Imagine campaign providing a permanent space for The Harvest service, expanded facilities for The Loft service, and a brand new Family Life Center, the home of The Woodlands Methodist School.
Despite the tremendous growth, The Woodlands UMC is still able to provide a sense of home to its congregants.
“We receive a lot more people that find this to be the right fit than those who come and don’t,” Dr. Robb says. “I’d say we’ve been fortunate … in terms of retaining people. It means they’ve found a home here, that it’s working. (They have) meaningful worship experiences and some sort of smaller group that they can connect with.”
Dr. Robb and his wife, Bev, have three grown children and seven grandchildren.