As a respected senior pastor serving an urban congregation — the 100-year-old Alamo Heights Presbyterian Church — the Rev. Dr. Richard Knott Jr. definitely understands challenge.
Seven days a week, 24 hours a day, this devoted and very capable spiritual and physical juggernaut not only oversees the complex, seemingly endless day-to-day operations required for successfully running an ever-growing house of worship but, perhaps more importantly, steadfastly remains “on call,” always ready to respond to the numerous unique individual situations (many critical) that regularly necessitate his often delicate, one-on-one, but always appreciated, skilled involvement.
With the seemingly unceasing demands on this respected church leader’s professional life, frankly, it seems miraculous that he has time for anything else — sacred or secular. But as his motivating biography attests, Richard Knott’s exuberantly active life does extend beyond the pulpit … from marathon-length bike expeditions to the mastery of an ancient martial arts form.
Like father, like son?
Born in California in 1952 (Richard’s father was an officer in the U.S. Navy at the time), the active youngster grew up in a loving household constantly on the move. It wasn’t the Navy, however, that kept the family hopping but rather Richard’s father’s post-military career as — of all things — a Presbyterian minister. As Richard recalls, “Being a ‘preachers kid,’ our family moved about every five years or so. I’ve lived in Houston, northern Louisiana, Mississippi and Virginia. It took a while before I, as an adult, finally made it to San Antonio.”
So, as the son of a clergyman, was it inevitable that Richard would follow in his father’s footsteps? Not so, according to the current Pastor Knott: “Having been a minister’s kid, the church was the last place where I thought I would find my vocation. A clergyman’s family lives in a fishbowl. Because of this I have never been one who sought to be in the spotlight. The last thing in life that I wanted to do was stand and speak to a group of people every week.” While uncertainty about a career path might have existed during Richard’s formative years, aversion to hard work didn’t. From ages 13 through 18, the future pastor kept busy at a number of year-round youthful occupations including paper boy, lawn service provider and as an employee at an ice cream shop (admittedly, his “sweetest” job). During his college years, he kept the income flowing by driving a school bus and working as an assistant tennis instructor at a local club. Later, in graduate school, a burlier Richard was even the paid “bouncer” at a sorority house — a job where his physicality (and charm) eventually won the hand of his future wife.
Learning, growing … deciding
Higher education for Richard began with enrollment in Belhaven College, a small Presbyterian liberal arts school in the Northeast. Eventually earning a bachelor’s degree (after a brief interruption, thanks to a two-year stint in the U.S. Navy) in history with minors in political science and German, Richard decided that a career in law would ultimately become his life’s work. But following a year of study at the University of Mississippi Law School, Richard began to experience doubt.
“While a noble profession,” Richard thoughtfully relates, “I began to feel that, for me, the legal world just wasn’t where I belonged.” This late realization might have been the result of his time spent at Belhaven, where the spiritual side of existence was continually emphasized, coupled with his long-held belief in and commitment to a higher power. Whatever the cause, his vocational focus slowly shifted away from just “living for himself” to one of possibly providing greater service to others.
With his decision to redirect eventually taking hold, in 1978 a more confident Richard entered the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. After a grueling four years (two-thirds of his classmates wouldn’t complete the intense curriculum required), a hard-earned master’s degree was bestowed, along with the right to forever use the title of reverend.
In 2002, at that same seminary (and while working full time as pastor at the Alamo Heights Presbyterian Church), Richard completed his doctorate with an emphasis on philosophical hermeneutics (the philosophy of interpretation). This required seven difficult years of balancing family, church and academia. As he remembers, “The long commutes to Austin and the writing of a very detailed and complex thesis were some of the most enlightening and exhausting years of my life.” The acquisition of knowledge continues to play an important role in this highly trained theologian’s life and, as he readily admits, always will because “without learning we simply stop growing.”
Finding his way to Alamo Heights Presbyterian
While still at seminary but visiting San Antonio, Richard by sheer chance attended a service at the Alamo Heights Presbyterian Church. After introductions, the minister realized that Richard’s father and he were old acquaintances. The following summer, that same minister contacted Richard and asked if he would be interested in a 15-month internship the church was offering. Richard readily accepted, and by the time the enjoyable assignment had ended, (unbeknownst to the seminarian) the groundwork had been laid for the establishment of a much longer and mutually beneficial relationship — one that ultimately would span 27 fulfilling years and, remarkably, remains in place today.
After seminary, the newly ordained minister was initially assigned to a church in Dallas. Several happy years of growth and maturing ensued. During one Sunday morning service, however, the Rev. Knott noticed a number of congregants from his old internship provider, the Alamo Heights Presbyterian Church, sitting in the pews. Little did he realize that this group was a “scouting party” looking for a replacement to fill the church’s recently vacated post of senior pastor. After the group reported back to the congregation, a call was rapidly issued asking Richard if he had any interest in the position. This he quickly affirmed, and, since acceptance in 1984, he and his grateful congregation agree it’s been a win-win from the onset.
A full plate
Since that time, Richard and his church have become inseparable. As senior pastor, he has duties that are many, varied and involved. And, while according to the Presbyterian faith, the pastor doesn’t have “absolute authority” within an individual church — a board of elders has that power — Richard’s primary role, as he likens it, is basically that of “theologian in residence.” However, beyond the interpretation of theology (a challenge in itself), there’s so much more the pastor is responsible for. He spends innumerable hours each week diplomatically moderating church councils and aiding in internal decision making while also fulfilling his often demanding role as the always-on-call comforter, counselor and encourager to those in emotional and/or spiritual need within (and outside of) his immediate congregation.
Add into that mix the more mundane duties of overseeing daily, weekly and monthly business affairs while also planning, producing and executing his many ongoing religious responsibilities, including conducting communions, weddings, funerals, baptisms and other important ceremonies, and, as he smilingly admits, “It’s a full-time job that keeps me on my toes.” Based on a quarter of a century of having received “very few complaints,” he’s obviously good at it. Philosophically (and spiritually), Richard believes in a “welcoming” approach to running his church. No one is turned away for any reason. As an example, it’s surprising to some that a number of those who regularly attend services at his Presbyterian church aren’t Presbyterian. Many are Catholics. To Richard, just the fact that they come is wonderful and represents a “great opportunity to bring them and any others closer to God.”
Likewise, he is also happy to conduct weddings and other services for couples who aren’t members of Alamo Heights Presbyterian but still wish to have a church service. Again, Richard’s belief is that, “once introduced to the good services we offer here, the potential for a fuller relationship exists.” His inarguable logic continues to prove its effectiveness as new members regularly come aboard, thanks to his hospitable open door policy.
Faith in martial arts …and fishing
With so much (professionally) constantly weighing on Richard’s broad shoulders, it seems amazing that his accomplishments can extend beyond the church doors, but they do. Most notably, one achievement that brings justifiable pride and acclaim to the modest pastor, a long-term and accomplished martial arts practitioner, is his establishment of the American Christian Tae Kwon Do Schools. Founded in 1992 with 10 students, his ACTS today has enrollment exceeding 135 young boys and girls, all eager for excitement, exercise and the self-esteem gained through discipline, camaraderie and achievement. Classes, based on age and skill level, are held regularly at multiple church locations across the city. And while supported by a competent teaching staff, Richard, holder of the prestigious 6th Dan black belt in Chung Do Kwan Tae Kwon Do, still finds time every weekday afternoon to instruct the young in this ancient Korean system of martial arts.
As he explains, “While one may not immediately see the relevance between a theological education and the martial arts, it’s beneficial to know that martial arts had their genesis in the context of the Buddhist monastic life. Eastern philosophies emphasize the integration of body, mind and spirit. We would do well to remember that Christianity originated in an Eastern cultural context. The Hebrew context of Jesus, while recognizing the body, mind and spirit, understood that all three aspects of our humanity were interrelated, and the integration of these parts was considered the path to ‘wholeness.’” Even though Tae Kwon Do involves martial training, ACTS never emphasizes “sport fighting.” For further information about ACTS, including class schedules and enrollment requirements, call (210) 845-3357.
On a lighter note, Richard is also very involved in an entertaining fly-fishing group that meets weekly at the church. Always an avid — some might say addicted — fly fisherman, he learned the sporting skill from his equally enthusiastic father and grandfather. The group, known as the Alamo Fly Fishers (and also as the “Liars and Tiers”), gathers each Tuesday evening with the simple aim of sharing stories (some true) and techniques while, most importantly, attempting to “master the art of fly tying.” A few even admit that tying a near-perfect fly can almost be a religious experience. As far as Richard is concerned, just getting a bunch of fishermen into any church is a victory of sorts.
The preacher’s pastimes
With a beautiful wife, Ginia, of 32 years and the successful rearing of three daughters (now all productive adults), Richard’s personal life continues to mirror his fruitful professional persona. What little time is left after his commitments to church and his Tae Kwon Do school is spent joyously pursuing pastimes that, in description alone, leave one exhausted. Each week he and Ginia mount high-tech long-distance bicycles (custom built by Richard) and log between 50 and 70 miles. Vacations include annual trips to Colorado, where, you guessed it, more biking and fishing occur. In earlier years, Richard also enjoyed coaching fast-pitch softball and basketball for his athletic daughters’ sports teams. He and Ginia still attend games at the Alamo Heights Little League fields. Lastly, weekly weight-training sessions round out the busy pastor’s schedule, allowing this dedicated man to continue to maintain the high level of physical strength and energy demanded daily in fulfillment of his services to God and parishioner.
So, while the Rev. Dr. Richard Knott certainly feels blessed by all the good fortune he has been able to enjoy, for countless others, it’s been his numerous interventions, contributions, unceasing efforts and simple, reassuring presence that have resulted in the substantial bettering of their lives. Simply said, a host of friends, fans and supporters loudly proclaim a heartfelt thank you to Richard Knott for generously sharing his bountiful spirit!
Alamo Heights Presbyterian Church Celebrates 100 Years
Although for the past 27-plus years, the Rev. Richard Knott has made his mark on the venerable and much loved Alamo Heights Presbyterian Church, its history began quite a bit earlier.
Actually, it all started in 1912, when, motivated partly because of the substantial distance that separated those living in the Alamo Heights area from downtown San Antonio’s established churches, a group of individuals joined with the intent to found a place of worship of their own closer to home. Initially, the first communicants held services every second Sunday in their houses (this because their pastor, the Rev. McStavrick, was required to share his time with another church). But soon a Sunday school was organized, and the fledgling church and Sunday school began meeting every other week in a building located on the grounds of the Alamo Heights Public School (now Cambridge Elementary) campus.
Not long after, the Board of Missions in Pittsburgh, Pa., was petitioned for funding to buy a site for their new church, and when a grant was authorized, the school building being used was moved to property purchased at the intersection of Townsend and Abiso Avenues, centrally located in Alamo Heights. Until 1916 there was no official affiliation between the Alamo Heights Church and any denominational organization, but in that same year the session of the First United Presbyterian Church of San Antonio was constituted as a commission to organize a United Presbyterian Church of Alamo Heights. Thirteen charter members made up its original congregation, and the first service was held on Oct. 6 with the Rev. McStavrick officiating.
In 1927, the present site at the corner of Broadway and Corona Avenue was acquired for $8,000; at about the same time the church became a member of the Southern Presbyterian Church and was joined to the Presbytery of Western Texas, Waco. The church building was dedicated July 12, 1931. As the congregation grew, expansions to the original building continued throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
This year, the church will celebrate its centennial. Today, the Alamo Heights Presbyterian Church comprises a family of 430 congregants served by a dedicated staff, including those that work within the church’s day school, of 35. For more complete information on the Alamo Heights Presbyterian Church and the Rev. Dr. Knott, please visit www.alamoheightspres.com.
By: Ernie Altgelt
Photography: Liz Garza Williams