|Photos by Amelia Ballew
Top, Chris Talley manages the Project Noel warehouse. Above, Paige VanMeter and Adam Brinson from Fairview-First UMC shop the warehouse as Cecelia Brooks, Langston campus minister, helps them on Dec. 15.
By Holly McCray and Amelia Ballew
Chris Talley recalled his first Project Noel experience, "as a shopper" for Bethel Acres UMC in Shawnee. The next year, the pastor volunteered on the spot when he arrived at the project’s busy central distribution site and saw help was needed there. Then he responded to a call, in the Contact newspaper, for volunteer help the next year.
Rev. Talley became warehouse coordinator at the distribution site, in Oklahoma City. In December he greeted other church "shoppers" from across the state when they arrived to collect items for this annual holiday ministry.
Through 65 churches and organizations, more than 6,000 children received gifts for Christmas 2011.
Talley’s role is key to the success of Project Noel, sponsored by the Commission on Rural/Small-Membership Churches. Yet he is humble about his contribution.
He says simply, "I am one that wants to help other people."
And he quickly credits others for the continuing viability of the project. "Every time a need has risen, it has been met," Talley said.
During the holiday season, a member of OKC-Wesley UMC generously provided storage space in a working warehouse. Prior to Christmas, shippers trucked assorted items from anonymous national donors to the site, then church groups collected the gifts, to disburse before Dec. 25 to families in their communities.
Bethel Acres, which averages 62 in worship, was one of the participating churches. For Christmas 2011, the congregation helped 40 families.
Pastor Talley said, "Every year, our little church does food baskets in the Bethel/Tecumseh area. I thought this would be a nice thing to add to our baskets. Other churches and people in the community help us."
One holiday season, the shipments included blankets.
"That is what people went for," Talley said. "They would walk past the toys, past everything else, and get blankets. We also had little boxes of Cheerios. People would just take the blankets and Cheerios and say, ‘This gives us something to eat and something to keep us warm.’
"That is why I keep doing this every year. It is important."
At one time, Project Noel’s distribution process involved multiple warehouses in the state. Leaders needed to move all the items to one site. But the all-volunteer effort had no budget to rent trucks.
"A friend said, ‘Let me make a phone call,’" Talley remembered. "A little while later, I got a phone call from a Christian company that deals with gifts and books."
The company owner offered its resources, and the move was accomplished.
Amanda Lockwood of Wewoka, who chairs the small-church commission, said, "One of our struggles in the past has been having enough volunteers at the warehouse each day as churches arrived to pick up. Some of our most willing and joyful assistance this year came from some of the churches that had the farthest to travel to OKC."
Rev. Lockwood praised Talley’s oversight. "I know it would be almost impossible to coordinate Project Noel without him," she said. "We as a commission could never completely communicate our gratitude for the countless hours he has voluntarily given so graciously and lovingly."
Talley has pastored Bethel Acres Church since 2000. He first considered a ministry career after college. He had received his preaching license and was attending Phillips seminary at Enid, but his degree in criminology led him into law enforcement.
His pastoral training applied in that field, too. Talley liked being a patrol officer.
"Being on the front lines is the most important because you can help people," he said.
"I went to this lady’s house, to notify her there had been an accident with her husband. We got to the hospital, and the doctors tell her he was dead. She is crying and asking what to do.
"I felt I had to step in and tell her I’m a Christian and a Methodist minister and, if I could help in any way, I would. I ended up doing the funeral."
Talley retired from the Oklahoma City police department after 27 years on the force.