Baby New Year enjoys storytime, so here are hope-filled stories from Oklahoma’s five newest congregations: Living Water, Tulsa; Connect and Summit, Edmond; CrossTimbers, Moore; and Christ UMC, Oklahoma City.
In late November, their pastors reported to the Committee on Congregational Development, chaired by Brad Humphrey.
New-church starts are called for in the Conference’s Strategic Plan. The parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32, 17:20), indicating growth and multiplication are expected signs of faith in God’s kingdom, is a key Scripture for the Plan.
During Vacation Bible School, a child questioned Pastor Adam Ricks, "This is so much fun. Are churches like this?"
He told the girl there are many churches, but the love of Jesus is most important. Eyeing the VBS volunteers, she then asked, "Which one is Jesus?"
"She had no idea who Christ was," said Rev. Ricks, so he talked with her. "I believe one day that little girl will look back on our VBS as the moment she began her journey with Christ."
Ricks said a fall stewardship focus saw a fourfold increase in pledges. Connect's worship attendance is between 88 and 110. Acts 2 UMC in Edmond is the anchor church.
The newest church plant, Living Water, is led by Heather Scherer and reaches out in the Glenpool and Tulsa Hills suburbs.
Rev. Scherer planned a Christmas Eve service at Camp Lockridge. As part of the program, donated blankets were to be blessed and sandwiches assembled for people who are homeless, "because the holy family was homeless," she remarked.
Living Water is a new-church plant by the Tulsa District. www.livingwatertulsa.com
Doctors gave Keith* and his pregnant wife no hope. Keith shared their journey with his new church family, Summit, and the congregation encircled them in love.
The baby girl was born healthy, and Keith wore his Summit T-shirt to the hospital.
Later, Keith wrote, "Deciding to attend Summit was the best decision I think that I have ever made. I was able to reconnect with God for the first time in so many years; I was afraid that He wouldn’t even remember me."
Pastor Allen Buck Jr. reported 13 discipleship groups in late November. Fellowship times are called "bonfires." OKC-Chapel Hill is anchor church.
(* Real name withheld)
A three-day tent revival drew 550 people to Christ UMC, 1006 N.E. 17th St., Oklahoma City.
The Committee on Congregational Development categorizes this church as a "re-start." Semaj Vanzant Sr. is pastor. Re-launch date was Christmas Day 2011.
Rev. Vanzant reported 36 new members in 11 months, and a major debt paid in full for sanctuary and third-floor air conditioning. One donor gave $60,000 toward the work.
A program during Fall Break drew 71 students, and Studio 1006, an afterschool program, is set to launch this month.
A young woman handed a piece of paper to Pastor Chris Dodson after Sunday worship. "My teacher thought you might want to read this. I’m working on my GED and wrote this," she said before leaving him.
Rev. Dodson read her personal story of homelessness, drug addiction, and prostitution.
"She found CrossTimbers and came for the free donuts and, in the winter, a warm place to just hang out. She slowly found herself listening to the messages," Dodson described.
Those messages began working their way into her life despite her circumstances. The woman wrote, "I was hooked — I craved the word of God. I slowly began to look at the world in a new light. I found myself praying for the first time. I was homeless, and yet I was thankful."
Now she has housing, a job, and has been sober about a year.
"God is doing great things through starting new churches," Dodson reported to the committee in late November.
He said CrossTimbers is using all available space in the building it rents. Even a storage room now serves as a Sunday School class. Worshippers number about 120. Moore-First UMC is anchor church.
The traditional "Hanging of the Greens" is called "Christmas Throw Up," Dodson explained. Children lead the decorating. "We let it be messy, and the kids are proud of it."