Welcome to the neighborhood --Tulsa couple anchors life in contemplation, connections
By Holly McCray
The green onion shoots emerged first in the Anchorhold garden. Spring’s new plants are symbolic of this micro-community, newly planted in Tulsa by First United Methodist Church.
Like the early garden growth, Anchorhold is just getting started.
John and Shelli Pleasant live in the Anchorhold house as they live out a way of life dedicated to intentional, relational discipleship in a transitional neighborhood.
This commitment goes beyond typical ideas of being neighborly.
The couple agreed to a covenant of ordered living. Its rules embrace the vows of United Methodist membership: prayer, presence, gifts, service, and witness. They follow a rhythm of disciplined prayer and Bible study, shared meals, and volunteer service. They consciously seek to connect with their neighbors.
John calls it "living out loud."
The Pleasants seek to profoundly love both God and neighbor.
One name for this form of discipleship is new monasticism. Another description: contemplative living.
The Pleasants are the first residents to take part in this venture by First Church.
The Anchorhold program began with prayer. A small group of church members started prayer-walking weekly, explained Mission Director Kelly Junk. Routes varied.
"We didn’t have any agenda," she said, "just circling things in prayer."
A year of walking and listening for the Spirit led them into the Carbondale neighborhood. Tulsa-Epworth UMC is located there; the group included that congregation in their prayers.
Epworth Pastor Dick Bland learned of the walkers’ presence on the property, about 9 acres, and invited them to tour the church. "We can use all the prayers we can get," he told them.
The encounter launched a reciprocal relationship between one of Oklahoma’s largest UM churches and the smaller Epworth congregation, averaging 27 worshippers, according to 2013 statistics.
That includes extensive renovation of Epworth’s unused parsonage on the property. Led by Gordan Murray and Brad Burkhalter, First Church volunteers transformed it into the Anchorhold house.
"It became a real mission project for them," said Rev. Bland.
The average age of Epworth’s members is 75, Bland said, and they welcomed First Church’s efforts. Relationships deepened as volunteers attended the community-wide breakfasts that Epworth served on Saturday mornings.
The Anchorhold house was dedicated in July.
Other factors also converged to make possible this initiative. First UMC Associate Pastor Tom Hoffmann contributed his vision and knowledge of contemplative ministry. During three years in Phoenix, the Pleasants experienced contemplative living. Formerly of Tulsa and deeply involved in First Church, they decided to move home. They have children and grandchildren here.
When Kelly Junk learned their decision, she contacted them about The Anchorhold program.
Rev. Hoffmann has served as a missionary and chaired the Conference Mission & Service Ministry Team. He developed a strategic vision for missional communities in Oklahoma.
"This is church from the bottom up," he said. "Prayer is No. 1."
Anchorhold’s purpose is "not coming up with programs. This is not a church plant. We don’t assume what the good and right thing to do is. We become the people in the neighborhood. So prayer changes; not "fix them" but "fix us."
Ancient monasteries did have anchorholds, Rev. Hoffmann taught. In that space, monks/nuns opened windows to feed people and offer spiritual guidance.
But today’s form of monastic community can be misunderstood, he said. Residents don’t wear robes, but they do live together in intentional, accountable community.
"This is not a paid church position," Shelli explained. "If we come in with an agenda, our authenticity is destroyed. The people are going to say, ‘You’re not struggling with what I’m struggling with.’
"We work. We pay rent. We have the same struggles."
She summarized, "This is not a ministry; it’s our life."
John said, "The idea here is we’re not in charge. I know in my life I didn’t want to know my neighbors, didn’t want them intruding on my space. But God uses the weak things of the world. This is the way God’s called us to live all along. Do you know your neighbors?"
Living open-handed — Shelli’s description — reveals God to this couple in even the small things.
A neighbor asked to borrow tools and a connection was made. Now she offers them donuts.
Shelli baked and offered cookies to children passing the house. Now they ask for them. One boy told her, "Your house smells like church."
At Anchorhold, the Pleasants share an informal meal and unstructured Bible study monthly with a small group. John was pleased to expand friendships when the group attended the community meal at a nearby Catholic church.
Shelli volunteers at a local elementary school. After helping lead a three-day Vacation Bible School at Epworth UMC during Fall Break, she saw one of the youngsters when classes resumed. He excitedly began singing a VBS song and telling her what he remembered.
"I saw a picture in my mind of him when he is older, coming back to that," she said.
For more information, contact Kelly Junk, First Church, 918-592-3862, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Shelli and John Pleasant are nurturing a garden and a community as residents of Tulsa-First Church’s Anchorhold house.
Photos by Holly McCray
Clockwise from top, Tom Hoffmann, John and Shelli Pleasant, and Kelly Junk of Tulsa-First UMC at The Anchorhold