By Billie Rodely
The juxtaposition of jackhammers and Jesus does not appear to deter the faithful of Oklahoma City’s First United Methodist Church at the intersection of NW 4th and Robinson. Like other areas of downtown, street reconstruction and work crews present a challenge for drivers and even pedestrians in the burgeoning heart of the City.
Senior Pastor Mark McAdow says, “Since the first of the year, our attendance is up 15 percent.” He says that’s an indication that the health of the church over-all is improving.
“That’s encouraging in that regard. But, I think sometimes people may have a different perception of some of the Downtown churches,” he said.
Because the facility is large, Pastor McAdow said some people might think that is a reflection of the numbers in attendance at services. “But, really, we’re kind of a medium-sized church in the Downtown area. Our average this month (April) is about 256,” he said. “But, again, we’ve had great growth since January and we’re excited about that.”
The church is called First Church because it is, literally Oklahoma City’s “first church.” People began worship in the current location on April 28th one week after the Land Run of 1889. Through the 122 years of booms and busts in Oklahoma since, the church has survived and even thrived.
Pastor McAdow did say the most recent recession has been as hard on First Church as most other churches and organizations: “Well, I would say 2010 was a very challenging year.”
“Some of our members lost jobs. Some of our members moved to seek employment. So, it was a tough year. We had to downsize some – in terms of our staff. And yet, as we come into the New Year, again, we feel like the recovery is coming. I feel like we’re in a better place now than we have been in several years,” he said.
Pastor McAdow came to Oklahoma City’s downtown from a large United Methodist Church in Tulsa, which is miles from that city’s core. So, he says he has a new perspective of and appreciation for the role of an urban church.
“I think a downtown church is a unique spot. Because traditionally you don’t have a lot of folks who live in the downtown area, although we’re seeing growth and development of that in the Oklahoma City area, which makes it exciting,” he said. The Pastor likens his church to the center of a multi-spoked wagon wheel, as the membership comes from all of the surrounding suburbs. He noted the missions of urban versus suburban churches differ.
“The downtown area, obviously with a homeless population, you do have a lot of responsibilities, to care for the needs of your neighbors,” he said. “For the last year and a half we have hosted “City Care”, a breakfast for the homeless.” The breakfast previously was hosted by CityChurch.
City Care is a downtown nonprofit agency and Executive Director Larry Bross has been previously quoted as saying First Church did not hesitate when the idea of hosting the long-standing breakfast was suggested. “They were wonderful about it,” he said.
The breakfast is served Monday through Friday from 6:30 to 7:30 a.m. Volunteers from several area churches serve an average 200 people each morning.
First Church outreach doesn’t end with the breakfast. “We also have on Friday night something called “Friday Night Alive” which is a Bible study specifically geared to our homeless population in Oklahoma City,” Pastor McAdow said. “We provide a meal for them and Bible study and teach and prayer. And that is something that has just begun as we have begun this New Year.”
The exception to First Church’s location during its 122 years was the three years following April 19, 1995. The building suffered extreme damage in the Murrah Federal Building bombing and a new sanctuary had to be built. Later, the educational building was constructed.
Many Oklahoma Cityans and rescue workers and others remember that within 36 hours of the bombing, First Church sported a huge banner on the building facing Robinson and the bombing site. “Our God Reigns and We Will Remain!” declared the banner.
“We have been for the last many years, the unofficial host site for the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon,” Pastor McAdow said. “Because, that weekend, we don’t have any services on Sunday morning and we open our church for all of the runners and family and guests – Do a free pancake breakfast, and serve around 2,500 people,” he said.
Many runners go into the church to stretch and use the facilities and prepare for the run. Then families can stay in the church and watch the marathon on a big-screen TV in the fellowship hall.
“That is a major ministry of the church. It’s called ‘Second Wind’ and it takes about 150 people on site to do that ministry,” he said.
Anyone who has visited the Memorial’s east side has more than likely seen the outdoor chapel on the northwest corner of the church property. The Heartland Chapel was the first thing constructed after the bombing. It provides a place for people to pause, reflect and make prayer requests.
“The requests come from all over the world,” Pastor McAdow said. “Those are collected every week … and we pray for those every week.”
As to the future of faith in Downtown, “I would love to see the Body of Christ come together in stronger ways,” he said. The Pastor said he’d like to see more denominations represented in the National Day of Prayer service which is hosted by First Church at the Survivor Tree on the bombing site each year.
Another future ministry was recently approved by the United Methodist Council.”It’s called ‘Go Church’ and we’ll be hosting that church Friday nights as they seek to minister here downtown, as well,” he said. The church is not affiliated with First Church or the denomination, but will be hosted in the building. “Go Church” will reach out to the young professionals working Downtown and those expected to move into the growing number of apartments and condominiums in the area.
Pastor Mark McAdow anticipates the jackhammers and street construction will go away by the end of May or June. He doesn’t begrudge the inconvenience it might have caused, because it is a sign of growth and progress for Downtown.
“This is an exciting time to be downtown in Oklahoma City,” he said. “When the Mayor talks about ‘Core to Shore’, I like to say the churches of Downtown are the core of Oklahoma City. So, if he’s talking about the ‘Core to Shore’ – We’re the core movin’ to the shore. We’re excited to be that anchor … this is a city that loves God … we’re glad to celebrate that and grow in that.”
For more information about The First United Methodist Church of Oklahoma City, go to www.firstchurchokc.com