The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 23, 2013

Healing and happening

Churches take different paths in their walks of faith, come together to help community

By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Westminster and First Presbyterian churches are healing after a split divided the two last October, and both are reaching out to help the Enid community.  

A more moderate stand

The Rev. Bill Stephens became pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church Feb. 12, 2012, and the group now meets in Seventh-Day Adventist Church on Purdue. Stephens said the church pays rent and in the future hope to erect a joint sign.

“We hope it will be a symbiotic relationship, benefiting both churches,” Stephens said.

The biggest focus is on missions, and half of the church’s budget, or about $186,000, goes to that end.

Half of that $186,000 is put into local missions, he said. They supply funding for a wide variety recipients in Garfield County. Stephens said they have been funding existing ministries, rather than starting new ones. Stephens explained there are six denominations within the Presbyterian Church, and Enid now has two of them. Those denominations are Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPC), Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church USA and Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), which is the largest denomination.

The Westminster group joined Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Stephens said they left PC (USA), which he said is the most theologically and socially liberal denomination, and joined a more moderate one. Both theological and social issues determine where the denominations stand.

Westminster has 134 members, and Stephens said the church as lost and gained about a dozen members.

Some families have been split, as well, with part going to the new church and another generation of the same family staying at the old one.

“Our hope is for two healthy churches,” Stephens said. “For the folks who left — it had nothing to do with the people who stayed. It had to do with what is happening at headquarters in Lexington, Ky.”

In the future, they will need different facilities and whether or not they will build or purchase an existing building is still undetermined.

“We are praying, searching, looking. But right now we are happy where we are. But it’s not permanent,” Stephens said.

Still working together

The Rev. Andrew Long, pastor of First Presbyterian Church talked about their missions and how the church actually puts people in the community to help. The two biggest missions of First Presbyterian are Saturday manna, a food kitchen that welcomes anyone, and Wednesday afternoon tutoring, which currently helps 21 Enid students.

“We see a lot of Enid’s homeless and some low income. We also give away clothing, books and toys for children. And it has become a gathering place. We keep the doors open as long as someone is here,” he said.

The elementary students who attend tutoring have a family type of meal, then math class taught by Jan Robinson. Then there is play time, followed by one-on-one classes with a number of volunteer tutors. Long said the tutors are comprised of members of First Presbyterian Church, members of Westminster Presbyterian Church and others who are not affiliated with any church.

The tutoring also has developed into a mentoring session for some of the students, he said.

“It’s good for the student and the tutor,” Long said.

Many tutors have been volunteering for eight years or longer, he said.

Community partners

The church also offers financial support to other organizations, mostly Loaves and Fishes. Gail Wynne, director of Loaves and Fishes, is a longtime member of First Presbyterian Church. The organization used First Presbyterian facilities for several months until its building was complete.

First Presbyterian is a partner and member of the food bank and helps to intake and help people obtain food. It has an ongoing collection of peanut butter, which is taken to Loaves and Fishes.

First Presbyterian also supports Community Development Support Association.

“I think they identify the needy beyond what I can,” Long said.

They also support Horn of Plenty by collecting food and assisting with the organization’s semi-annual food drives.

Recently, the executive board of 4R Kids used the church’s facilities for a meeting. Long said one of the ways the church benefits the community is through use of its facilities. There are a number of Bible study classes meeting at First Presbyterian.

The church sent assistance to Presbyterian Relief after Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast. Long who originally is from Baltimore and graduated from Princeton, said this summer the church may send a mission team to help with clean up.

It will take time

There are now 168 members of First Presbyterian Church, he said.

“We’re healing and happening,” Long said. “It will take a long time. We have conversations, and people talk about it. They are voices being heard,” he said.

Long said the church is growing physically and spiritually and has returned to traditional Presbyterian worship and education, understanding who they are and what God is calling them to do.  Long said he became a Presbyterian because he could ask questions without being made to feel stupid, and disagree without being ostracized.

“Reformed theology is about inclusiveness. Everyone is welcome at the table,” Long said. “We can disagree. Our task here is to remind the congregation that is possible.”

First Presbyterian Church is planning a special Palm Sunday worship service that musically will trace Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The music of Samuel Barber, Eugene Gigout, Johann Bach, Sigfrid Karg-Elert, Stephen Elgar, John Purifoy, and John Stainer will be featured. Rhonda Russell will be the pianist, Long will play the organ and First Presbyterian Choir will perform. Eddie Lou Strimple will be the director.