Episode IV: A New Home
The firing of Oakland UMC’s lead pastor and having our leaders locked out of our building prompted us to launch our lifeboat, Oakland Community Church. Rev. Tice was fired on a Wednesday, and by Friday we found out we’d be able to worship in a local funeral home. The first Sunday (Mother’s Day) there was a good atmosphere, good turnout, and good singing. It was probably the first and only time “The Great Adventure” by Steven Curtis Chapman had been sung in that chapel, and undoubtedly the first time there had ever been a baptism there. But we didn’t know where we’d be meeting next. We also didn’t know where to house all of our ministries – from Bible studies to baby blanket making, we had used our building for all it was worth. Could we find a space to house not only our worship but our ministries? We didn’t know. But we were excited to finally be free from a spiritual darkness we never fully realized until we left the United Methodist Church, and Andrew Peterson’s liturgical lyrics in the pre-worship song seemed to fit the occasion perfectly:
“Do you feel the world is broken?
Do you feel the shadows deepen?
But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through?
Do you wish that you could see it all made new?
We continued to pray for guidance from God and for his provision. The next day, we discovered our best and only hope for a rental space up until that point would not work. The near-frantic search for a place to worship continued. Local schools were either gave immediate denials to our requests to meet or else required weeks to apply for rental space. It seemed impossible.
God’s prevenient grace, however, showed differently. By Wednesday, May 16th – just one week after Pastor Kent was fired and we were locked out of the Oakland UMC building – we found a new home renting a store front in a business center. That first Sunday in our new building was Pentecost, which we felt quite fitting. Our lease of the building is for two years, so Pastor JoAnne preached a sermon on our “2020 Vision” of making new disciples and following Jesus more closely and passionately.
It takes a lot of love to make a house a home, and it takes nearly as much to make a storefront a church. Pastor JoAnne shared some generosity, hard work, and encouragement being poured out for Oakland:
“Lots of good news today! New furniture purchased for the church offices and a wonderful supportive person who gave us the money for it. More installation of sound and video with special thanks to Dale Stewart for his long hours and expert work! New tables and chairs arrived for the preschool kids. Jill’s new computer arrived and it’s beautiful! Disciple class is meeting (with lots of goodies for the hungry Bible students). New building lights are up and a new sign ordered for on the Whitmore Business Center sign by our diligent landlords. Jack Zaleski has insurance worked out as well as a myriad of other business details that he is so good at. He also got us a new dumpster and Jill excitedly told us she got to put the first bags of garbage in! I think she likes the dumpster almost as much as the computer! And Kent is in his element… making a building work for us! And I am fielding a massive number of messages from all around the country offering us words of encouragement and praise for taking a stand. What an adventure!”
On June 9th, just one month after being locked out, we had this praise to God to share on our Facebook page:
“Oakland Community Family,
Praise God for his faithfulness during this time of transition for Oakland. We are especially grateful to all of you who have stepped up to loan tables and chairs; donate offering plates, a frig/freezer, file cabinets and book cases; prepare the sound for the band and classrooms for all the children; get all of the technology up and running and provide funds for the purchase of new furnishings. But the most valuable gift given has been the smiles and encouragement given by all who have joined us in this new space!
Last Sunday’s worship was especially moving as we considered how God adopts us each into his family. As the congregation came forward for communion, 82 people signed up to become charter members of Oakland Community Church. Those of you who missed will have a chance to become a charter member this weekend as well. For those of you who didn’t see FB ,
Diana Kush wrote:
‘Our church has been through so much this past year. Today was our first visit to the new location and it was full. During communion I saw a glimpse into what heaven will be like; men and women of all kinds: white, Black, Hispanic, Indian, Indonesian, Korean, and some of us mixed folks, conservatives, liberals and everything in between all together to worship one God. ❤️’
‘Diana captured my thoughts as we served communion this morning! 3 year old Shiley came skipping up for communion by herself, while her mother signed to become a charter member, and responded excitedly when I told her how much Jesus loved her. And then she was followed by Marie, our oldest member guided by a dear friend to receive the body and blood of Christ. I had to wipe away tears at the sheer joy of the moment and the colorful, beautiful Body of Christ.’”
When asked for her reflections on the events of the past month, Pastor JoAnne shared:
“Kent’s and my removal from OUMC brings mixed emotions. We searched out the land, bought 60 acres, subdivided it into home lots and a new church, researched and designed an extremely functional building and built it. Our whole family drove nails, raised walls and trusses, painted… just about every job of building. Kent acted as general contractor for much of it. So losing the building is sad, and being treated poorly by the denomination does hurt.
But we also worked together to build a congregation. The baptistry got lots of use with new believers. We nurtured, taught, preached, and encouraged so many people over the years. Most of the congregation is joining us in our new church home, so keeping the family together has been a joy for us.
Overall, I feel a sense of freedom and excitement about the future. With denominational political issues behind us, we are finally free to focus on making disciples and building the Kingdom.”
We at Oakland Community Church thank you for reading our story. We are grateful for the prayers we know are being offered on our behalf, and for the encouragement we continue to receive. While much has changed for our church, much remains the same. We will continue to preach the word of God with a zeal in accordance with wisdom. We will continue to serve our community with thoughtful, God-honoring ministries – some old, some new. For those who remain in the UMC, we continue to pray that the United Methodist Church will embrace scripture and that orthodoxy will be upheld at the special General Conference session in 2019. In the meantime, we encourage United Methodists (and believers everywhere) to speak truth and confront the lies of our culture. In the words of Jude we “urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people!”
God does not abandon His faithful. Oakland is indeed still a church with what certainly seems to be a dedicated and growing Wesleyan minded congregation. It just is no longer a United Methodist Church, much to our loss. In a few days I will have some final thoughts of all of this. I want to take some time to ruminate on this loss to the denomination, and I hope that all of you will as well. Let those who have ears, hear.