2000 - 2004
While church growth is often charted in terms of attendance, buildings, and vehicles; another sort of growth was concurrently taking root--small group ministries. On a Saturday afternoon in the spring of 2000, Jim Fisk led a brainstorming session of about 50 members--adult and youth alike--searching for areas where we could better do the work of the church. Evening Bible Study and Women's Bible Study joined an already strong youth program that has sustained them. Participation in gathering food and gifts during the holiday season increased and other small group ministries were tried for shorter periods. In 2001, a series of training sessions were conducted for the church elders. Concurrently with these small group ministries, committees were revitalized and among them, the building committee began exploring options for expansion or new site development. During this time, the church adopted its motto, "God's Love in Action."
As we considered our own future, we received assistance and support from the Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Missions. This consisted of periodic visits and consults by Reverend George Estes and some monetary grants to accelerate our revitalization.
In late 2000, the church session met to consider purchasing Don's Grocery Store but felt that the asking price for the property was more than the church could afford. The property became available at auction in 2001 and the church purchased it with what had been set-aside in the building fund and a $37,000 loan. The church also sold the manse a few months later and used the funds to pay off the loan. Workdays to clean up debris and remove some interior walls were conducted once the purchase was finalized. The church held a lawn chair service a few weeks after the purchase and a September 11th prayer service in the somewhat austere conditions of the building.
Having done yeoman's service in producing building plans by the year's end, the building committee encountered the first of several external obstacles--a revised building code. Revising and obtaining final approval of the plans compliant with the new code would take almost another year, but the time was not lost as subcommittees began exploring options for furniture, appliances, carpeting, and numerous other details required to make the transition complete. Also during this time, the church purchased several used pews from a church in Tuttle and transported them to Burns Flat.
In the middle of the building project, the session reluctantly accepted the resignation of Jim Fisk so that he could return to Arkansas and be closer to his family. Services and ministries continued with church members of all ages stepping forward to lead services or help wherever help was needed. A pastoral search committee was formed and the church was blessed to find Duawn Mearns after only a few months. Duawn and his wife Honey accepted the call to minister in Burns Flat in the summer of 2003.
By 2003, workdays had resumed and contracts were finalized. Construction and remodeling continued through the spring of 2004. Pews were recovered and seating arrangements revised for the new sanctuary.
A drive through awning was added in front of the church, a steeple was placed atop the roof, and a cross donated from the Methodist Church building was lighted and placed next to our church name. What had been a store building only months before was unmistakably a church. On June 20th, 2004 the church held its first service in the newly remodeled building. A few weeks later, a dedication service was conducted on the evening of July 11th, 2004.
|Members waiting to enter the sanctuary.|
By 2005, we were a church that averaged 60 on the Sunday school rolls and sometimes 100 in morning Worship Services. Our Wednesday evening program, F-4, got off to a great start averaging 55 people each meeting for food, fun, fellowship, and faith. The F-4 program incorporated the existing bible study groups and youth groups and added a meal for fellowship, classes for the very young, singing, and even a talent show. The year also included an overnight Women's retreat hosted in our church. The theme was preparing your heart for the holidays.
On 29 April 2006, we served as host for the Red River Presbytery. Many of the attendees enjoyed getting to see our new building of which they had heard reports and praises over the past two years. Following the service, all were treated to Burns Flat hospitality with a delicious meal and fellowship.
During the summer of this year, the session began evening meetings with more time dedicated to the spiritual growth and leadership of the church.
Landscaping efforts continued on the West side of the building continued. On 10 September 2006, the church began First Light, a contemporary service conducted prior to Sunday school. This same date, all church committees began meeting monthly on the same day. Revitalized with old and new committee members, the work of the church was turned over to many more hands and hearts. Several ladies from our church and community attended the Women of Faith conference in Oklahoman City.
The church had always been active in the Thanksgiving Baskets, Christmas Baskets, and Angel Tree Gift programs; however, this year saw an addition to our outreach--a community meal was offered with an open invitation to the community during the Christmas break. While the turnout was light, the dining fare was hardy and all that came were well fed.
The year began in typical western Oklahoma fashion with ice storms and power outages. Committees were operating in full force, the ministerial alliance was becoming more involved in helping needy families on a year-round basis, and more people were showing God's Love in Action in more ways than ever before. One new outreach was providing snacks for the Adventure Program at Foss Lake. This is a resident program for at-risk youth managed by Southwestern Oklahoman State University.
In April, Duawn Mearns submitted his resignation after accepting a call to a church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The session accepted the resignation and formed a pastoral search committee headed by Rick Reeves and Rodney Chilton.
While searching for a pastor is certainly an arduous task; it did not supplant the purpose of our church. We are here to love God and to love our neighbor. We have faced some small trials during this period, but continue forward faithfully, reminding ourselves that Jesus Christ is the head of the church and we as members all have our own purpose and calling. This period produced its own blessings. Six adults from our own church have filled the pulpit, the youth continued to lead worship four times each year on 5th Sunday--which included both the contemporary and traditional services, and on occasion we exchanged one of our members to deliver the message to the Clinton Cumberland Presbyterian Church, so that their pastor, Dale Nease, could come to our church to perform the sacrament of communion and deliver the Sunday morning message. Our Wednesday night F-4 program continues, with the men taking on the challenge of the Purpose Driven Life as their bible study program for the fall, more people helping in the kitchen, and good attendance in the women's bible study and in all of the youth groups. Our food pantry continues to assist several in our community, and more people from our congregation have stepped forward to take on leadership roles.
2007 concluded with a flurry of activity. A boxed dessert auction raised an additional $500 for the purchase of a keyboard to be used in worship services and youth of all ages presented a Christmas program organized by Laci Stegall. This was the second year in which the youth have provided our Christmas program. The missions committee in cooperation with the Ministerial Alliance helped over 300 people with turkeys and baskets at Thanksgiving and over 325 at Christmas. The alliance also helped provide 165 Angel Gifts for children in these needy families. Our church served as host for these events again, but this was truly a community effort among all churches in the alliance. We also partook of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper on Christmas Eve, a tradition begun two years earlier that has truly touched the hearts of all that partook. What better time for self-examination than when we prepare our hearts for the birth of Jesus into the world. By year's end, we were still a church in search of a pastor, but not in search of a mission. This was truly a year to realize that we are God's love in action and that everyone's gifts and talents are needed to love our neighbors.
The year began without a pastor but with no shortage of faith, hope, or love. The search committee faithfully persevered and spent much time in prayer.
The annual Elders' Retreat and Planning Session kicked off the New Year. Following prayer and devotion, we conducted training for all elders. As the session looked forward into 2008, all were led to make Vacation Bible School a significant event in the lives of the children of our congregation and our community. No one was quite sure what would be done, but all set their hearts in agreement that this was an urgent mission for our church. What a blessing it was when three young women stepped forward to lead this week-long endeavor. The session also committed to at least one, possibly two retreats for both the men and women. Among other planning highlights was the decision to hold a spring revival and ask our former pastor, Duawn Mearns, to be our speaker. The session completed the budget for the year, enjoyed lunch together, and reconvened in the afternoon to conclude the business part of the meeting. During this retreat, Tom Spence announced that he was applying for the ministry and asked the session for a letter of endorsement. The letter was sent to Red River Presbytery (Committee on Preparation for the Ministry) the following week. The retreat ended with prayers at the altar.
Easter came early this year and our church hosted the community Holy Week services and participated in the community Easter Service at the First Baptist Church in Dill City. The revival with Reverend Duawn Mearns took place the week after Easter. Despite low attendance, this was a fantastic time of reunion with our eternal friends that just happen to be serving God in Arkansas. The following week, we flew out a prospective candidate to fill our pulpit along with his family. Isaac and Susan Gray spent the last weekend in March with us but decided that they were called elsewhere. The church prayed that their ministry would be fruitful wherever it was.
In April 2008, Tom Spence was approved as a candidate for the ministry by the Red River Presbytery. On May 3rd, 2008, the session called him and asked him to serve as stated supply with hopes of calling him as pastor once he was ordained. Tom joyfully accepted.
A special note is appropriate here. In the year that the church was without a pastor, we did not survive. We flourished. When Duawn left, it was a bittersweet time. All loved Duawn, Honey, and the girls and seeing them go was as difficult as seeing a family member depart for duty overseas--or worse, service in Arkansas. Many of us could also tell from the day we began with Duawn only four years earlier that his ministry was special and that he would be called to many places. We were thankful to have the Mearns family with us for the time we did but knew that Duawn had to be faithful to his call.
This was also a time for the church to grow. The last time we were between pastors, we were in the middle of a building program. That in itself was probably enough to scare off most of the timid applicants. This time we were in something of a building program as well. We built upon the spiritual foundation that had been being laid for many years and exercised some of our Spiritual Gifts. People began to volunteer for different functions and we never were anxious about filling the pulpit. During this time several of our members that had never attempted a message, stepped forward to share with the congregation. These are those that filled our pulpit over the past year: James Hendrix, Rick Ellis, Tom Spence, Dana Ellis, Mary Faye Delp, Bob Nagle, Bryan Waters, as well as youth-led services once each quarter. On occasion, we did send a lay speaker to the Clinton CPC and Reverend Dale Nease came to our church to preach and administer the sacraments. When other churches needed someone to fill in for their pastor, they called Burns Flat--the church without a pastor--to fill their pulpit. We include this note in our history not to boast in ourselves, but to boast in Christ. Jesus is Lord!
The church continued our participation as part of the Ministerial Alliance by participating in the Baccalaureate Services in May. Tom Spence gave the sermon for the Burns Flat-Dill City High School seniors and the community in attendance.
The Vacation Bible School was all that was hoped for. Kendra Walker, Laci Stegall, and Jennifer Harris did a fantastic job leading, recruiting, planning, coordinating, and evaluating what we could do next year. What a team! This was the first year that we had attempted an evening VBS format and despite some stiff competition with youth sports activities, we averaged 35-40 children and 15-20 adults each evening.
During July, Tom Spence attended his first summer session of the Program of Alternate Studies (PAS) at Bethel College in McKenzie, Tennessee. Our youth camps were also held at the end of this month. This was a special year as many of our youth rededicated their lives to Christ.
August, September, October, and November seemed to fly by. Normally, the church does not have Wednesday meetings in the summer, but that course changed somewhat this year. June and July each had musical gatherings and August was the time for a new study--Breaking Away from Busy--designed for all ages. The Fall F-4 classes saw the men and women combine both leaders and participants with a study and discovery journey through the Gifts of the Spirit. Since that time, many more in the church have joined ministries or begun their own. The church also opened its doors to host an Alcoholics Anonymous group in our building. There was a tremendous need in our community for such a support group, and this group used the 12 Steps which meant that participants first must admit that their lives are unmanageable--then seek God's help in recovery. This is a healthy process even for those that are not addicted to a substance.
In August, 10 men from the congregation traveled to Dallas, Texas for a Promise Keepers meeting. The local group called Men of Integrity came out of this venture.
In October 2008, Tom Spence became the publisher of the Burns Flat Community Newsletter. This otherwise secular venture through the Chamber of Commerce became a vehicle for promulgating the works of the Ministerial Alliance as well as other school and community activities.
In November 2008, Dr. Thomas D. Campbell, Director of the Program of Alternate Studies, Memphis Theological Seminary, held courses at our church as part of a traveling campus for the PAS program.
December saw some new ventures for Wednesday evenings. In past years, schedules seemed too hectic to maintain our Wednesday class schedule, but there were many people still drawn to the fellowship of meeting mid-week. This December, we provided a one-pot meal and a seasonal activity. We counted the money in the love loaves as a group, filled sacks with apples, oranges, candy, and nuts for giving out after the Christmas Program, and on another evening wrote notes of encouragement for 75 Christmas baskets. December was also a time for distributing Christmas baskets and Angel Gifts. Once again, the ministerial alliance helped over 70 families and more than 150 children. These were ministries where it was easy to become God's Love in Action.
December also marked the end of two elder terms: Dana Ellis and Carolyn Murray. These were the first two women to serve as elders in our congregation. All that served with them or were served by them thank them for their love of God and of His church. Their love in action help all grow. Elected to serve to begin in 2009 were Junior Delp and Rick Ellis. Rick was ordained as an elder in December 2009.
December has been special for several years now in that we have continued a Christmas Eve Service of the Lord's Supper on a family by family or small group basis. This personal, intimate service has been a blessing for many and many more attended this year's service than those of previous years.
Stated Supply – Tom Spence
Session –Junior Delp, Gerald Stegall, Rodney Chilton, Rick Ellis, Rick Reeves
Clerk – Gene Reeves
The New Year was a time for new ideas and a call for leadership. All elders were not only invited to the elders' retreat and annual planning session, but a special effort was made to encourage all to participate. While only active session members voted, there was power in having this many elders gathered for the purpose of prayer and leadership. The session agreed that Vacation Bible School was an incredible success in 2008 and needed to once again be a top priority in 2009. The session also voted to increase the budget for the ministerial alliance to $1,500. Projects such as repair and refurbishing of the west wall were put on hold until 2010.
April was a very busy month. Holy Week, Easter, a community Easter Service began the month. Jeff Gehle, associate pastor at St. Matthews CPC was invited to be our guest speaker at a revival that same month, and a first-ever town-wide evangelism event was held on the 25th--Walk a Block for Jesus. This event placed a postcard on every doorstep in the town with the exception of those households where walkers were certain that the residents belonged to and attended a local church.
April also brought Oklahoma storms. Both the church building and the manse suffered hail damage. Both were later repaired and completely covered by insurance.
Vacation Bible School continued with the evening format but moved to July this year to avoid conflict with youth sports. The result was evident in a final day attendance high of 74 children!
Below is a summary of the report sent to the Board of Missions for Red River Presbytery.
We are a church that is healthy in Spirit, in Love, in Mercy, and in Worshipping God in Spirit and in Truth. We are financially sound, active in our ministries, eager to find new ways or continue existing ways to love our neighbor. We average 100 in attendance each Sunday, and 50 in Sunday School. We occasionally hit a bump in the road, but work through it by submitting our personal wills to God. We love our church and know that God has blessed us! We remain a church without pretense, accepting people not judging them, and asking that each use their gifts and talents as he or she is called in service to our Lord Jesus.
The remainder of 2009 saw active involvement in community ministries under the oversight of the Missions Committee. Over 300 people were provided food at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and 200 children received Angel Gifts at Christmas. This was part of the Ministerial Alliance effort to bless many in the communities of Burns Flat and Dill City.
The church also participated in the Loaves and Fishes (love loaves) ministry to help address worldwide, regional, and local hunger. The local allocation of funds from this offering was used to sponsor the fifth annual community meal.
The fall F4 program concluded with our fourth annual Thanksgiving Dinner and Talent Parade. Participants of all classes and all ages made this a chance just to enjoy each other as God’s people.
The church was again led by the Spirit to also participate in Operation Christmas Child by filling multiple shoeboxes to be shipped to needy children around the world. Florence Mabry, Liz Leinau, Judy Reeder, and Dana Ellis helped coordinate this once again.
The year ended with much snowfall and some ice storms. While no damage was suffered; ice and snow drifts caused the cancellation of the much beloved Christmas Eve Communion service.
Kathy Stegall was elected as an elder to begin serving on the session in 2010. Kathy was ordained on 27 December 2009.