A change of scenery
Congregation sells church building, finds new zest for mission
April 3, 2012
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, Okla., is a small church with an ever-widening mission.
“We had talked about becoming a missional church,” said pastor the Rev. Ann LaMar. “So we sold our big church building and bought a house on an acre of land.”
It is in that house — technically in the converted garage — where the congregation can be found worshipping on any given Sunday.
The original church building, built in the early 1960s, was next door to The Little Lightouse, a school for children with severe disabilities. One day, LaMar got a call from the school’s board of directors asking if St. Andrew’s would be interested in selling its property. The Little Lighthouse was growing and wanted to expand into an international headquarters.
“When we were asked, the session did not say no — they said, ‘Let’s go to the next step and see where it goes from there,’” LaMar said.
That willingness to ‘go to the next step’ led the church’s leadership into a period of discernment.
“We looked at what scripture has to say about what kind of building God wanted us to have, what kind of building did our members need to help them grown in faith, and what good news did our neighbors need to hear,” LaMar said.
What they soon realized was that the aging building no longer met their needs and that the congregation’s participation in mission was more important than its location.
“Then we realized that the Little Lighthouse was our neighbor — good news to them would be for us to tell them, ‘Yes, we will sell you our property,’” LaMar said.
The congregation initially moved into a three-church partnership with shared space and worship. A few years into that partnership, it became clear that it was time to move again.
“So, we found this house where the garage had already been converted into a big space with good lighting and carpet — the only thing we had to do was to add parking and get permission from the city to be a church, as it was still considered agricultural land,” LaMar said.
The new church house, as it is called, sits on an acre of land across the street from an apartment complex home to many at-risk youth.
“One of our deacons looked out at the backyard and said, ‘That would make a great community garden,” said LaMar. “So, we started an outreach to the youth — they come and help in the garden and then they are able to take the produce home with them.”
For many of those families, buying fresh produce would be prohibitively expensive. But the community garden allows the youth to have access to the produce while participating in the growing process.
Though its approach to worship remains traditional—congregants sit in rows of chairs while LaMar preaches from a lectern — the congregations’ focus on mission has become anything but.
“I’m not sure, had we kept the old building, that we would have had the vision for a garden, and we wouldn’t have had that many people to share it with,” LaMar said. “Being in this location ignited sparks of interest for mission that had not been present in our old location. The same people were there, but this new location opened up possibilities that didn’t seem present in the old space.”
Erin Dunigan is a freelance writer, photographer, and pastor who lives in a small coastal community in Baja California, Mexico when she is not following her wanderlust out into the world.