The cowboys who perform in the rodeo ...
The “carnies” on the midway and the exhibitors showing their wares ...
The law enforcement officers and the waves of people from all across the state and region who walk through the gates at the Oklahoma State Fair: These are some of the groups served by chaplains at the annual exhibition and carnival event.
The Chaplains Corner program was organized by chaplain Joe B. Williams in 1987 and it is now sponsored by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. The chaplains provide a ministry of presence at the fair that is similar to that of chaplaincy programs for other large events.
Jack Poe, retired longtime Oklahoma City police chaplain, serves as the program's chief of chaplains, and his wife and fellow chaplain, Phyllis, is the program's assistant director and general manager. The Chaplains Corner's home base is an area in the Safety Center at the fair.
Jack Poe said the chaplains' ministry at the fair is “multilayered” because of the many groups it serves.
Phyllis Poe said that service sometimes comes in the form of tangible aid.
She said she and her husband have been fair chaplains for about 26 years.
She said the chaplains provided motel rooms for carnival workers who did not have adequate shelter one year. Another time, chaplains provided blankets to carnival workers who came unprepared for the rainy, cool weather that often comes at fair time, she said. Phyllis Poe said the chaplains haven't had to find housing or give out many blankets as in years past, but they continue to give hygiene items and food snacks, donated by Oklahoma churches, to people who work the fair.
Then there is other ministry, like the wedding that Jack Poe performed for a magician at the fair or the death notification Phyllis Poe had to give to a mother at the rodeo.
Randy and Linda Reasoner, of McLoud, said whatever form the chaplains' ministry takes, it is based on building relationships with the people with whom they come in contact as the rides go around and round on the midway, fairgoers chow down on fair treats and cowboys thrill rodeo audiences with their skills and daring feats.
They said opportunities for ministry abound.
Randy Reasoner, with New Hope Cowboy Ministry in McLoud, said he and his wife have been chaplains for the rodeo crowd at the fair since 1992.
Reasoner said over the years, he has forged friendships with many of the rodeo and stock area crews.
He said he sees his chaplaincy as an opportunity to be a stable faith-filled presence for people who constantly travel from place to place.
“We help provide an anchor for them,” Reasoner said. “We care about them.”
Reasoner said he also reaches out to the vendors and, often, the temporary workers who perform such tasks as cleaning the restrooms and sweeping up litter.
“What we find is that people sometimes ignore them,” he said. “We talk to them and they know that people care about them. We all want to be acknowledged,” Reasoner said
Linda Reasoner said visiting people at the fair is exciting to her because it is ministry in its most basic form: caring for another.
“I think ministry should not just be to people who sit in the pew,” she said.
Her husband agreed.
“Jesus did that a lot of times — He saw somebody and let them know He cared about them,” he said.
The Oklahoma State Fair continues through Sunday.