“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” — Matthew 18: 20
A homeless man tucks his belongings into a shelf-like area at the top of an overpass then shuffles to the ground as gospel music blares from a loudspeaker.
The rumble of a car driving overhead doesn’t seem to faze the man or the people who gather around him as they bow their heads in prayer.
Welcome to Church Under the Bridge near downtown Oklahoma City.
It’s an unconventional house of worship, for sure — a church literally under a bridge.
But the lack of tradition is what makes Church Under the Bridge work, its leader said on a recent Sunday afternoon.
“We label ourselves as a church without walls. Can’t you see our ‘cathedral ceilings?,’” said Skye Ransom of Edmond, who founded the ministry four years ago.
Ransom, 37, said she started the ministry thinking it was a one-time deal. Acting on divine inspiration, she and her husband, children and several friends stood under an Interstate 40 bridge near City Rescue Mission to offer free hot dogs to homeless men and women.
Ransom said she was surprised when the Lord asked her to do the same thing every Sunday, but she has obeyed His request.
Since then, the ministry has grown in terms of the number of volunteers and the diversity of the local ministries that offer aid. Ransom said the Church Under the Bridge also grew in terms of attendance, particularly when it was located closer to City Rescue Mission and several other homeless shelter ministries.
Attendance swelled from a handful of people to more than 250, she said.
She said the church draws fewer people now that it has moved from the bridge of origin, so to speak, to an I-40 bridge on Virginia Avenue, between Reno and Lindley avenues. This bridge, farther away from the homeless shelters, is near HIS Coatings, a business at 1801 N Reno, which allows Church Under the Bridge participants and volunteers to park in its parking lot.
Still, Ransom and other ministry leaders said the church draws between 40 and 100 people these days, which they consider a nice-size crowd.
Ransom said the relocation was not by design.
She said the ministry lost its original bridge site to progress.
How do you lose a bridge?
Well, Ransom said the bridge was removed as part of the I-40 Crosstown Expressway realignment project. She said the ministry’s leaders had hoped to save their unique church location but the realignment project, a high profile multimillion city, state and federal effort, was a done deal.
Meeting the needs
The ministry’s volunteers gather at the bridge “rain, sleet, snow or shine” each Sunday at 3 p.m., armed with food for a free meal, free clothing to give away, tables and chairs and a sound system operated by a generator.
Lots of people, Ransom explained, won’t step foot inside a church, but they will come to Church Under the Bridge. She said the church service is particularly geared for the homeless, but it also attracts others in the community who like the diversity and the high level of praise offered in the open-air tabernacle setting.
Ransom said volunteers present the free meal and let people “shop” for the free clothing available on tables set up under the bridge. The group offers prayer and friendship to those who attend the service.
“They come because we’re filling their needs,” she said. “God knows what they need.”
Merle Childs attended the service on a recent Sunday. He said he started coming to Church Under the Bridge about three years ago when he was homeless. He said he is no longer homeless and has a career as an artist.
Childs, 51, said he comes to the service now to serve others.
“They welcomed me with open arms,” he said of Ransom and her family. “You just get to meet so many people here who just want to do good out of their hearts. I want to keep that connection no matter what.”
Each week, a different preacher from the community offers a short sermon, while the clergy leaders’ church members typically show up to help as volunteers.
On a recent Sunday, Yolanda Thomas, outreach pastor at the Net Church at 2200 N Bryant, delivered the faith message to a crowd of about 65 people.
“The Net Church was founded on outreach — that’s one of our cornerstones,” Thomas said, after the service. “We offer services as any church does, but not everyone is going to come to you. This is bringing God to the people.”
Denice Adkins, a member of the Net Church, participated in the service and said she enjoys holding church in an nontraditional setting.
“I come because we’re the Church and we need to come outside the walls and minister to the hurting,” she said. “If we stay inside the walls, we’re just ministering to each other.”
Fidela Ybarra, a member of LifeChurch.tv South, said she has been bringing her children to the service for several weeks. The children took a liking to Childs whom they met at a previous service and brought a cake for him to help celebrate his birthday on a recent Sunday.
Ybarra said attending the Church Under the Bridge services is teaching her children much about the different ways they can be in community with one another.
“I want to teach my kids there are no boundaries to love,” she said.
Church Under the Bridge