Next Sunday, just like every Sabbath, First Church will have a service.
Thing is, it won’t have a sermon from the pulpit or an anthem from the choir. It won’t be a worship gathering at all.
Instead, the downtown church’s service will be to those at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. It will make free pancakes for runners and spectators alike. It will provide a place for folks to use the bathroom, warm up, cool down, even watch the race.
That’s not even the half of this ministry.
First Church calls it Second Wind.
"It’s more than preaching and teaching,” executive pastor Kirk Norman said of the church’s role. "It’s hands-on where the rubber meets the road.”
And First Church is where the road begins for the marathoners.
The church sits across the street to the east of the Oklahoma City National Memorial. With the marathon’s starting line on Robinson Avenue, thousands of runners take their first steps near First Church’s front steps.
That has given the church a unique opportunity.
But the congregation didn’t always see it that way.
Like most marathons, the Memorial Marathon is run on a Sunday. That’s the day traffic is lightest and street closures are easiest. But having the marathon on a Sunday meant something different for First Church — streets around the building would be closed and parking lots would be blocked.
When Oklahoma City’s marathon began in 2001, First Church saw only one option.
No service on Sunday.
"The doors were locked,” said Laura Alfonzo, the church’s director of communication.
Some members were none too happy. Their church, after all, was one of the hardest hit by the bombing. Their sanctuary was nearly destroyed, windows shattered and walls shifted. It cost millions of dollars and caused lots of heartbreak.
The congregation was displaced for three years.
"We could’ve moved out of downtown,” Alfonzo said, "but we decided to stay here.
"We really have a kindred spirit with the memorial.”
So for the Memorial Marathon to cause First Church such problems, many in the congregation didn’t understand.
"I think it is absolutely wrong to hold the Memorial Marathon on Sunday,” said a letter to the editor in The Oklahoman
in May 2001. "I propose that the timing be reconsidered and changed.”
But the marathon remained on Sunday, and for two years, First Church remained closed on marathon day. It moved the worship service to Saturday but thought that was the only thing that could be done.
Then before the third marathon, Stan Cosby hit on an idea. He was then the new senior pastor at First Church, and he proposed a pancake feed, a service to those at the marathon.