Oklahoma Christian University is connecting with a popular Bible app for a technological approach to Bible study.
A United Methodist church has changed its name to reflect its contemporary “Experience,” while People's Church prepares to launch a new satellite.
And the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, an ecumenical faith coalition, has made a commitment to help tornado survivors heal from their emotional wounds.
For these Oklahoma City-area ministries and faith-based organizations, 2014 has brought new beginnings and new ways to share the Gospel.
Spreading the WORD
Many Oklahoma Christian University students, faculty and administrators are reading the Bible together through a new partnership with an area megachurch.
Summer Lashley, the university's campus minister, said Oklahoma Christian partnered with LifeChurch.tv to create a Bible reading plan available on the church's popular YouVersion Bible app.
“WORD: OC's 60-Day New Testament Plan” includes devotionals written by many Oklahoma Christian University students, faculty and staff members.
Lashley said she came up with the idea because she knew almost 90 percent of the people at OC, 2501 N Memorial Road, have smartphones or other mobile devices. She said she thought the Bible reading plan would be a way to connect the campus, which she considers a large extended family.
“I wanted to find a way to challenge the campus spiritually,” she said. “It's common for this generation of students to have an app on their phone, so to make this available to them gives us a lot better chance of reaching them.”
She said those who started using the plan at the beginning of 2014 will have read through the New Testament by finals week.
Lashley said working with LifeChurch.tv was a “double blessing” because of the YouVersion Bible team's cooperative approach and the fact that the Bible reading plan is available not just to OC but others as well.
Bobby Gruenewald, LifeChurch.tv's pastor-innovation leader, shared Lashley's enthusiasm.
“We're thrilled to work with partners who generously make their content available to the global YouVersion community, and it's especially a pleasure when one of those partners is in our hometown,” he said.
“People tell us over and over again that Bible Plans have been instrumental in helping them stick with a daily Bible habit, and we're excited to see how the Oklahoma Christian University community grows through this plan.”
Two students who wrote devotionals for WORD said they have enjoyed seeing people around campus participate in the Bible reading plan.
“I thought it was a really good idea to unite the student body because it's something that we could all do together. It just kind of fit,” said Vivian Edmunson, 19, a psychology major in OC's Honors Program.
Zekariah McNeal, 20, a junior majoring in electrical engineering and Bible, wrote a devotional focused on the importance of mentoring, based on Scripture from 1 Timothy.
“I think people are fans of having a Bible app that's tailored to them for a semester,” he said.
Name reflects change
The year 2013 ended on a high note for members of Christ United Methodist Church, a sprawling campus at NE 17 and Kelley.
The Rev. Semaj Vanzant, senior pastor, said members, after months of prayer and discussion, decided to change the name to reflect what the church stands for. So, on Jan. 1, the name changed to The Christ Experience. The ministry's new motto is “The place where you are loved, not judged,” he said. He said the congregation seeks to make the church a place where people experience: love, a place to belong, the joy of connecting, complete transformation and development of their full potential.
“That's our main objective — that when people encounter us, they experience Christ in us and through us,” Vanzant said.
He said Christ United Methodist, 1006 NE 17, once was a flourishing church in a neighborhood near the state Capitol, but the congregation dwindled when most of the members of the predominantly white residential area fled to the suburbs as their schools and neighborhoods were integrated in the 1960s. Like the neighborhood surrounding it, the inner-city church is now predominantly black, Vanzant said.
Christ became a mission church of the much larger St. Luke's United Methodist Church, 222 NW 15, a few years ago when the Oklahoma United Methodist Conference renewed its commitment to seeing the urban ministry thrive and grow. Vanzant became the church's senior pastor in December 2011.
Vanzant said a church consultant recommended the name change to help reflect its changing dynamics. He said a church committee helped whittle name choices from more than 20 to five and then three before the new moniker was selected.
“This is a process of rebranding it as we understand ourselves to be something different as a church and ministry. And we want to be relevant,” he said.
Vanzant said in addition to the new name, the congregation set up new ministry teams that will be working on several projects and programs designed to reach out to the surrounding neighborhood and community.
He said an outdoor sign proclaiming the church's new name is coming soon.
People's Church, known for several years as one of the fastest-growing churches in the metro, is set to open a satellite in the building that housed the Express Event Center.
Josh Brown, the church's executive pastor, said work on the new People's Church Northwest will begin soon, with plans for extensive remodeling of the building at 8512 Northwest Expressway. Brown said church leaders estimate the project will be completed by late spring or summer. He said the church will send a core group of staff and congregation members to help launch the new satellite.
The church's main campus is at 800 E Britton Road. It launched its first satellite, People's Church Midwest City, in 2011 in a former movie theater.
Brown said the northwest location was chosen for several reasons.
“We felt like it was a highly populated area and a growing area of town,” he said. “We're just excited about it and glad to get this going so we can see more lives change. That's really the heart of this.”
Help for healing
The Oklahoma Conference of Churches has hired a new director of emotional care in response to the tornadoes that devastated Oklahoma in May 2013.
The Rev. William Tabbernee, executive director, said the Rev. Mary Hughes Gaudreau took the post effective Jan. 2. She is an ordained United Methodist minister and a licensed professional counselor who has more than 20 years experience counseling disaster victims including individuals affected by the Oklahoma City bombing and the Oklahoma tornadoes in 1999, 2003 and last year.
Gaudreau's position was made possible through a grant from the United Way of Central Oklahoma, Tabbernee said.
“Whether or not they realize it, many, if not all, of those who survived the May tornadoes and floods need long-term emotional and spiritual care as well as financial and physical support to get their lives back in order,” Tabbernee said.
In addition to her efforts in Oklahoma, Gaudreau gained experience on a national level as a consultant for the United Methodist Committee on Relief and was involved in the responses to Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, and other hurricanes; the 2011 Alabama tornadoes; and the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings in Newtown, Conn. Gaudreau also served as chairman of the writing group for the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) Emotional and Spiritual Care Committee's “Disaster Spiritual Care Guidelines.”