A change of scenery

Congregation sells church building, finds new zest for mission

April 3, 2012

The garden at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, Okla., has brought together church and community members alike.

The garden at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, Okla., has brought together church and community members alike. —Ann LaMar

TULSA, Okla.

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.

  1. Very heartening! This is the way we should be about the Lord's - and our- business. Blessing to you all.

    by Mary Stewart

    April 5, 2012

  2. Inspirational! Thank you for this story which inspires me as it reminds me just what amazing and transformative things God can do with willing hearts. I work in a small congregation in Belfast with a mission which is far too big for us but which is a blessing nonetheless. St Andrews - thanks for your courage and faithfulness. You make a difference.

    by Lesley

    April 4, 2012

  3. Truly Spirit-inspired action on their part to realize just who was their neighbor and how best they could help them---both old and new! Blooming where planted and replanted, and the Lord increases the harvest.

    by Marilyn Stoeckig

    April 3, 2012

  4. They were lucky they owned the church. My congregation does not go along with Presbyterian Church belief that homosexuals should hold leadership roles. Politically correct would not fly with Jesus. I have a feeling there may be many Presbyterian church's for sale. Hopefully we can be as wise as this congregation. We don't need a big church to worship God , let them have there politically correctness and see how many faithfully come. Lord help me Jesus.

    by Dwight Gibler

    April 3, 2012

  5. Ann LaMar! Great to see your name and to learn of St. Andrews venture into mission. Please extend to your congregation my excitement to see the imagination demonstrated and to practict "radical hospitality" to neighbors...some unexpected and good things will continue to emerge is my prayer. Thad Holcombe, former Campus Minster for United Ministry (Canterbury) at University of Tulsa and now at U. of Kansas

    by Thad Holcombe

    April 3, 2012

  6. This is inspiring!! What an example of kingdom living--not clinging to material forms for identity but holding everything loosely so that the Good News is proclaimed.

    by Elaine Vaden

    April 3, 2012

  7. How God's spirit moves in unsuspecting ways! What a great story.

    by Josey

    April 3, 2012