From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Oklahoma City United Methodists replace bomb-damaged building
20 Apr 1998 17:27:33
April 20, 1998 Contact: Joretta Purdue*(202)546-8722*Washington
NOTE: Photographs available with this story.
OKLAHOMA CITY (UMNS) - April 19, three years after the bombing of the
Murrah Building here severely damaged the historic First United
Methodist Church across the street, the congregation dedicated a new,
larger sanctuary in what had been the parking lot.
The occasion was celebrated as a victory, with frequent eruptions of
applause, several standing ovations and comments from the congregation .
The new structure is the first new church built in downtown Oklahoma
City in 80 years, according to building committee member Bill Porter.
Dedication ceremonies were led by Bishop Bruce Blake and the Rev.
Nicholas Harris, senior minister. Other participants included District
Superintendent Doug McPherson, associate ministers, a choir of about 50
members and other musicians. Among the guests were the Oklahoma governor
and Oklahoma City mayor.
Music included "The Church's One Foundation," "Amazing Grace" and "Holy
Ground," with the lyrics visible on a large video screen behind the
pulpit and above the 50-member choir.
Behind the screen is located a baptistery, which was given prominent
placement because, McPherson said, "baptism is the portal into the
Christian community." The church also has a baptismal font.
Baptisteries are not common in United Methodist churches where baptisms
are usually performed by "sprinkling" or placing water on the
The 1995 bombing killed 168, including people in nearby buildings and
one rescue worker. Although First Church staff were spared in the
bombing, the congregation found itself facing a series of decisions once
the extent of the property damage became apparent.
Priceless stained glass windows had been destroyed, brickwork damaged
and holes ripped through walls and ceilings in the structure built in
1904. Damage from the elements was inevitable. An annex was used as a
morgue, and a tent city erected in the parking lot.
The property could not be used for worship or meetings without extensive
repairs, but restoration was going to cost more than building a new
structure. Some people proposed relocating the congregation to the
suburbs. Yet, this church -- the first established in Oklahoma City by
Protestants - had been located at this site since it was founded 1889.
A banner hanging from the damaged church building seems to shout the
decision: "Our God reigns and we will remain."
"We're on this corner to stay," Harris asserted in the dedication
service. "We're not going away."
The immediate problem of where to worship three years ago was solved by
the invitation of the Trinity Baptist Church, four miles away. And
there the United Methodists continued to worship until Easter Sunday
this year when they were first able to use their new building. Church
offices were relocated to a downtown office building.
Only two weeks after the bombing, the United Methodist Board of Global
Ministries established a churchwide fund to assist the Oklahoma City
congregation and contributed the first $100,000.
"Without the United Methodist Church throughout the Unites States of
America rallying around us a building such as this would not be a
possibility," Harris declared. He said contributions from United
Methodists and other faith groups throughout the country increased the
fund to almost $1 million.
Harris told of the first structure built in 1889 at a cost of $1771 and
how that early congregation retired their final indebtedness of $220 at
the dedication service. It was replaced in 1904 by a larger brick
gothic-style building that was also debt-free at the dedication, he
said. Then he paused before announcing that the new $3.75 sanctuary is
also free of debt.
The new structure, also constructed of brick and in a gothic style,
has a light airy feel inside. With seating for up to 1,000, it offers
significantly more space to a congregation that has been growing since
Harris was assigned there 17 years ago. Yet the farthest pulpit-to-pew
distance is only 73 feet, according to two members of the building
committee. The older structure could accommodate between 500 and 600
The 1904 sanctuary building is to be saved and converted to a family
life or heritage center. Later additions to that structure will be
demolished to make room for a new education facility - again because
building new was less expensive than repairing the old. The building
committee expects to begin construction on this second phase within two
months, according to Bill McWilliams, chairman.
United Methodist News Service
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