• 19 Oct 2008

    If you had asked me at the outset of my journey to predict a community that I would embrace, I would not have guessed that it would be Shawnee, Oklahoma.  I did not see this coming.

    Even before the food arrived at my first meal, the signs were there.

    Now, I realize that it may be difficult to gauge the scale from the photo, but allow me to interpret.  Here in Shawnee, beverages start at 32 ounces and they bring unsolicited peanuts.  I love these people.

    I found this community to be warm, engaging and kind. 

    However last night, as I was looking to select a church to attend this morning, some red flags went up.  By one count, there were over 56 churches to choose from in a community of less than 30,000 people.  For my bay area secular’s, I offer the following reference point.  Palo Alto, California is a community of over 62,000 and has 33 churches.

    A closer look was even more alarming to this west-coast-inclusive Presbyterian.  Thirty of the 54 churches were Baptist.  Now, the presence of the Oklahoma Baptist University is clearly an influence.  However, Shawnee is also the home of St. Gregory’s University, a Benedictine Catholic institution, and the result is only one Catholic church.

    I feel the need to explain my reaction to the Baptist dominance here in Shawnee.  It is awkward to admit to.  It is revealing and it is relevant.  As much as this trip is about the political continuum and resulting dialog, for me it is also about the state of the church.

    For many progressive Christians, we have felt that the conservative churches have co-opted our faith.  By interjecting a social agenda that does not reflect our beliefs, many have come to feel that the greatest messages of our faith have gotten lost in the misguided and single issue focus of the right. 

    And so it was that I cautiously entered the University Baptist Church on N. Kickapoo Avenue in Shawnee.  To say that I was greeted warmly is an understatement.  Admittedly, I stood out.  I was the only woman with hair still damp from my shower (Shawnee woman are well coifed) wearing motorcycle boots. 

    The service today was led by the youth and the theme was, ironically,  Unity:  One body, many parts.  A young parishioner named Raye Reeder used tangrams to demonstrate how many different shapes create a whole.  She went on, cleverly, to show how those same shapes can create many forms.  It was charming and impactful.

    Stephen Whitmore, a high school senior, delivered the sermon.  Here in this Southern Baptist church, he called for the left and the right fractions of the church to come together.  He spoke eloquently of meekness and patience. 

    Following the service, Pastor Bob Searl and congregant Mary Chancellor graciously agree to an interview.  They both speak beautifully to the special nature of the University Baptist Church. 

    University Baptist

    So this is what I found in Shawnee.  A congregation focused, not on politics or social agenda, but on service. 

    I like it here.

    Posted by jm-admin @ 8:06 pm

9 Responses

  • Roderick Says:

    Hi, Julie!

    SO pleased that you tried a church. Sounded wonderful.

    For the next few states, I bet all the soft drinks will be bottomless. Imagine that, all the diet coke you want! Just the thing to wash down deep-fried catfish.

  • Rose Harr Says:

    Hi there - did you watch SNL? very funny. miss ya lady rose

  • Linda Says:

    Brownie points for Palin on SNL. She’s part of that amazing TANGRAM!
    Can I move to Shawnee!
    LOVE YOU …. you are easy dear sis, soda and peanuts keep u happy!
    SMILING :-) for you!

  • Katie McDaughter Says:

    HAHAHA I’m loving the giant diet coke, but not as much as you loved it I’m sure.

    This was a great interview! I’m glad that you found a nice church out there in Shawnee..

    Oh, and I just got your post card today. I LOVE YOU! I almost cried when I got it, you are too sweet. I miss you like no other.

  • Maureen Says:

    Hi Julie,

    I’m having so much fun reading your blog. I’m happy for you - it sounds like you are having a wonderful journey! I see you are in Arkansas, not far from Bentonville. I enjoyed it when I traveled there for work. I hope you get to stop and visit with the locals. Enjoy the rest of your trip.


  • Evelyn Says:

    These were great interviews. The mom and daughter were very thoughtful
    and articulate in their views and I’m happy they were willing to speak with you.

    Loved the interview with the pastor as well. What an a project. You’re really

    Take care of you…almost done.

  • Terry Says:

    Hi Julie ~
    Just want to tell you how much I enjoy reading about your daily adventures and listening to your interviews. Pastor Bob and Mary summed it up in a nutshell. Wishing you blue skies and sunshine as you continue to ride East.

  • Thresa Says:

    It was so fun to have you at our church that day! I’m so glad that we overcame your expectations. I met you right before you talked to Pastor Bob about interviewing him, I doubt you remember me, but we were very excited to have you there.

    And the hair, I don’t remember it at all, several of us are involved in a local cycling club and go on all kinds of trips in cycling clothes, etc. And there is even a fairly good group of us that ride scooters to work, church, etc. So we’re pretty used to seeing everything! My hair is always a mess from some kind of helmet.

  • Kelsey Van Horn Says:

    Hello, I am a college freshman who came from Shawnee, OK (I’m now going to the University of Oklahoma) and I was surprised to see a link from my high school counselor to this blog! I just wanted to say that I’m glad you enjoyed Shawnee and you definitely made a good choice of church to visit (First Baptist Church is where I attended, and it’s also a great community. Our youth group did lots of things with UBC’s as well). You also had a great opportunity to hear two of the brightest and outspoken youths of the community. Stephen and Raye are two close friends of mine from high school, and in addition to being great speakers they are very involved with the Shawnee Youth Coalition, which is a wonderful (secular) organization that focuses on issues such as the environment, underage drinking, bullying in schools, etc. Sadly, I never had the chance to be involved in SYC, but many of my friends were. Shawnee has its faults, but there are many great things about it, and you definitely got to see some of the best examples.
    Oh, and don’t worry about the hair and boots–if you knew where to look, you’d fit right in.