Excerpt from Daily Oklahoman by Bobby Ross Jr. March 2001
Historic church gets new mission
Cross & Crown launches city ministry.
Peggy Garrett was scurrying out the door – leaving for good – the snowy day that Paul Whitmire and Scott Stevenson approached her at the old limestone church at NW 9 and McKinley. The Presbyterian Urban Mission, the ministry that Garrett leads, was moving to a newer, bigger building after three decades in the old Second Presbyterian Church, built in 1911. “She had her trash bag and she was on the way out,” Whitmire said.
Suddenly, Whitmire and Stevenson stopped her. “I can still remember the startled look on her face,” Whitmire said. She asked if she could help them. They said she could.
“Well, what do you want?” she asked.
“We don’t know,” they replied.
Inside the building at 1008 N McKinley Ave., stained-glass windows overlook scuffed, wooden floors and rotting walls with yellow stains. This place breathes history, but the years have taken a toll. The surrounding neighborhood struggles with poverty and decay. Trash and weeds abound. Despite regular repairs, the roughly 8,000-square-foot building kept deteriorating. It didn’t have space to meet the Presbyterian Urban Mission’s growing commitment. The mission had blossomed from a neighborhood community center to an emergency social service agency to a ministry that today provides not just food and clothing – but also medications, utility assistance, household goods and children’s programs to more than 25,000 people each year.
With the support of the Indian Nations Presbytery and individual donors, the ministry moved to a 46,000-square-foot facility at 3737 N Portland.
As Garrett left that day, her concern was that the old church not be left to deteriorate. Ministry leaders had talked about taking out the stained-glass windows and selling some of the architecture. That would have a left a shell awaiting a wrecking ball.
But God didn’t want that to happen, Whitmire and Stevenson are convinced. That’s why, they believe, He led them to Garrett that day.”Our family and Paul’s family and about six other families have been meeting in a house church for about five years,” Stevenson said. “This is just one of the things that has grown out of the house church.” The Edmond area families attend Quail Springs Church of Christ, Life Church East and Bridgeway Church on Sunday mornings. They meet in a “house church” each Sunday night. Whitmire and his family have traveled on mission trips to Honduras for four years. They had prayed with the group about ways to reach out to people closer to home.
The families decided to start an inner-city ministry offering food, clothing and prayer. But they needed a building. Whitmire and Stevenson had just about given up finding one when they saw the Presbyterian Urban Mission sign. “We thought, ‘We’ll stop and ask them for ideas about doing urban ministries and food pantries,'” Whitmire said.
They got more than advice. They bought a building. Stained-glass namesake.
On a cold, rainy day this week, Whitmire signed closing papers to buy the old church for an undisclosed amount. The new owners: Cross & Crown Mission Inc.
That name derived from the cross and Jesus’ crown on the building’s most prominent stained-glass window.
About 50 people, including ministers from several denominations, came to celebrate. “I’ve often heard it said that if Jesus bodily came to a city, He probably wouldn’t show up in any of our churches,” said Ron McCaslin, pastor of Cathedral of the Hills in Edmond. “We’d find Him in a place like this, in a place where He would touch people right where they’re living.” Lance Humphreys, pastor of Bridgeway Church, said he came to support the project and “as a show of unity among churches in Oklahoma City, in our heart to serve the vulnerable in this city and come together in doing that.”
Whitmire read from Isaiah 61 in the Old Testament and prayed that God would help rebuild not only broken walls – but broken lives as well.
Already, volunteers had dug a 12-foot deep, 4-foot wide trench as they repaired the building’s foundation. Other repairs, including installation of a new roof, started the next day. “God placed all the necessary professions in our group to cover what we needed here,” said Whitmire, a former youth minister who owns an antique store.
“We’ve got a husband-and-wife attorney team, a guy in real estate, a guy in the equipment business, (wife) Suzanne and I in ministry, a guy who is a psychologist, a heat and air specialist.” Spiritual food, too.
Even before the mission officially opened, people started stopping by for food – and prayer. All who walk in the door, from the termite inspector to the insurance adjuster, can expect to bow their head and have Whitmire direct a few words up above. “I mean, people that are just providing services that we pay for, they have gone away with a changed heart,” Whitmire said. “It’s been amazing.”
The Cross & Crown Mission Inc. will start as a simple food pantry and clothes closet. But the organizers have much bigger dreams. They hope to lead an after-school program for elementary students. They plan a store where families can bring school lists and get free school supplies. They intend to buy dilapidated homes and refurbish them. Professionals will fix the foundations. Youth groups will paint and beautify the homes. Then a financial analyst will assess a family’s need and agree on a monthly payment. Whitmire also closes his eyes and sees a computer lab and an employment training service. “Eventually, we’ll have legal services available. We’ll have dental services available and medical services available.”
For 17 years, his family has lived the good life in an affluent suburb. Now, he and the others want to give back. “The churches in Edmond… are ready to do this kind of ministry,” he said. “They need a place. We decided we would have a place for them.” Actually, Stevenson said, God decided He would have a place.
“I believe absolutely that God led us over here. We’ve had a steady stream of confirmations that this is what the Lord has in mind for us.”