EDMOND, Okla.—Maybe heaven smells like cinnamon rolls. The visitor smiles and follows the sweet scent into the worship space for Summit UMC, meeting in an Edmond school on a Sunday morning.
Welcoming smiles everywhere expand the guest’s grin. This group surely reflects heaven.
As the new year began, this new United Methodist church launched weekly worship, on Jan. 15, at Chisholm Elementary School. On a large banner, with inks of many colors, people penned their blessings for the task ahead.
“There really is a sweet spirit about what’s happening,” said church planter Allen Buck Jr. in an interview. “We are taking on a unique identity. We are trying to follow God’s Spirit and listening to the people who are showing up. They have this fire.”
Summit’s small groups are called firesides. And wildfires sparked early missional outreach.
Last August, wind-whipped flames struck the area that Summit calls home—southeastern Edmond and northeastern Oklahoma City. Summit volunteers were among those who responded, helping clean up property, distributing emergency supplies, praying with fire victims, donating a van to the owner of a small business.
That mission outreach drew new people into the church’s life. The pastor spoke of one man “who had no use for church until God started using us to help some people.”
The man had rebuffed invitations to worship, but “as soon as we sent out emails and said we’re going to respond to the wildfires, he started showing up,” said Dr. Buck. Then a fireside group drew the man into its warmth, he began attending worship, and he began helping with Sunday morning setup.
“We feel called to be outwardly focused,” Dr. Buck said. “I’m so proud to be part of people focused on that.”
Summit reaches out on golf courses, at the YMCA, and through three elementary schools. The church hosts outdoor movie nights. Volunteers tutor students and fill backpacks with weekend food for hungry children. Leaders are developing a Blessing of the Animals service. A youth group is organizing. Community auditions will cast young performers for Godspell. Summertime sports and arts camps will serve youngsters.
During his ministry career, Dr. Buck has led other missions, serving as far away as Mongolia.
“You want to go on a mission trip? You want to make a difference?” Dr. Buck asked. “Come help us start a church where there wasn’t one before. We are a mission right here.”
This new church plant was initiated by the Oklahoma Conference Department of Congregational Development. Summit is nurtured by a “mother church”: Chapel Hill UMC in Oklahoma City.
Prior to his appointment, Dr. Buck completed New Church Leadership Institute courses. He works with a national church-planting coach, and he attends leadership seminars offered by Church of the Resurrection in Kansas. His doctoral focus was Congregational and Community Development.
Dr. Buck and his wife, Erin, have four children ages 9, 6, and 5. The youngest are twins.
Appointment as a church planter has led Dr. Buck to reflect on his clergy vows. He entered ministry in 2002.
He explained, “We agree when we’re ordained that we will visit from house to house. As an established clergyperson, I think I took for granted that people were going to show up every Sunday. Church planting is an exercise in flexibility. If I knew (in previous appointments) what I know now. . . .
“I am the most evangelical person right now. I am consumed with taking the good news to people. It is all I want to do.”
He identified a core of about 40 Summit people also committed to the vision and mission of starting a church. And he specified four goals for their planning.
• Welcoming all. “This is about hospitality and also a theological statement. We are acknowledging prevenient grace; the spark of God is in everybody.”
• Offering Christ. “We’re a Christian community, not just a club. John Wesley told his preachers to offer Christ.”
• Growing in grace. “We want all our people to be attending worship, be part of a fireside, be studying the Bible, praying, and maturing. All of this is very Wesleyan, too.”
• Responding in service and mission. “We have to respond in the ways we live our lives or it doesn’t mean anything to say we have faith. This is a continuation of sanctification. I think people want something worth living for and worth dying for. This is the living part of it.”
The Bucks’ daughter, Olivia, told her parents, “I invited a friend to church on Sunday. We’re going to go pick her up.” And they did.
“I thought, How cool is that! Olivia gets it!” said her dad. “So many people are making this happen. I think everybody gets that we want to be inviting.”
Summit’s logo traces mountaintops. Other branding refers to climbing adventures, sharing at campfires, and base camp. Each person’s spiritual growth process can be envisioned as climbing.
As for starting a new church, “it’s a climb,” too, Dr. Buck said. “Come climb with us.”
In late March, Summit was averaging about 70 people in worship. Five fireside groups were meeting, most in homes.
“I think we’re right where we are supposed to be,” the pastor said. “We are as big or bigger than the majority of United Methodist churches. Twenty-thousand churches average under 50 people in worship.”
The Rev. Craig Stinson, conference director of congregational development, agreed. Summit’s development is on track with denominational models, he said.
And he was enthusiastic about the upcoming annual conference report on the three newest churches: Summit; Connect, also in Edmond; and CrossTimbers, in Moore. Acts 2 UMC in Edmond is the “mother church” for Connect, and First UMC in Moore is the “mother church” for CrossTimbers.
People typically expect a contemporary worship service when they hear about any new church, Dr. Buck said. But Summit’s worship should not be typecast.
“We are all of that, but that is not all we are,” he said.
Worship is come-as-you-are, and a large-screen projection system creates visual impact—both typical in contemporary churches. However, “we also want people to sing the songs of faith and learn about [United Methodist] traditions,” Dr. Buck said. “We have been following the liturgy. We almost always have a hymn; it’s just we have guitars and drums with it.”
He spoke thoughtfully about “people who take the chance to show up at a church and check it out.”
“It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s an anxious thing for them,” he said, “and pulling into a school parking lot to check out something brand-new is even more the case.”
Dr. Buck joined the morning fireside group one Sunday. “Everyone was sharing when they had felt God’s warmth, the closeness of God. I liked that Wesleyan language.”
He recalled one man’s words: “I’ve never felt that until now.”
The pastor said, “He sat there and made his profession of faith in front of that group of people. They were crying; many were in our leadership. This is exactly why we’re doing what we’re doing. You have one conversation like that—it makes everything worth it.”
For information, visit: www.summitokc.org
Ms. McCray is editor of Contact, the publication of the Oklahoma Conference, where this story first appeared.