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Living Stones - Issue #147

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Adapting to change is part of the DNA of University United Methodist Church of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Started in the early 1920’s in a tent and then moving to a wooden tabernacle, the church was preparing to build a grand new structure when the Great Depression arrived. Formerly prosperous members found themselves unemployed, and funds were not available to hire construction crews. However, the need for a new building still remained.

Recognizing that discipleship was not dependent upon financial wealth, the church came up with a new plan. The architect revised the building plans so that most of the work could be done by lay people, and the members literally built the church. Today the stone walls made of locally hewn limestone are a visible testament to the faith, vision, and determination of those early members.

As time has passed, the university that once bordered the church has now surrounded the church property. Again the congregation has had to be creative to adapt to the changing circumstances. A three-sided limestone walled courtyard provides a sheltered entrance to the sanctuary. Recognizing that every week thousands of students and faculty walk past the courtyard on their way to class, the church is experimenting with ways to make it a space of welcome and spiritual nurture.

An old unused upright piano has been painted bright colors and placed in the courtyard and is available to anyone who wants to stop and plunk out a tune. Benches provide a place for conversation or quiet reflection. Frequently the pastor and others from the church serve coffee as the students walk by on their way to morning classes. On a recent Sunday evening people were invited to bring their pets to the courtyard for a blessing of the animals service.

Questions for Discussion

  • How does your congregational history shape and influence your current and future ministries? What are the stories that offer hope and spark vision for the future?
  • How do you or might you use outdoor spaces on church property as spaces of welcome and spiritual nurture?
  • What are the ministry experiments your congregation is involved in?


Deb Smith is the Director of Best Practices at the Discipleship Ministries. She can be reached at [email protected].


In 2007 church leaders throughout The United Methodist Church in the U.S. were invited to identify churches that demonstrated the vision of discipleship described in the twelfth chapter of Romans. Over 200 churches were surveyed or visited. Issue #147. © 2012 Discipleship Ministries. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to copy this page for use in United Methodist congregations.