Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rogers Heights Christian Church 1946-2007

On a recent trip to my hometown, Tulsa, Oklahoma, I discovered a “For Sale” sign in front of the church that I grew up in.

When I returned to my hotel room, I learned from the internet that the church had disbanded the previous year. I also discovered a blog written by a woman who had been my classmate in Sunday School all those many years ago when we were children. In it, she describes her childhood memories of the church and the last service there on August 2007. (http://thursdaychild-judi.blogspot.com/2007/09/rogers-heights-christian-church-1945.html)

Rogers Heights Christian Church
(Disciples of Christ)
409 S Pittsburg Ave
Tulsa, OK 74112

This is a referral to the newspaper account of the closing of the church.

I think we must have started attending Rogers Heights about the time that we moved back to Tulsa in1948. The Pastor, O. Edgar Wright, had baptized my mother when she was a student at Oklahoma A & M. (Now Oklahoma State University.)

Our denomination believes in adult baptism, or more correctly believer’s baptism. We believe it is a choice for the individual to make, not the right of his or her parents to make for him or her. In practice, people decide for themselves when they are ready to be baptized. Some feel that they are ready at a younger age than others. In our church some were baptized as young as 9 years old. My parents believed that one should not be baptized before the age of 12. I wanted to be baptized for at least two years before my parents would allow me to be. My mother waited until she was in college. She never discussed it with me, so when I found the certificate I was surprised.

I do, however, remember that we went there because of Ed Wright. My aunt who lived with us until the spring of 1949 has commented that Rogers Heights was probably the closest Christian Church to our home. That is true, but it would have been easier to go to First Christian downtown.

We must have started going there almost immediately after we moved into the house. What I can’t figure out is how we got to church. My aunt can’t remember either. I believe that we didn’t get a car until the fall of 1949. In the meanwhile, we walked or rode the bus or got rides. My father must have planned to ride the bus to work. I remember him sometimes waiting for the bus at the corner of 3rd and Columbia, but there was a man who lived on the street behind us who worked at the same place and did have a car, so my dad rode to work with him most of that year.

Yes, Virginia, people bought houses before they bought cars in those days.

My aunt was a student at Tulsa University. She walked me to and from school adjacent to the campus -- or later on meet me part of the way home – when they were sure I knew the way. I was in afternoon kindergarten.

Occasionally, and this part blows my mind, my mother would take me and my younger sister downtown, (It was less than 5 miles.) and when it was time for me to go to school, she would put me on a bus and tell the bus driver where to let me off. I don’t remember being lost or scared, what blows my mind is that the bus driver agreed to it and actually did see that I got off at the right place. I think that I did know where to get off and didn’t need much prompting, but of course, he didn’t know that.

My aunt remembers going to church at Rogers Heights, too, so we must have found a way. One possibility is that there was a bus on Sundays. I’ve lived in places where this would be unlikely, but it is possible. Another possibility is that we got a ride from someone in the church. The third possibility is that my grandfather came over and drove us to church. (Or even my uncle.) My grandparents attended First Christian in Tulsa for many years; my mother grew up in that church; my aunt and uncle met there. (Maybe both pairs of aunt and uncles did. I think that’s right.) I can’t imagine Grandfather driving us to church and then going on himself.

I don’t think we started going to Sunday School until after we got a car in the fall of 1949. I know that we held church services in what became the Fellowship Hall before the sanctuary was completed in 1949. Judi’s blog gives a better account of those days. I really don’t remember anytime before the sanctuary was build, but I “know” we met in the other building. Everything Judi says about that time rings true, but I have no identifiable memories of that time.

I turned 5 the summer after we moved to Tulsa. I believe that I always went to the church service. Now we have a children’s sermon and send the grade school children out of the sanctuary. At age 5 or 6, I was considered old enough to sit through the whole service. My sister may have gone to some kind or nursery during the service. She was 2 years younger.

I clearly remember three girls in my Sunday School class, Judi, Janie and Jenny. All three of these girls surnames began with the letter B. No wonder I never really felt like I fit in. My initials weren’t J.B.

The cornerstone on the sanctuary gives us the year 1949. Ed Wright left in the fall of that year. I do remember some discussion of leaving when he did, but maybe my parents had made friends. In any event, we stayed.

The education building below was built in the early fifties when J.R. Johnson was the minister. I remember playing in the foundations -- which we weren’t supposed to do.

In this picture, see where the brick stops and the yellow begins. That is painted-over cement block. The original plan was to build a second phase joining the first here. I remember those drawings. It would have been beautiful, but at the time the congregation couldn’t raise the money to build it. The compromise was to join the three buildings, education building, sanctuary, and fellowship hall, with the addition you see on the right probably around 1956. Judi explains some of this better than I do.

The architects drawing was for a sanctuary that matched the front of building photographed above, but with a projecting narthex topped by a steeple. The entry would have looked much like this entry. I don’t remember windows on the upper and lower floor. There would have probably tall gothic windows matching the one at the front of this building.

This is the front of the sanctuary. I remember the front walk as being longer than this. The world seems to have shrunk from the way I remember it.

My mother never liked to be early for anything. I can remember standing outside on this walk until the opening hymn began. Years later, I kidded her that I didn’t know what they did in church before the opening hymn because we never were there earlier. I went on that I had figured out that she liked to make an entrance, so every one knew she was there. That wasn’t very kind of me, I know, but I noticed she started to get to church on time.

Another aunt who had known my family from her childhood tells a story about my grandfather. My aunt’s father took up the offering in the Sunday School Class he and my grandfather attended. One day he found a twenty dollar bill in the collection. Understandably, he was concerned that someone had made a mistake. Twenty dollars was a lot of money in the twenties or thirties when this must have occurred. “No,” my grandfather said, “he had missed several Sundays and was just making up for it.” My aunt didn’t say this, but I thought how typical of him to make a show of his giving. The Bible quotes Jesus as saying that such have their reward.

The writer of the newspaper story about the closing of the church remarks that the demographics of the neighborhood were against us. I think the demographics were always against us. Even though I think that building would have been too large for the site, when the congregation was unable to complete the beautiful church the architect envisioned, the demographics were against us.
We persevered


Sue L said...

What a shame to see the old church closing. I wonder if another church group will buy it or if it will go to something else.

judi said...

Tricia, a great memoir about Rogers Heights CC. I was at the closing as my blog tells, and I felt very sad that all of the hard work of our parents had come to an end on that corner. My parents joined in 1946 when the church was chartered, and left in 1966 when they moved closer to East Side. I don't remember Rev. Wright very well, but I was baptized by J.R. Johnson at East Side because our baptistry was dismantled because those buildings were being joined together. I was 13--I waited an extra year after turning 12. Lloyd Lambert had the greatest influence on me. After I graduated from Rogers High School in 1961, I went to college in Fayetteville and had less contact with Rogers Heights through a procession of ministers in those years. But recently, in going through artifacts for our 40th wedding anniversary, I came across the list of gifts that the ladies in the circle at Rogers Heights gave me at my wedding shower. Believe it or not, I still have most of them and I remember all their names, although all of them have passed on by now. I'm glad you wrote this entry. I'll be writing to you by e-mail soon.