B.A. Presbyterian Boasts Unique History

Contributing Writer

YESTERDAY: The congregation of the First Presbyterian Church of Broken Arrow moved into this new building in 1910.

Courtesy of BRUCE HOWARD

They came by horse and carriage. Some came by horseback. Others simply walked. The numbers were few, but the purpose was clear. It was 1905, two years before Oklahoma statehood, when the First Presbyterian Church of Broken Arrow was born. The pastor at large of the Sequoyah Presbytery of Bartlesville, Reverend Weston, first organized the church.

Those days, Presbyterians gathered at the Orcutt Building, using a room on the second floor for worship. As one of 17 charter members, Mrs. W. T. Brooks pointed out, “on cold, bad Sundays, numbers would be few. I began to become discouraged, but as I had never been in the habit of giving up, I stayed with what we had. That winter, I was superintendent, choir and janitor. On Sunday mornings it would be cold, and I made the fires most of the time.”

Reverend Weston could only do so much, and was busy with his work in Bartlesville. With no permanent pastor, the church limped along with various visiting ministers, one of whom was A. Grant Evans, then President of Kendall College of Muskogee. Kendall College would eventually become The University of Tulsa in 1920.

The church nearly failed from lack of pastoral leadership and a small number of parishioners. As Mrs. Brooks later remarked, “It seemed that the church would die in spite of all our efforts. Had the church been thoroughly organized and in good working order, with a pastor in charge, there would have been more interest. It seemed that many people coming to Indian Territory felt that they were, in a way, released from their religious obligations and the object they were here for was to make money.”

Two worshippers went to the area Synod in late 1905 and requested a pastor. Reverend Tenny came to Broken Arrow from Eufaula in early 1906, and the church began steady growth. Reverend Tenny resigned in 1908, moving to Muskogee. He was replaced by Reverend Thompson, a young pastor who had great energy and enthusiasm. Membership grew, and the first actual building for the First Presbyterian Church was dedicated in December of 1910. Though Reverend Thompson would shock the congregation by resigning in mid-1911, the foundation had been set for the church.

In the first 51 years of the church’s history, the list of 17 ministers who served the church reads like a parade. Of that number, seven were in the pulpit less than two years. Despite this relative instability, the church continued to grow.

Reverend W. E. Hare, known affectionately as “Bunny,” was one of the more effective ministers in the 1930s and Reverend Thomas Baxter helped grow the ministry in the late 1940s and 1950s.

In 1957, the church welcomed Reverend William Sexton, who reorganized the church Session, Sunday school and established a committee system to carry on the work of the church. After Reverend Sexton resigned in 1963, the Reverend Donald E. Roulet became pastor. His ministry would be the longest in First Presbyterian Church history to date, nearly 27 years, and would have a positive impact on the church, both internally and externally. In 1969, the current sanctuary was completed and dedicated.

Dr. Roulet’s emphasis on mission in the community was evident from the beginning. A number of current programs in Broken Arrow can trace their roots to First Presbyterian Church.

Broken Arrow Seniors, which now meets at the Community Center, began as a hot meal program called “Chow and Chatter club” and met daily at the church for 20 years. Broken Arrow Neighbors began as a food pantry by the Youth of First Presbyterian Church in 1983, and quickly outgrew the facility there. It is now a United Way agency and has its own facility. The church also assisted Alcoholics Anonymous as a meeting place for the first AA group in Broken Arrow. Before retiring in 1991, Dr. Roulet had served as chairman of all of the major committees of the council of Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery and was its moderator in 1972.

Current pastor Reverend Michael John Barron began his ministry in 1992. His encouragement of young disciples of the church has inspired at least two young men to enter the ministry in his 12 years at the pulpit. Along with support of such traditional organizations such as Broken Arrow Seniors and Broken Arrow Neighbors, the church has been involved in the Day Center for the Homeless, Habitat for Humanity, and missionary work in the synod of Livingstonia, in Malawi, Africa. Meetings of the Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, and Alanon-Alateen occur periodically at the church as well.

In 2005, the B.A. First Presbyterian Church is celebrating its 100th anniversary with the theme “Growing in Grace, Serving in Love.” After a difficult first year, the Session in 1905 closed its state of the church report with words that still ring true today, “we are hopeful for the future.”

Updated 07-25-2005

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