Westminster Presbyterian Church of Enid, Okla., recently purchased the building and grounds of West Willow Community Church in Enid, providing a new home to the Westminster members and joining both congregations into the newly formed Westminster Church. Westminster pastor Tim Palmer said his congregation completed the purchase in March, and has moved into the West Willow Community Church location.
Since joining the EPC in October 2011, Westminster has been held its worship services in the sanctuary of the Enid Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Palmer said his congregants are looking forward to having a permanent church home.
“They’re excited,” Palmer said with a laugh. “They like to talk about how they’ve spent time wandering in the wilderness.”
But, they’re not simply buying a church building. It’s more a merger of the two congregations, said Don Tines, pastor of West Willow, who is staying on as administrative pastor. Palmer will be lead pastor of the new congregation, and Tines said the majority of the approximately 60 members of West Willow are joining the 130 members of Westminster Presbyterian to form the new, larger congregation of Westminster Church.
Tines, originally from Detroit, has been the pastor at West Willow since he came to Enid in 1983. Palmer, originally from Franklin, Tenn., graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., in 2013. He came to Enid last July to pastor Westminster.
The newly-formed congregation has deep roots in Enid, going back to 1921, when the West Willow congregation formed as the Frisco Mission Church. The congregation incorporated as an independent Bible church in 1935, and in 1992 relocated to its current location and took its new name on West Willow.
Palmer said the Westminster members want to build on that history and continue to build on two strong congregations that can be stronger together.
“We’re two churches that have different strengths and great people,” Palmer said, “and our two churches are much more powerful working together.”
Tines said it was a natural fit for Palmer to take the lead role in Westminster Church.
“I’m much closer to the end of my career than he is,” Tines said, “and we’re hoping and praying he will have a long and successful ministry here.”
Tines said he’s served as a consultant with Westminster since its split from First Presbyterian, and the merger of the two congregations has been a work long in progress. “This is like a marriage that is taking place after a long courtship,” he said.
That new “marriage” has advantages for both congregations, Tines said.
“This is the greatest opportunity, for both congregations, I think we could have imagined,” Tines said. “They get a very nice facility, turn-key, and we get a boost in influence and opportunity.”
Tines said the desire to sell the West Willow church building and merge with Westminster wasn’t born of finances or size of their congregation. “The motive is to do something bigger for the gospel,” Tines said.
He cited the number and size of Enid churches—more than 130 churches, with about 100 of them having congregations smaller than 50 people—as evidence of the need to merge like-minded congregations to effect greater Christian impact in the community.
“The message and the influence wanes because of how many churches we’ve split into,” Tines said, “and it breaks my heart that this community is so splintered.”
Tines said many congregations are split more by personality than by doctrine or denomination. He said those lines were no impediment to joining West Willow and Westminster.
“We don’t have to change much of anything, because we’re both of the same persuasion,” Tines said. “Obviously, we’re very excited about it.”
Palmer said Westminster Church still will be aligned with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, but will serve as a congregation open to varied backgrounds.
“We have a Presbyterian heritage that we’re proud of,” Palmer said. “We’ll always be proud of our background and heritage, but we’re a place where people can come from all different backgrounds to experience the grace of God.”
Palmer said he wants people to view Westminster not as a church for a certain denomination, but as a neighborhood church.
“We want to be the neighborhood church for all the people who live within the circle of this church, and it doesn’t matter if they grew up Presbyterian, or Baptist, or Methodist, or whatever,” Palmer said. “All that matters is that they love Jesus, they want to be a part of a great church family and spread the gospel. We want people to feel like this church is for everybody, and it’s just right down the street.”
Palmer said the new congregation is looking forward to moving forward as one, made possible by strong lay leaders that have been brought into both congregations over the last year.
“God has put the perfect people in place, and we feel like this is the next step God has for us,” Palmer said. “There’s no telling what’s in store with the path we’re on. We have a very bright future.”
Reprinted courtesy of Enid News & Eagle.