Mannford, New Hope steps out on faith in former ‘honky tonk’
Sitting in the gas station coffee shop, where Highways 48 and 51 cross in Mannford, Pastor Manuel Parker counts as approximately 14 cars pass by per minute. He is encouraged by this number. New Hope, the church where he is a bivocational pastor, recently purchased 3.2 acres across the road from the gas station.
“There’s not anywhere else New Hope could get more exposure than this piece of land,” Parker said.
New Hope has outgrown its current facility, which before it was a church served as the community’s flea market, kick boxing studio and local honky tonk, Old Lake Country Ballroom.
“I used to come here and drink and dance before I became a Christian,” Parker said.
After he became a Christian, Parker and his wife, Kerry, worked with youth at Sand Springs, Fisher, but soon felt God was leading him to start a church.
Fisher Church was supportive and helped the Parkers, who initially started New Hope in the Lion’s Club Bingo Hall, hauling a heavy lectern and hymnals out of the back of their truck every Sunday morning. The church grew until children and senior adults shared the same Sunday School class. The woman who owned Lake Country Ballroom, which had since closed, also had accepted Christ. She approached Parker and said, “I want you to buy this building. I’ve been praying that it would become a church.”
The Parkers told her they could not even afford the utilities.
She put her arm around Parker and said, “Manuel. How big is your God?” he recalled.
That was 14 years ago.
The New Hope congregation, which is made up of members from five surrounding communities and school systems, moved into the ballroom and put up walls for Sunday School classes, created a sanctuary, a fellowship hall, laid flooring, installed bathrooms and began welcoming visitors.
“It makes us so happy to hear people say they were drawn here because of the love the congregation offers,” Kerry Parker said.
Ed Carriger, a deacon, and his wife, Linda, had been out of church a long time when New Hope opened its doors in its current location.
“This is a church that provides comfort and meets needs, and if you come here wanting to work for God, it’s the place,” Ed said.
Homer and Betty Foster, longtime members of Fisher and both in their 80s, only intended to help the Parkers make the transition from their home church to New Hope.
“After a while, we talked it over and decided we were staying put at New Hope,” said Homer Foster, a deacon and greeter. Homer dismisses Sunday School each week by ringing a bell up and down the halls. Betty teaches a Sunday School class, which Parker lovingly calls “The New Knees” class and leads the church’s prayer ministry.
“God certainly works in this church and works in His people,” Betty Foster said.
As a bivocational pastor, who may have to put in 50-60 hours a week at his job, Parker relies on the strong, active congregation to meet the many needs a church family has.
“This church has taken care of grieving families and held a funeral without their pastor because I was working. The deacons and their wives make hospital visits,” Parker said. “I’m very proud of them. They just do what needs to be done.”
So when the members noticed there was no more room to grow, the congregation began praying about a new location. The pastor and deacons found the land across the street from the gas station, but it was not for sale. However, when the congregation approached the owner, he was willing to sell it. They then contacted The Baptist Foundation of Oklahoma for a loan to buy the land.
“Every time we’ve stepped out in faith we’ve grown,” Parker said. “How are we going to build this church? I don’t know, but God will come through.”