Since 1995, churches around the Diocese have served and partnered with the community of Whirlwind Mission of the Holy Family and their Deacon Pat Gonzales for the annual Vacation Bible School in Watonga, OK. This year Saint Andrew's (Lawton), All Saint's (Duncan), Saint Paul's (Clinton), and Saint John's (Norman) sent youth, lay leaders, and clergy to participate in the event.
Volunteer leaders included the Rev. Stephanie Jenkins (Lawton), Stephanie Bryan (Clinton), and Emma Brown (Norman). Emma Brown's VBS curriculum created a space for children to have fun and experience the Holy Spirit through Land, Sky, and Sea lessons. Every day the children and volunteers used Rite III to structure the day's activities. The Rev. Stephanie celebrated the eucharist with the children daily. Activities for the week included outdoor time, arts and crafts, and a water fun day.
The Rev. Stephanie Jenkins said she compares VBS to St. Crispin's Summer Camp. "The VBS experience is best described as part St. Crispin's summer camp and part cross-cultural exchange with the Holy Spirit infused throughout it all."
Deacon Jim Knowles served as the Indian Missioner for the Diocese for many years. He started the VBS program by partnering with All Saints' Duncan in the 1990s during the Rev. Dwight Helt's tenure. The Rev. Jim Kee-Reyes served as Indian Missioner after Deacon Knowles. They kept the program running by integrating elders and children from the Native community into the curriculum.
The Oakerhater Episcopal Center in Watonga, Oklahoma, is the center of Native American Ministries within the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma. Located on twelve acres and named for David Pendleton Oakerhater, the center is also home to Whirlwind Mission of the Holy Family, a Cheyenne and Arapaho mission. The Oakerhater Center is active today with many programs, including summer Bible School camps for children, an art camp with Oklahoma University School of Art and Art History for teenagers, the annual Honor Dance celebrating David Oakerhater, Sunday morning Holy Eucharist, and local tribal events.
The Rev. David Pendleton Oakhater was a deacon and missionary of the Cheyenne and Arapaho. David was "God's Warrior" and "a dweller among the campers." As a soldier, he fought against the United States government. As a missionary, he faithfully worked among the Cheyenne and Arapaho for fifty years. The group also visited his burial site in Watonga to pay homage to this great leader in our tradition. His feast day in the Anglican Communion is celebrated annually on September 1st (for more information on David Pendleton Oakerhater, CLICK HERE.)