Members of the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference share their faith stories:
Hi! My name is Mark D. Van Dorn. I am currently serving as President of the Kansas Oklahoma Conference of the United Church of Christ. My home church is Church of the Open Arms in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. I have been a member there for 6 years and have served in a wide variety of positions in that setting. My partner, Mark Peterson, and I will be celebrating our 29th year together this coming December. We are the proud parents of two wonderful men, our sons Andrew and Aaron, and the very proud Papas to two lovely granddaughters, Josie and Jillian. I am self-employed in the fast food industry and have done that since I left Westminster College in 1977.
In 1996, I had a horrible personal crisis. My mother was dying of Alzheimer’s after a long, debilitating, horrific fight. My business partner was not focused on our business and I was losing control of them. My family had turned their back on me because of the person I loved. I felt defeated and lost. Instead of going the way I was raised, I turned to the world to find my solace. This action only made things worse, much worse. I very nearly lost the person I loved and my own children over my poor, selfish, disastrous decisions. In one last ditch effort to save our family and the life we built together, Mark and I left everything we had known behind and moved our few possessions and our sons to Minnesota. We vowed to start anew. We also promised each other that we would go back to our roots, back to church, back to patience, kindness, back to Love. We have never looked back. We found a church, our boys plugged into it, I started being honest with myself and everyone around me, and life has been wonderful since then.
We decided 7 years ago to come back to Oklahoma. My Dad needed me back in our family business and I needed to heal my broken relationship with him and with the rest of my family. Of course, one of the first things we did was to begin the search for a church. I tried 2 or 3 churches in Oklahoma City before I came to Open Arms. I will never forget my first Sunday at Open Arms. I was a little frightened; I simply couldn’t imagine a church that would accept me for who I am. From the moment I walked through those doors I knew I was home. I met person after person that smiled a sincere smile and extended a warm loving hand shake. I remember particularly Melinda Norton, Suzanne Nichols, and Mike DeArmond. I also was struck at the gifts that the pastor, Kathy McCallie, shared so freely. I had found our church home and my family of choice. That place and those people have been such a blessing ever since.
Three years after that I was introduced to the regional setting of my church. It’s a mystery still to me how my name ended up with the Nominating Committee of the Kansas Oklahoma Conference. Nancy LeDuc, then Nancy Wolfe, called to ask me if I would be willing to take on the role of Vice-President of the conference. She explained that it was a 6 year commitment and what my time would be like. She was a gentle, sweet soul who made me feel included and needed in a way that had never occurred in my life before. She became my mentor and my beloved friend. She taught me things about Christ’s love that I never knew and she modeled for me how to share it and nurture it in myself and in others. I carry her still in my heart and always will. I can’t wait to see her again, as I surely know I will.
And so here I am. I am half way through my six year commitment to our wonderful church and conference. We have been through many changes recently and I have been right in the middle of them. Some may wish that weren’t so, but not me. I have enjoyed the work we are doing together. Change is always difficult but hopefully as we lean into the discomfort of it we see that it is for the better. KO found itself in the same position as many of its member churches and in fact most mainline churches across America. Church done the way we have always done it just will not meet the needs of the 21st Century. Finding new ways to meet these challenges together with each of you has brought me joy and inspiration. I have worked hard to honor those giants of the past on whose shoulders we all stand. I will continue to work hard and I promise to always listen to the Spirit, pray faithfully for guidance, and be open to you and your concerns and questions. My life is richer and my blessings are more bountiful because of the trust you have placed in me. I will never be able to say thank you enough. My prayer for each of you is simply that your hearts are open as each blessing is followed by blessing and to the wonder of miracles that never cease. Peace.