A Yukon church focuses on inclusivity for all

Grace Church is a community-driven church that looks to change the perspective of those who have felt secluded or rejected from other churches in the past.

Grace Church is an Episcopal church located at 720 S. Yukon Parkway. It began three years ago with the goal of being an all-inclusive, welcoming church that spreads love rather than hate, said Sara Sanner, minister of community life.

“Grace Church is very unique. It’s a loving and welcoming community,” Sanner said. “I grew up going to church and I’ve been to several different churches throughout the metro, and I’ve never felt at home like I have at Grace Church. There’s truly no judgement. They accept people just as they are. Their goal isn’t to change you or fix you, but to love you. Grace Church is truly an inclusive community with people from all different walks of life, all different backgrounds—whether they’ve been in church before or they haven’t been in church before. We’re open and loving towards people from any political affiliation, any sexual orientation, whether you’re divorced, or married, or a single mom—we want you in our community because we believe you have something to offer.”

Grace Church has become known to many after welcoming someone in the community who was kicked out of another church.

“It’s so joyful. For me, I grew up very conservative and my church was more restrictive, and it’s freeing for me to see that anybody can come and worship,” Sanner said. “And that’s what it’s about. It’s not about telling people what they need to look like or how they need to be. It’s about welcoming them to worship alongside of you, despite your differences and despite the challenges those differences may bring up.”

Priests Tim and Kirsten Baer were commissioned as church planters and started Grace Church from the ground up, with the help of some people who were previously part of Yukon’s former Episcopal church.

“Grace is pretty new still. We’re an inter-generational church with a lot of young families, but also a lot of grandparents connected here,” Father Tim said. “A big piece of who we are is we’re a really inclusive church. We reach a lot of people who have been hurt by the church in the past either because they’re gay or they’re divorced, or sometimes it’s women who weren’t empowered in ministry in previous churches. My wife and I are the co-priests so we serve together and we try to model that mutuality and inclusivity in our ministry.”

Grace Church began with about 15 members and is now up to more than 300.

“We’re hoping to grow from there,” Sanner said.

About 60 percent of Grace Church’s congregation comes from Yukon, but the other 40 percent is made up of people from Mustang, Oklahoma City and Bethany.

“I think we’ve done a great job at publicizing and reaching new people, as well as reaching those in the community that were actively seeking a church so I think almost the newness and the appeal as worn off a bit,” Sanner said. “We’re looking at new ways we can join in the Yukon, Mustang and even Bethany communities even more and make our presence known to those who maybe haven’t heard about us. We’re just reminding them we’re still here and reminding them of all the opportunities we have in the communities and that we provide.”

Sanner began her time with Grace Church in January of this year after some time working for a non-profit. She said she loves being at a church where she’s able to be passionate about people of all different backgrounds and also be able to be in ministry and be passionate about sharing God’s love with those people.

“At Grace Church, both of those passions could be combined and I didn’t have to fight that battle between those two loves and passions,” Sanner said. “Personally, that’s my journey in Grace Church and one of the reasons I’ve been so drawn to it.”

In her role of minister of community life, Sanner is the youth minister, does the communications for the church and coordinates their volunteer teams.

Grace Church prides itself in being community-driven with its outreach ministry teams. One of Grace Church’s volunteer programs is “Laundry Love” where the church pays for people’s loads of laundry and volunteers actually do the laundry at Highlander Laundry Mat in Yukon the last Thursday of every month.

“Spreading faith, love and hope—one load at a time,” the slogan for the event reads.

Grace Church also works with the Manna Pantry, Compassionate Hands and Youth and Family Services.

“We’re a church with a really big heart. Part of our rule of life is generous hearts. We try to be very active in the community,” Tim said.

Sanner also coordinates the church’s Sunday ministry team. Grace Church has about 20 volunteers who help with the service every Sunday.

“All of those go into making our service work,” Sanner said. “It’s a very community-oriented, participatory service.”

As an Episcopal church, Grace Church follows the liturgical calendar, which sets the tone for the services throughout the year.

“It tells the Christian narrative throughout the year,” Sanner said. “Our services are laid out according to those seasons, those prayers and those scripture readings.

“It’s rooted in tradition. We’re rooted in these prayers and these readings that saints and our fellow Christians have participated in throughout history so we’re connected in that way. We’re also connected to other churches all around the world that follow this same liturgy. So not only are we worshipping as a community, but we’re worshipping with communities from past and future with this beautiful liturgy.”

Grace Church also does communion every Sunday. Everyone who is a believer is “welcome to receive communion regardless of background or denomination so that way we can go out into the community and spread that love we receive,” Sanner said.

“We love that we’re rooted in the liturgical tradition of the church, but we’re also a really fresh expression of it through our music and just our approach to worship,” Tim said. “When you look at all of that blend, there’s quite another church like us in Yukon.”

Sanner said Grace Church’s services are different than the services she grew up with.

“Services where you sing songs and you listen to a pastor or a speaker that would share a sermon for about 45 minutes. [Grace Church’s] services are a lot more interactive. They’re a lot more community-oriented where everyone can participate as little or as much as they want,” she said. “They’re centered on prayer and scripture reading. The sermon, of course, is part of that, but the main focus is the communion that we all participate in together.”

Beginning this weekend, Grace Church will only have one service time at 10 a.m. They decided to consolidate their two services to one to accommodate for the busy schedules, camps and vacations that come with summer, Sanner said.

“It also gives our ministry teams a break—just kind of taking a little vacation of our own in a way,” Sanner said.

Grace Church previously had just the one service time, but they consistently were over capacity and needed to switch it to two, but Sanner said she thinks this is the best option for summer.  

She also said they want to make sure their one service is still full and lively while bringing together their 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. church goers, who often don’t know one another.

Grace Church isn’t offering any special events during the summer, but in August they will be hosting “Back to School Sunday” on Aug. 20. During Back to School Sunday, the priests offer a blessing for the backups of any age-level or school-level.

“That’s a very fun activity for the kids and a great way to kick off the school year in a positive and loving way,” Sanner said.

In October on St. Francis Day, Grace Church also plans to do a community-wide pet blessing because St. Francis was said to be a lover of all animals. Sanner said they’re still working on where, when and how they’ll do it.

Grace Church will have more events in the fall, but those details aren’t finalized enough to share quite yet.

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