Paul, and his wife Calana (pronounced – kuh law nuh), have led the Wheatland Mission Church since its founding in 2006. Having journeyed with the church through many ups and downs, they are grateful to see God’s work in this corner of his Kingdom. Married 27 years, they have two children, Savannah recently graduated from Kansas State, and Harrison who is a senior at Wichita State.
In addition to pastoring the Wheatland Mission, Paul enjoys teaching courses in Bible and Christian Spirituality at Friends University. Paul and Calana have made the most of this COVID season by planting bigger and bigger gardens and very slowly re-modeling their home.
How would you describe the area your church is in?
Wheatland rents space from an American Baptist Church (Sunnyside Baptist) in the central part of the Wichita. We are one block from a large African-American congregation and the neighborhood is a mixture of Latino and White working class families.
How would you describe the journey of pastoring Wheatland Mission? What have been some of the milestones/different seasons?
Wheatland has been around for fourteen years and it feels as if we have been three or four different churches over the years. In our earliest days Wheatland followed the typical attractional model of church but on a small scale. However, we realized not long into our journey that that model wouldn’t work. We gathered a nice sized group very early on but most of that group disappeared near the one year mark. It was both devastating and clarifying. We realized that we had to retool our ministry.
For the next few years we tried to understand what God was calling us to do. In time, a path became clear to us. People who had been burned by the church often found us. Individuals who were struggling with belief but weren’t quite ready to give upon Christianity found us too. We saw ourselves as one of the last options that people gave themselves before giving up on church all together.
We rethought the process of spiritual formation. How do people become grounded in the faith, especially in a context where they have lost faith? This led us, in part, to adopting a more liturgical, Anglican-ish, approach to our life together.
Today we jokingly refer to ourselves as “feral Anglicans” or as “casually liturgical”. Neither term really describes who we are as a community but we have found a foundation in the Book of Common Prayer liturgy that has helped many of our people stretch themselves in faith and come in contact with Christ through the Spirit.
Most recently, Wheatland has been marked by this liturgical approach to life in our weekly worship as well thrice weekly prayer gatherings from the prayerbook. But, we have also been greatly impacted by our partnership with Hilltop Urban Church, a congregation of and for Wichita’s urban poor. Our friendship with Hilltop is changing our attitude about participating in God’s work in the world and seeing ourselves not as saviors, or as project managers, but as friends of God’s people wherever we find them.
Looking back, what do you know now you wish you had known when you first started Wheatland Mission?
On a personal level, I wish I understood the power I had as a leader in the church. Influenced by Anabaptism, and also being a bit naive, I didn’t exercise the power that I had as the pastor of our congregation and some division and heartache was the result. Looking back, I failed to exercise the power and authority I had as pastor of the congregation in a way that would have helped us avoid some of the division. I considered my inaction to be patience. But, looking back I think I was just afraid of creating conflict and division. My avoidance created the very thing I was trying to keep from happening.
As shepherds of our flocks we have the responsibility to care for them. That will sometimes mean hard conversations, strong stances, and inflexibility in regards to sinful divisiveness.
As you think about what you’ve been able to do so far in ministry there what are some things you have done/tried that have worked well?
As I mentioned above, employing liturgical elements from the BCP has been a great experience for us. We’ve also embraced the liturgical year by observing Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter. We are encouraged because there are children in our church have always known Advent and Lent as part of their walk of faith.
We’ve also seen significant success in partnering both with Hilltop and with three different churches that we have rented from. We have had numerous shared worship services and special events. Currently, our youth minister and other leaders, have created a youth ministry in cooperation with Sunnyside Baptist the church where we rent our meeting space. It has been a mutually positive experience.
What hasn’t worked so well? What have you had to rethink/reimagine/rework?
Wheatland used to be involved in a mobile medical ministry in the city. It started off as a good experience but we soon discovered two things. First, the medical professionals from our church that staffed the clinic grew concerned that they were providing care that was superficial and kept patients from seeking more thorough care which was available in the city. Second, the clinic, while a good thing, did not lead to building friendships with people who were in different socio-economic and ethnic spaces than we were. We entered as professionals who provided services. There is nothing wrong with this on its face but as a church, we have discerned that our responsibility is relationship with the poor where from whom we learn and grow and find relationship.
This has led us to our strategic partnership with Hilltop Urban Church. We worship together a few times a year (mostly on special occasions) and we provide back-up help with worship and teaching. Above all, we seek to become friends who are blessed as much as we bless.
What is something you’ve been hearing from or learning from God in this last season of leading?
Before Wheatland I was a part of a large church staff. I am confident that Wheatland is where God wants me to be and the church he wants me to serve. However, I sometimes feel that Wheatland is “not really” a serious church because of our size, the fact that we don’t have a building, we meet on Saturday nights, etc. As a pastor I sometimes suffer from an inferiority complex.
Wheatland is unique and important and I think that God is saying, the Wheatland Mission is what the Wheatland Mission is supposed to be. Not perfect, with lots of room for improvement and growth, but, who Wheatland is essentially right. Don’t be ashamed of it. Don’t run away from it. God is with us and God is at work.
What do you dream/hope/pray Wheatland Mission looks like in five years?
First, I hope our strategic partnership with Hilltop increases and improves. My hope is that most of our middle-class educated congregation would be meaningfully connected to people from our sister church.
Second, we need to re-develop our small group ministry. In earlier years this was a central part of our shared life. But, in recent years this part of our ministry has suffered and we are working at creating a rhythm of life at Wheatland that includes not only corporate worship and service but smaller communities of more intense and purposeful growth.
NOTE: the photo above is of our staff, Nathan Hansen, Shawntel Shirkey, Devin Withrow, and myself.