Oklahoma parish pairs with local Irish pub to create a new worship location

Posted Aug 22, 2023

The Rev. Tom Dahlman, rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Shawnee, Oklahoma, welcomes worshippers to a new location in The Black Raven Irish pub in nearby Harrah. Photo: Diocese of Oklahoma

[Diocese of Oklahoma] Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Shawnee, Oklahoma, has developed a partnership with a local Irish pub in nearby Harrah, Oklahoma, to create a new worship location.

For some time, the Rev. Tom Newman, a retired priest who assists at Emmanuel, had been telling the church’s rector, the Rev. Tom Dahlman, that the growing cities of Harrah and Choctaw had no Episcopal presence. After a conversation with the vestry and Oklahoma Bishop Poulson Reed, the decision was made to create a new worship location in Harrah in partnership with Emmanuel.

Dahlman said that the specific location sprang from prayer. “The few months before we began, my prayer was, ‘God if you like this idea, show us where to start.’” He decided that meant starting with someone who knew everyone in the area, an Emmanuel parishioner who is chief of police in nearby McLoud.

Dahlman said he and the chief were talking about possible locations when he described a parish he’d served while in seminary that began by meeting in a bar that was closed on Sundays. “As we were discussing it, we wondered if The Black Raven, an Irish pub in Harrah, was closed on Sunday. According to Google, it was closed, and, of course, the [police] chief knew the owner.”

Twenty minutes later, the owner of the pub and Dahlman shook hands, and he gave the church a key. The first service at The Black Raven Pub, which fittingly is located on Church Avenue, was on April 9, Easter Sunday. In addition to two Sunday services at their building in Shawnee, Emmanuel continues to offer a worship service at the pub on Sundays at 10:30 a.m., which draws worshippers from Harrah and Choctaw. They have gathered as many as 20 people and as few as five.

This sort of work is not new to Emmanuel. In 1937, when the Rev. H.B. Smith was the rector, they planted a chapel in Seminole that eventually became St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.

Dahlman said of his hopes for the new worship location, “No plan we could develop would succeed apart from God.” He added, “If this plan fails, we will pat ourselves on the back for trying and move on to new things. If this plan succeeds, we will thank God and move on to new things. Either way, we will try to gain wisdom from the experience.”

Emmanuel hopes to expand its Episcopal presence in Harrah and Choctaw and is applying for a vitality grant from the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma. If successful, the church plans to include additional musicians and a children’s program at its service in Harrah, as well as more print and digital advertising to tell the communities of Harrah and Choctaw about the new worship opportunity.