Alva Review-Courier -

If you like popcorn, First Christian Church's new pastor, Drew Kirtley, is right down your aisle

• But while movies may inspire him, his message is as old as the Bible


Courtesy Rev. Drew Kirtley

From left: Rev. Drew, Keely, Meghan and baby Kennedy.

When Rev. Ron Pingelton, Alva's long-time First Christian Church (FCC) pastor, decided to retire, someone from the church contacted Rev. Drew Kirtley at FCC in Hennessey about the soon-to-be-vacant senior minister position. Jason Gaisford showed the Kirtleys around Alva, told them all about what a community-minded place Alva is and how good the schools are, and they decided this would be a great place to raise their children.

The family moved to Alva two weeks ago, and Kirtley will preach his first sermon here this Sunday.

He'll be bringing a young, contemporary style to the pulpit, a style informed by the experiences of his youth and the popular culture of his generation.

What Came Before

Kirtley grew up in Tonkawa and played a lot of sports as he grew up. After his senior year in high school, he volunteered several summers at a Disciples of Christ Christian Church in Guthrie, Central Christian Camp. He attended Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa and then OU, where he got a degree in journalism with an emphasis on PR.

"I worked an internship for the OU athletic department media relations," he said, "so that was what I kind of thought I was going to get into."

But as he was preparing for life after college, "I was struggling to find a job doing PR," Kirtley said. He emailed someone he'd met during his church camp counseling days thinking he might know of some job opportunities.

"He sent me back a list of jobs that were all youth ministry jobs," Kirtley said. "I think that was his way of saying, 'I think you might be good at this, so check it out if you're interested.'"

And he was interested. He got a job as a full-time youth minister, and that church gave him a scholarship to Phillips Seminar in Tulsa. He worked full-time while attending seminary, so completing all the seminary requirements took some time.

During that time, he worked in a variety of ministry positions, such as campus ministry at NOC Tonkawa for the Wesley Foundation, preaching for a couple years at First Christian Church of Luther. He also married his wife Meghan during that time – in 2013. They moved to a church in Duncan, where for four years he enjoyed working with an old friend, thereby fulfilling something they'd talked about during their seminary days – how cool it would be to work in the same church. In 2015, their first child Keely was born.

And then, finally, in 2016 he graduated from Phillips Seminary and was ordained. His first position as senior minister was at First Christian Church of Hennessey, where he stayed for two years. Their second child, Kennedy, was born there earlier this year.

These Could Be the Good Old Days

"I'm pretty laid back," he said. "I like to think that I'm a storyteller when it comes to preaching," and he incorporates popular culture into those sermons.

In fact, he wrote a book about faith and film called "My Church Smells Like Popcorn."

"Movies have had a big influence on my faith," he said. "The things that I love in life – hobbies, people, anything that influences me – is what I use in preaching, so my style is a mix of all kinds of stuff: movies, books, conversations I have with people."

Growing up he loved books like "Lord of the Rings" and movies like "Star Wars."

"They're stories that make you think," he said. "And so when I started in seminary, and was learning about the Bible, I thought 'I've felt this before, just not with scripture.'"

Reading a book written by one of his professors connected those dots for him.

"He wrote this in the opening of one of his books: 'A few years ago it dawned on me that some of my students thought differently than I did, and I mean literally that their thinking process was different. Though able to read and write, they truly came alive when discussing television shows or movies.' And what I realized about me, was that I love stories, whether it's people's personal stories or stories from scripture or stories from popular culture. That's what got me my own sense of style about how I do ministry."

For example, during the summer he likes to do a sermon series called "Summer at the Movies" that incorporate clips from what he calls "new classic movies." In fact, his last sermons in Hennessey were for that series. Each week featured a different movie, such as "Toy Story," and his sermons, on topics like loving your enemy or friendship, would incorporate clips from the movie shown throughout.

But he'll take his time settling in here before launching into things like that, he said; he and the congregation need to get to know each other first. "On a normal basis, I usually stick to the lectionary and what the scripture is for that week," he said.

What the World Needs Now

One of the messages that Kirtley thinks the world is most in need of hearing – "one that I have to kind of stop myself from touching on every single week, is the idea of Us vs. Them," he said. "Everybody has somebody – a person or type of person – that they consider an 'other' and that they think is 'wrong and I'm right.'" he said. "From my perspective, that is the biggest problem. Outside the church it's one of the biggest problems, but inside the church it's a problem, because you've got different theologies, different politics, and we love, in our country, to blend religion and politics and think that since I'm a Christian I have to think this way politically or that way politically.

"You can find the most loving, giving, humble person in your church and you get on their Facebook page and you find they're very hateful toward another type of person. And you go, 'That's not you!' Because I know this person on a personal level, and then all of a sudden they have this hateful side because there are other people out there who are different. That's probably the one that eats at me the most. And I'm guilty of it sometimes, too, and I have to check myself."

Kathleen Lourde

Still geting settled into his new office, Rev. Kirtley's love of sports is already in evidence.

The Disciples of Christ Christian Church as a denomination, Kirtley said, centers around the communion table, "and the message is all are welcome at the table. If someone comes in who is not a Christian or is from a different denomination, I want to make sure they know they're welcome at the table. That's an important part of our denomination's message," he said.

It's not a message everyone agrees with, he said.

"We catch a lot of flack. One thing people will say is 'at the Disciples, you can believe whatever you want.' The way I understand it for our denomination is that we put an emphasis on the responsibility of each individual to interpret scripture and their faith as they see fit. We don't have to agree" on scriptural interpretation, he said, "if we can agree that Christ is Lord and everyone is welcome to the table. If scripture means one thing to you and another to me, that's sort of the beauty of faith.

"And that's not for everybody," he said. "Some people have left our churches because they want a structure of everybody believing the same thing, and that's okay, too."


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