Racers for Christ, Oklahoma City (Boathouse)

Racers for Christ, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Racers for Christ
Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 10 June 2012, 9:00am

The building

This group of boat racing enthusiasts attending the National Drag Boat Races had gathered on the grounds of the Chesapeake Boathouse in Oklahoma City before the day's elimination rounds. The boathouse, completed in 2006, is part of Oklahoma City's riverfront revitalization project. It is shaped to resemble a huge boat, with vertical shafts representing oars. In addition to boat bays, there is also an event room as well as a fitness center. For this event a stage had been set up on the lawn. The stage sported 96 square feet of speakers, and lights that could have brought down a UFO, jet planes and assorted birds as well. (An egret did circle the stage at one point.) There would never be an argument about the sanctuary decor – the carpets can only ever be whatever colors grass comes in, and God himself is in charge of the cathedral-vaulted ceiling and the stained glass view.

The church

Team RFC describe themselves (quoting from their website) as "a group of people whose love of the Lord is so strong that we include him in our everyday activities." They participate in various automobile and boat related sporting events, where they provide chapel services, pastoral care, outreach and Christian fellowship. They conducted the first-ever Protestant chapel service at the Indianapolis 500 auto race and established a network of official track chaplains at racing facilities coast to coast.

The neighborhood

A prosperous city for most of the first half of the 20th century, Oklahoma City eventually suffered from the inner city urban decay that plagued so many American cities. Ill-conceived urban renewal projects resulted in the destruction of many important landmarks. Finally, in 1993, a massive redevelopment project was undertaken that has brought on a renaissance, one of the most successful in the country. The Chesapeake Boathouse anchors what has come to be called the Boathouse District. Regatta Park, a straight stretch of river provided by the US Army Corps of Engineers, is used for a variety of racing events, both human and motor-powered. The river is probably devoid of fish due to all the disturbance.

The cast

Larry Smiley, president of Team RFC and chaplain; his wife, Linda; Norm Smith, singer and guitarist.

What was the name of the service?

Church Service.

How full was the building?

What building? Oh! There were 120 people, on golf carts and on seating provided.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The parking attendants were extremely solicitous. Linda Smiley and others were handing out the service sheets, and gave us each a copper penny with a cross shape punched out of the middle.

Was your pew comfortable?

They were standard grey folding chairs, not uncomfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet, reserved and respectful. The intermittent mighty rushing wind was a nice touch, except that it knocked off hats. One Shipmate very sensibly didn't wear one, while another Shipmate kept his on – how, we'll never know.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning! On the NHRA circuit, you usually don't get a motorcycle to come in on, but on the SVBA, you do." Larry Smiley arrived on a blue motorcycle. His blue-and-white racing officials shirt with its "Chaplain" monogram matched the bike.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A single sheet was passed out that had an explanation of their mission and the Bible verses that the sermon would refer to.

What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

The wind was blowing sporadically, so papers and hats were getting pitched about. One Shipmate was moved to kneel down at one point, but only by the Spirit of Not Littering – she was picking up her handout sheet. Doggone mighty rushing wind.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Very reserved. Such a laid back crowd. They must have had a rough day on the river, or perhaps they had been partying heartily the night before. In any case, nary a peep was heard from the crowd. The only song was "Mighty to Save."

Exactly how long was the sermon?

29 minutes, plus a Call to Christ invitation following the fundamentalist evangelical model.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 – The Revd Larry was informally engaging, with lots of mostly enjoyable banter. He was adept at illustrating Bible principles by making connections between the hard work and sacrifice of the people who take part in the drag boat events, the dedication and bravery of our military men and women, and the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Sacrifice and hope. Like our courageous soldiers, people who have hard jobs, and dangerous vocations like boat racing, we all are servants and have a God-guided job to do. Military folk put their lives on the line; but drag racers also exhibit bravery, albeit a totally different type. There are people who sacrifice to keep racers safe while they race, and that is their calling. Joyful is he who has a mission to do.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Being out on God's green earth.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Possibly the windy conditions.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

There was a lot of hustle and bustle to get on with the racing. Those who wanted communion went off to one side to a table that had been set up. There were minuscule pieces of I'm not sure what, about one-half inch by one-half inch square, plus grape juice. We served ourselves. On the table was a placard with the words "And when they were together, they took the bread, broke it ..." etc., which we could read as we partook.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There wasn't any, but we could have tried the catering vans. Nachos, anyone?

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

1 – If I were a devotee of water racing and traveled around the country, I would.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes. We were reminded that a real God accepts the valorous sacrifice of his real Son to bring us into eternal real life.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Larry Smiley's grand entrance on his matching blue motorcycle.

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