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Divine digs

The new owner of a century-old church in Midtown is determined to repair the building and inspire parishioners’ lives.

Greg Horton March 14th, 2012

Frontline Church held its first service in its downtown location on Christmas Eve in 2011. Although the building at N.W. 10th Street and Robinson Avenue is a new site for Frontline, it was originally the home of First Christian Church, beginning in 1911.

That house of worship relocated in 1956, leaving the facility without a church family until Citychurch moved in in the early 1990s.

Now, 100 years after the first congregation occupied the facility, a new pastor — who was once affiliated with Citychurch — and a new church are calling the three-story limestone structure “home.” Frontline leaders have been in the process of cleaning up and beautifying their new space, with more renovations in the works. Attendance has grown by some 400 people since that initial service.

Lead pastor Josh Kouri hails from California, but moved here as a child. His father and Richard Hogue, former gubernatorial candidate and currently pastor of Citychurch, were friends in California who moved to Oklahoma City to found Citychurch. Kouri grew up under their tutelage.

right Josh Kouri is lead pastor of Frontline Church.

A graduate of Northeast High School, Kouri said he worked in various capacities at Citychurch, including youth pastor, college pastor and senior associate pastor before moving on.

“I have nothing bad to say about my former church,” he said. “We just had different philosophies of ministry. For most of my early 20s, I hated Oklahoma. I wanted to go back to California, but as I prayed about starting a church, I had a change of heart at 25. I developed a tremendous love for Oklahoma City.”

Kouri started a church with a core group of friends and family in a house near Shepherd Mall. It was immediately evident that he wasn’t going to attract conventional churchgoers.

“I was working with a ton of people who didn’t fit the mold of church ministry,” he said. “They were likely not to be embraced in other churches.”

That group met at the house for only three weeks; membership swelled to 80 in that time. Frontline found a spot at N.W. 23rd Street and Dewey Avenue, moving closer to downtown, Kouri’s desired goal.

“That first year was the first time I enjoyed going to church,” he said. “We had challenges, including an old freight elevator and displacements during renovations, but great things were happening.”

At the end of year one, the church stood at 150 members and needing more space. Kouri liked a location in Automobile Alley at N.W. Sixth and Broadway, a spot owned by business-man Photus Barjeliotus. Against the protests of local businesses, Barjeliotus leased the facility to the young church.

right The site of downtown's First Christian Church in the early 1900s now houses Frontline Church

“By the end of that first year in that facility, the businesses were with us,” Kouri said. “They could see we were for the city. We were attracting young and poor and all kinds of people who didn’t feel welcome in church.”

It quickly grew to a point where it had to do four services. Kouri knew that Citychurch still held the lease on the old First Christian, and thought another move made sense.

“I wanted to be downtown, and because of that love, I had a fear of that old church facility being turned over to pigeons” Kouri said. “That central location makes it perfect for reaching the city, helping the poor and supporting other churches.”

The facility is old, but Kouri said it’s structurally solid. The education complex on the its east side will need $1.2 million to $1.7 million in renovations, but the church is waiting to raise the necessary funds.

Newly ensconced in the “old cathedral,” Kouri said Frontline will begin to look for ways to make Jesus famous in Oklahoma City.

He said the church’s philosophy is pretty simple: “Our question is the same question businesses ask in Oklahoma City: How do we make this a better city in which to live?”

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