EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second part of a two-part series about the groundbreaking for Life Community Church’s new church and memorial chapel, designed especially for parents who have lost their children. Pre-Paid Legal Services founders Harland and Shirley Stonecipher belong to LCC and have donated $3.5 million to the project.
Harland Stonecipher always believed he could cope with whatever life threw at him and find a way to make it better.
His belief was severely tested in July 2005, when Stonecipher’s son, Brent, was killed in a plane crash near Ada. The crash also killed Stonecipher’s daughter-in-law, Tina, and his granddaughter, Nikki.
Over the next seven years, Harland and his wife, Shirley, found ways to ease their pain while helping others. Among other efforts, they established the Nikki Stonecipher Memorial Scholarship which provides deserving students with a full scholarship for at least one year at East Central University.
Now, the founders of Pre-Paid Legal Services are using their resources to help other grieving parents.
The couple recently donated $3.5 million to their home church, Life Community Church, for a new church and memorial chapel in Ada. The complex is designed to give bereaved parents a place to honor their lost children.
Stonecipher said he was inspired by the Bible verse Matthew 14:13 which describes Jesus’ reaction to the death of John the Baptist. Upon hearing the news, Jesus took a private boat to a solitary place, but a large crowd followed him.
When Jesus landed, he felt compassion for the group and healed the sick.
“As it turns out, that’s probably the best thing for anyone to do — exactly what he did — as he always did,” Stonecipher said Wednesday. “He served. He didn’t go grieve and hide from people. There were people out there that needed him and needed his help.”
The idea of serving other people, combined with hopes of keeping memories of their own family alive, appealed to the Stoneciphers. That prompted them to talk to LCC Pastor Mickey Keith about building a memorial chapel where bereaved parents could pay tribute to their lost children.
The Stoneciphers originally envisioned a stand-alone chapel, but as they thought about it, they decided the chapel should be attached to a church where there would be more family activities. That decision paved the way for the current project.
Pastor Keith said the Stoneciphers could have turned the chapel into a private memorial for their family, but they decided to help other people instead.
“They said, ‘We don’t want it to be just about our kids. This is not the Stonecipher church; this is not the Stonecipher Memorial Chapel. This is open to others,’” Keith said, “and I really appreciate that. I think that’s wonderful.”
The complex will be located on 10 acres near Pre-Paid Legal Services, near the Kerr Cabin.
Stonecipher said Pre-Paid — now known as LegalShield — donated about three acres for the complex, and the Kerr Foundation and the Chickasaw Nation donated the remaining seven acres. He said the Kerr Foundation and the Chickasaw Nation also contributed about half a million dollars apiece to the project.
“It all worked out that they are happy to turn it over to us,” Stonecipher said. “Just an agreement that we would take care of the property. We’re going to take care of the property because our church is on it — our chapel.”
The church is working on the complex with the Oklahoma City-based architectural firm Sprague and Associates, which specializes in church-related projects.
When the 24,000-square-foot church is completed, it will seat about 650 people on two levels, with access from floor to balcony. An onsite production center will allow Keith to broadcast his sermons over the Internet.
A breezeway will connect the church to the memorial chapel, gardens and water features. The chapel will be open to visitors, even when the church is closed.
The site will also include a pavilion, built by the Kerr Foundation and the Chickasaw Nation.
Keith said he has searched the Internet for pictures of other memorial chapels so he could get some concepts in his mind. But he said he could not find anything like the Ada complex.
“Nothing like this,” he said. “Nothing to say, ‘We want families who have lost a child to come and find a place that’s so peaceful and so beautiful, and there’s such healing there. There’s such hope there.’”
In addition to donating funds for the project, Stonecipher will develop a biblically based leadership program titled “Blueprint for Success,” which will draw on his 40 years of business experience.
Stonecipher said the overall project will result in a traditional church with some nontraditional elements.
“What we’re going to do is unique,” he said. “It’s going to be different, and I want it to be different.”