UnitedCoR’s Education Officer and National Coordinator
Education Officer and National Coordinator
Shortly after obtaining a bachelor’s degree in pastoral studies, Helen Stringer came to realize she could no longer support any religious ideologies. She redirected her passion for community and helping others by working as a centre director and counsellor for a local non-profit that assists young families in crisis. Simultaneously, she completed her master’s degree in human services with a graduate certificate in professional counselling.
Now, Helen is bringing her training and passion for community to the Oasis Network with a desire to bring together secular individuals and families who don’t fit in church. In early 2014, she founded and now serves as the executive director of Kansas City Oasis, a secular alternative to faith-based community. She also co-founded and serves as the president of the Oasis Network, the affiliate organization that helps to launch and support Oasis communities around the country.
UnitedCoR had the privilege of providing a speaker for Kansas City Oasis a few weeks ago, and we’re pleased that Helen was able to take the time to give us an interview about her life and work:
UnitedCoR’s Education Officer and National Coordinator: Helen, could you tell us how you came to be involved with Oasis?
Helen Stringer: Like many Americans, my husband and I stayed in church after realizing that we no longer believed in any Christian ideologies. Our church was our community, our circle of friends and our extended support system. We didn’t want to give that up so quickly. Two things eventually changed that. First, we discovered that the lead pastor of the mega church we were attending was not supportive of gay marriage and thought gay people should be celibate. We were appalled. These big churches avoid talking about these hot topics from the pulpit for this reason. Simultaneously, we were becoming parents. We came to the realization that we didn’t want someone telling our kids that they were inherently broken and needed to make decisions about life that they were not yet cognitively able to make.
A year after leaving church in the fall of 2013, it dawned on me that there had to be a way to create a supportive and multigenerational community without all the dogma and exclusion which tends to dominate many religious communities. My family was missing all the great stuff that religious communities provide like human community, connection, shared life experiences and support.
I’m not one to shy away from a challenge so I decided to pursue starting such a community in Kansas City. I began by doing some research hoping that I wasn’t going to have to invent this community wheel. My search brought me to Houston Oasis in Houston, Texas. They were a new weekly secular community and I began to talk with Mike Aus, founder of Houston Oasis, about developing a secular community in Kansas City. What I began to realize is that the community I was dreaming of was the community that Houston had already began to create. I readily recognize the benefits of having a greater support system so I asked if Houston Oasis had ever considered having a sister organization. Gladly, they said yes and the rest is history! That’s when we adopted the name of Oasis and began to further develop the Oasis community concept. We are autonomous communities that share the same mission and values with the sole goal of building excellent secular community.
SC: Could you tell us a little bit about the Oasis mission and where they are located?
HS: The mission is to bring non-religious and unaffiliated people together in a compassionate environment, to celebrate the human experience, and to feel inspired and empowered.
Our weekly gatherings feature live performances by local musicians, speakers to inspire and educate, and children’s programming to entertain and stimulate young minds. Each gathering presents a different topic of discussion – usually something inspirational or motivational, about the human experience, and grounded in reason. Families are also very important and are integrated as such. We have a great program where children can explore science, ideas, education, and fun. Outside of weekly gatherings, we offer social activities, interest groups and volunteer opportunities in the greater community.
- Kansas City Oasis-Kansas City, Missouri & Kansas
- Houston Oasis-Houston, Texas
- Cache Valley Oasis-Logan, Utah
- Greater Boston Oasis-Boston, Massachusetts
SC: I’m sure you have many stories both poignant and amusing, are there any stories that particularly stand out that you can share with us, either from your own experience or those you have witnessed?
HS: About 6 months in, one of our families suddenly and tragically lost their son. I recall the mom calling me and sharing with me that her son had passes that morning and that the doctor asked if he could help contact their church. She said she initially started to respond with, “No thank you, I’m an atheist” but then it struck her that she had a similar community through Oasis. She declined their assistance and reached out to us. A few days later on a cold Thursday afternoon, nearly an hour outside of Kansas city, a group of 20 plus people gathered to support this family who was experiencing a tragedy that none of us ever fathom experiencing nor should they go through it alone. Later we gathered for lunch and I had one of those full circle moments, the fact that we had to gather around such a brutal reality sucked, but the reality that we all came together to support this family in a profound time of need was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever experienced. Life is wonderful and amazing at times, but it is also brutal and painful and we need each other during the highs, lows and everything in between.
I thought you could hear directly from my community, so I passed on this question on to them, Here’s a few of their responses:
- “I remember the first time I came to a Sunday Gathering. Once I met a few people, I started talking about all the things I’d been reading about for years, but never talked about in public before, atheism, humanism, questions about consciousness, and a million other things. I was thrilled to find so many people ready to discuss such topics, I couldn’t believe it.
- The feeling was incredible. By the time lunch at Crown Center (after our Sunday Gathering) was over, I knew I had found something very special, and I knew I would be back as often as I could.
- The greatest thing is that, after almost a year of Oasis, I still feel the same way every time I’m with you amazing Oasis people. I feel like myself.”
- “When a group of 12 people showed up at the hospital to visit me. That still means a lot and makes me teary eyed to think about it.”
- “There are so many beautiful things to choose from but the most important memory to me is the day Marlys showed videos of many different creation stories in the older kid’s room. It was that moment that opened the door to free-thinking for my son (who spends 50% of his time in a highly religious home). He and I have had many wonderful conversations since.”
- “I have more friends than I can ever recall having in my life. These are friends I know I will have for decades to come. Life is so much more rich and beautiful with them. I would have never expected this from a secular community. It’s changed my life.”
SC: If someone wanted to start an Oasis in their area, how would they go about this?
HS: They can go to www.peoplearemoreimportant.org, fill out our contact form and request to receive a lead organizer application. Once we receive that, we will reach out to them for an initial phone interview. If people want to help serve on a launch team, they can also contact us and we will notify them once a lead organizer(s) is approved to move forward in their area.
SC: Are there ways that local CoRs can assist Oasis with your mission and outreach?
HS: We’ve been growing steadily by word of mouth and are always happy to have people share the Oasis community concept with their friends.
Thanks to Helen Stringer of the Oasis Network for taking the time out of her work, family and volunteer commitments to give UnitedCoR an interview. Be sure to check out the Oasis Network at www.KCOasis.org, www.PeopleAreMoreImportant.org, www.facebook.com/KCOasis, and www.twitter.com/KC_Oasis