ELK CITY, OK - What began as a lighthearted announcement by the Lead Pastor of Oak Grove Church turned into a stampede Sunday as dozens of church members were trampled in a desperate attempt to avoid the annual youth-led service.
Pastor Mark Davies began the service by announcing he had a "special treat" for the congregation - the "Teen Xtreme" youth group would be producing all facets of that day's church service.
Witnesses say that the number of individuals leaving was minimal at first, then increased as the congregation was confronted by a group of earnest youth playing a song featuring the lyrics "heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss," while dancing erratically. Still, church members say the exit was controlled and largely orderly to that point, despite a vocal youth leader repeatedly shouting "let's put our hands together, come on, make some noise this morning!" in the midst of a five-minute, two-chord guitar solo.
"Honestly, we really were trying to support the youth," explained Rhoda Moran, 47. "We hung in there until they announced they would be doing an extended pantomime set to original music. At that point, things dissolved into chaos."
Taking a moment to compose herself, Moran continued.
"Some woman screamed, and then the next thing I know someone is running over me, trying to get to the aisle - I'm glad the pews are cushioned," Moran recounted. "Someone started crying that the youth were asking for volunteers to come up front to do something with props, and at that point someone in the mob threw themselves through one of the windows to get out, which, thankfully, opened another way of escape."
Not everyone was so lucky to get out relatively unscathed.
"My husband Chester is the bravest man I ever knew," recounted Millie Gaines, 85. "He spent a year in a POW camp during Korea, and even won a Bronze Star for attacking an enemy machine gun nest. But when they announced one of the teens was going to come out and do an extended spoken-word performance with accompanying exaggerated hand motions, he just began weeping and finally collapsed. The doctors aren't sure if he'll ever come out of it. He just keeps murmuring something about the regulative principle. It's like he's somewhere far, far away - a place with integrated family worship, I hope".
A spokesperson for Oak Grove Hospital said at least 37 church members had been treated and released, with 19 of them referred to Charter Mental Health Hospital for treatment for severe psychological duress. Those who were able to go home under their own power blamed the youth group for the entire situation.
"I mean, they came out into the aisles. The aisles!" recalled survivor Jacob Ward, who declined to give personal information. "They were cheering and trying to get people to stand up and put their hands up in the air. In the old days, that was a matter for church discipline, if not the civil authorities."
Although the youth-led service has been a tradition at the church since 1978, long-time members say it has simply reached a point where it's past the bounds of what the human senses can reasonably take.
"This was the worst yet," affirmed Ward. "And I say that as someone who survived both the Godspell era and the year with two different skits based on Audio Adrenaline's 'Big Big House.'"
When reached by phone, Pastor Davies said they were looking at alternative options for future youth-led church services, but he's hopeful the planned sermon from the youth, "Sorry, Haters, This Is Church Now," will still be able to be delivered as soon as the congregation recovers.