by: BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer
9/21/2008 12:00 AM
Carlton Pearson says he has a sense of mourning and a feeling a new day is near.
Bishop Carlton Pearson shut down New Dimensions Church this month, ending his 27 years as a senior pastor in Tulsa.
What remained of the former Higher Dimensions Family Church, once one of Tulsa’s most prominent charismatic churches, has folded into All Souls Unitarian Church.
Pearson said he and his family will make All Souls their church home, and he urged his members to do the same.
In a play on words that is typically Pearson, he said that when he reflects on the last eight years, he sometimes feels a sense of mourning and other times a sense of morning — that dawn is coming.
“I have no regrets for what I did in this town,” he said.
Eight years ago, Pearson was at the pinnacle of his evangelical career. His south Tulsa congregation of about 6,000 members contributed $60,000 a week to the church coffers. He had a national audience as guest host on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. He was on the Oral Roberts University Board of Trustees. He was among a handful of national black religious leaders advising then-President-elect George W. Bush.
Then Pearson committed evangelical heresy by beginning to preach that all people will go to heaven, a theology he calls “the gospel of inclusion.”
Over the next few years, his congregation fell to a few hundred, his church buses were banned from the ORU campus, and he lost his south Tulsa church property in foreclosure.
He renamed his church New Dimensions, and at the invitation of Rector Stephen McKee, he began to hold afternoon services at Trinity Episcopal Church downtown.
Spurned by the evangelical world, he became popular in the liberal religious establishment. He was featured in several national news programs and invited to speak to a variety of progressive and interfaith organizations. Book and movie offers came in. Eventually, his church affiliated with the United Church of Christ, one of America’s most liberal denominations, and he became a UCC minister.
New Dimensions left Trinity in June and began holding services at All Souls Unitarian Church, creating an unusual blend of a white congregation with a staid worship style and a black congregation with a Pentecostal worship style.
All Souls is the world’s largest Unitarian church.
The last New Dimensions service was held there Sept. 7.
Pearson said he chose All Souls because the church is inclusive, accepting gays, blacks and people of all religious persuasions, including atheists and agnostics.
“I wanted a place where my people could find safe harbor,” he said. “They’re already outcasts in the evangelical/charismatic community.”
He has closed his downtown office. Most of his church personnel, both full-time and volunteers, are being worked into the All Souls church family.
Pearson said he plans to continue writing and recording. He has a three-book contract with Simon & Schuster publishers, and he has just released his latest album, “Reflections After the Rain.”
He continues to receive speaking offers around the country.
He has started the Global Institute of Inclusion Consciousness in Atlanta.
He said he has no immediate plans to leave Tulsa but has not ruled out moving to Atlanta, Chicago or the West Coast, where he is from.
Meanwhile, the infusion of several hundred people with a black Pentecostal worship style has created a new excitement at All Souls, said Senior Minister Marlin Lavanhar.
The church’s 10 a.m. service remains traditional, but the 11:30 a.m. service has taken on more of a Pentecostal flavor, with some raised hands, clapping, standing and shouting.
The New Dimensions Ensemble participates in that service and also holds a half-hour worship time between services.
“The ‘amens’ and the ‘right ons’ pull something out of you when you preach,” Lavanhar said. “There’s a lot of laughter and tears. We’ve never been so free in worship.
“It’s quite a beautiful mix of people — black and white, young and old.
“The message is the same,” Lavanhar continued. “We’re not changing the essence of who we are; we’re finally becoming what we said we are and who we’ve wanted to be.
“We’re not wanting to assimilate, but we’re blending. I want everyone to be themselves and to be comfortable and confident in worship.”
The Rev. John Wolf, retired senior minister of All Souls who built the church into one of the most prominent Unitarian churches in the nation, said he was thrilled about what is happening there.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” he said.
2000: Pearson meets several times with President- elect George W. Bush.
2002: Pearson’s Gospel of Inclusion begins to draw attention.
Spring 2004: Church attendance at 2,000, down from 6,000.
December 2005: Last meeting on Higher Dimensions property.
January 2006: Bank forecloses on Higher Dimensions property, church begins to meet in Trinity Episcopal Church downtown as New Dimensions.
November 2006: Pearson accepted as United Church of Christ minister.
June 2008: New Dimensions Church moves to All Souls Unitarian Church.
Sept. 7, 2008: New Dimensions Church folds into All Souls Unitarian, ceases to exist as a Tulsa church.