In 2003, the Lord asked Ken Primrose to begin praying for the Church in Norman, in the shed in his backyard before work everyday. He had finished out the shed as a place to study while he was in law school. By early 2004, the Lord invited Ken to gather a group of friends to begin praying for the Church in Norman, calling it Early Morning Prayer. In August of that same year, by the Lord's clear initiative, Ken & Beth Primrose planted Norman Community Church (NCC), a community of OU students and Norman families who grew together in a conviction for the value of prayer and mission together, exercised in the midst of spiritual family life.
After the shed days of Early Morning Prayer, we continued regular prayer gatherings as a community, always praying for the local Church as a whole. In some seasons we prayed together in Solemn Assemblies and in weekly smaller prayer gatherings. In other seasons our house churches hosted prayer gatherings to pray for a specific mission, but we always continued with a conviction that prayer was a foundational piece of who we were and how we engaged as a community. Ken felt that we should always invest in prayer with as much energy as we invested in local mission.
In May 2009, Ken Primrose invited me into an ongoing conversation about what it would look like to create a more methodical structure around our weekly prayer and worship gatherings within Norman Community Church. This would be called the Norman Prayer Furnace (NPF). We combined the experience of our small prayer gatherings, that began in Ken's shed, with the model of worship and prayer we witnessed at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, MO. We thought through a plan of what continual prayer as a community could look like and even put together an organizational chart of the leadership needed to run such an endeavor. Our community had many of the pieces in place already. We had worship leaders; we had prayer leaders; and we had several shift leaders who would oversee individual prayer sets; the last role we needed was the person to step in to oversee the whole process. We transcribed ideas from the whiteboard to the laptop and started working toward the dream the Lord had planted in Ken's heart so many years before.
With Ken being the senior leader of NCC, and me having a career in business, we did our best to build the Norman Prayer Furnace with what time we had. Ken continued to cast vision for our community, to be people of prayer, and invited the leadership to come pray for one hour, once a week in the NPF. I worked out the details of how we would gather and equip the leaders to make these worship and prayer sets function consistently over time. During this season, we held prayer sets in the back of the NCC office space. This space still looked as it did in it's previous life as an auto shop, but instead of cars, tires, and tools, it was now furnished with a large Persian rug, chairs set up in a "U" shape, some instruments, and a small sound system. It was hot in the summers and cold in the winters, but we felt the pleasure of the Lord as our community spent extended time in prayer, week after week, for the Church in our city.
The next big transition for the NPF started in March of 2012, when I was on vacation in Kona, HI with my wife, Becky, our three-week old daughter (that's right three-weeks old!), Demma, and Becky's extended family. One night while we were there, the Lord spoke to me in a dream about coming on staff vocationally with Norman Community Church. My purpose would be to develop the NPF and multiply worship and prayer in our community in a greater way. When I woke up from the dream I began to process, with the Lord, the implications of the dream.
At the time, I was working as part of a small start-up business in Norman that was in the midst of turning a very successful corner in its life as a company. I knew that this was a conversation about leaving my job and starting something vocationally new to my family and me. Later that night, out to dinner with Becky, I communicated what the Lord had been speaking to me that day. She excitedly said, "Well, if it's the Lord, then it will be amazing. Let's put it back in his hands and see what he does with it." So we did.
Not even an hour later, walking back to our car, two guys came up to us on the boardwalk in downtown Kona, asking if they could pray for us. We did not object. They began to prophesy over me, communicating, "You are a worship pastor... you are a priest in the house of the Lord... you are entering a season of change, you and your family..." I was totally undone and I started to weep. They communicated the Lord's heart to us on all the points we had discussed at dinner, including aspects of Becky's giftings and the longings of her heat. It was staggering. Within a 12-hour period of time, the Lord had given us a whole new set of marching orders.
Returning to Norman, the Lord confirmed these words many more times, and in July of that same year, I transitioned out of my job and came on staff with NCC to build the Norman Prayer Furnace. NCC did not have the finances to pay my salary, but I knew that this was the Lord’s will. My first job, after coming on staff, was to cast vision for my role of building and managing the NPF and to raise my entire salary, just as an overseas missionary would. By December 2012, I was fully funded and ready to jump headlong into this new season.
From 2012-2014, our team built the structures and systems of the NPF, under the guidance and influence of Ken Primrose. We worked to hold together the tensions of prayer, mission, and spiritual family. As it was from the beginning, the leadership of NCC engaged in all aspects of these values. House Church leaders were expected to pray alongside the Prayer Furnace leaders in the NPF, and the Prayer Furnace leaders were expected to engage in spiritual family and mission alongside House Church pastors in house churches.
In the summer of 2014, NCC started construction on a new space a block away from our old office space. The new space had two store-fronts, one that would function as office space for church leadership and daily operations, and the other which would be specifically designed to accommodate traffic flow in and out of the prayer room. The face of the store-fronts even had two separate signs. One said, "Norman Community Church Office," and the other said, "Norman Prayer Furnace." The vision was to make the prayer room as accessible as possible for people from NCC and from other church communities to come and pray.
We officially moved into this new space in November 2014, excited about how the Lord wanted to move as we continued to invite the Church in our city to join us in regular prayer. By mid 2015, our NCC church leadership realized we were in the midst of a transition which ended in the folding of Norman Community Church. But even in the midst of this transition, there was a consistent desire to continue building the Norman Prayer Furnace as a prayer house and to continue it’s invaluable role in the greater body of Christ in our city and region.
In January 2016, the Norman Prayer Furnace was launched as its own entity with a very clear vision to serve the greater body of Christ through worship and prayer. We spent the first part of 2016 establishing the organization of the NPF. No longer being directly associated with one local church, we gave a large portion of our time to connecting with local leaders, communicating the vision the Lord had called us to, and communicating how we desire to serve the Church with the gifts of worship and prayer. In order to plant the Norman Prayer Furnace as its own entity, individuals who had been part of NCC and others who saw the value for our ministry, rallied financially to help cover the 2016 operational expenses.
By the fall of 2016, we had determined our way forward as an organization, committing to cultivating expectancy, creativity, and wholeness in the people of God. We launched EMBER; continuing to host a prayer room for our city and region, developing artists through musical creativity and production, and serving individuals and groups through prophetic ministry and spiritual retreat. We are hopeful that as communities and individuals journey with us, they will do so not only in financial partnership, but in bringing the Lord continual worship, that He might be glorified in an even greater capacity and that individuals would walk in greater measures of freedom and wholeness.
My prayer is that you would ask God how He would have you respond to our story, whether that response is in direct connectedness to us or simply in approaching Jesus with new expectancy and fervency.
Blessings and Shalom,
Executive Director of EMBER