Complaints of ‘inappropriate’ use of school building for ‘extremist Christian revival’
by Lillian Gahagan
BRADFORD – Last month, residents in several area towns received a glossy flyer from Seminars Unlimited of Keene, Texas promoting a free “Prophecy Seminar” to be held at Oxbow High School on Oct. 7.
According to the flyer, the seminar would be continued on Monday, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Attendees would receive free Bibles and study guides and would gain insight about the future and “hope in these days of uncertainty.” They would be given “specific and dramatic revelations of things to come—not from the psychics but from the unfailing Word of God.”
Social media lit up immediately with commentary from community members.
“Anyone know what’s up with this? Is it possible that our own Oxbow High School is hosting an extremist Christian revival?” Tom Watkin of Bradford posted on Facebook on Sept. 30.“This flyer arrived in my mailbox—and the mailboxes of 1,000s of others—this week. The sender is anonymous though it was prepared by a Texas company and mailed from Texas. I spoke with an Oxbow school board member who said the board knew nothing about it. What is going on?”
On Oct. 1, Orange East Supervisory Union Assistant Superintendent John Barone sent a message to parents and others.
“[T]he administration at Oxbow High School has shut this down. This event will not be happening at Oxbow High School as advertised. I want to assure you that this event was not scheduled by the students, staff, or administration at Oxbow High School and is not endorsed by the school or the supervisory union. If you have received the flyer or when you receive the flyer, please disregard the information.”
An advertisement in the Sept. 28 Journal Opinion publicized the event at Oxbow. A subsequent advertisement in the Oct. 5 edition changed the location of the event to the Seventh Day Adventist Church in South Newbury.
On Oct. 6, in response to an email inquiry from the JO, Pastor Thomas Ferguson of the South Newbury SDA Church wrote that he had been “the one who arranged the Prophecy Seminar location with the administration at Oxbow High School.”
In a follow-up phone call, Ferguson refused to disclose who he had talked to in the office, saying that he was concerned that “that person’s job” might be at risk if he shared that information.
In a phone interview on Oct. 11, Oxbow Unified Union School District Chair Danielle Corti said that there had been a misunderstanding of what the event entailed when it was initially approved by the Oxbow High School Principal’s office.
“Several community members contacted me saying it was inappropriate,” Corti said.
A facilities use request for the event had been filled out during the summer, administrators envisioned the gathering as a pre-established Bible study group of about 30 people. Apparently, the office had approved the request because it did not seem like an open-ended invitation to the public at large. While having some concerns, administrators concluded at the time that the event was a reasonable public use for the building.
Then when the flyers were received, the school worried about having sufficient security in case of a large crowd. The event was promptly relocated.
Oxbow Co-Principal Ken Cadow wrote in an Oct. 11 email, “I had signed the request in August for a church to make use of a room in our building for approximately 30 people. When we heard that thousands of flyers went out, we reconsidered because there were school and other events scheduled to also make use of the building. I called the pastor and explained, and we actually had a really good conversation. The church put in a lot of effort to relocate the venue, but couldn’t be sure that they reached everyone, so on Friday night the pastor and I stood in front of Oxbow to redirect traffic to the new venue.”
Cadow said that maybe two or three cars stopped by OHS on Friday evening and were re-directed to South Newbury.