History of Graham Street Church of Christ
The account of Graham Street Church of Christ originated in the late 1800's. Its original name was the Stephenville Christian Church. Without a determined place of worship, services were held outside if the weather permitted or in the local schoolhouse and various homes.
Huge meetings were the entertainment of this time. People would travel from miles around and gather under a tent or a tree to hear visiting preachers speak. Baptizings' were numerous during these meetings. With the absence of a baptistery, the meeting would relocate to a nearby water tank or the Bosque River and rejoice as a new brethren had entered their realm.
Around 1887, the members decided it was time to have a meeting place of their own. Times were hard and money was scarce, yet the loyal members gave and used what was available. A lot was purchased from Mr. Collier for $100.00 at the present sight of the church building today. In 1888, every man in Stephenville joined together and contributed something to the building of this first church house. George Roberts accepted the task of designing the front steps. He ordered four steps to represent faith, repentance, confession, and baptism.
The appointed elders at this time were Sam Long, Mr. Jones, W. S. Telford, and Leonard Roberts. With funds being scarce, the congregation could not afford a full-time minister. The men of the congregation planned and presented the services with the guidance of the elders. T.W. Phillips and later, his son O.E. Phillips, were the first part- time ministers. They would preach at surrounding congregations twice a month and at the Stephenville church two Sunday's a month.
Around 1900, the issue of musical accompaniment was becoming more prominent across the nation. The tale is that at night some of the most prominent ladies of the church moved an organ into the church and locked the doors. Several men heard of the scandal and the next morning proceeded to the church house. Finding the doors locked, the men crawled through a window, moved the organ outside and locked the doors back. This present issue ultimately divided the church into the a capella and instrumental groups. The instrumental sect formed the Christian Church, while the conservatives became the Church of Christ.
Between 1912 and 1913, additions had to be made to accommodate the growing crowd. Every member again dug deep into their pockets and gave what they had. King Baxley, a memorable song leader, donated his buggy to the church where it was sold and helped pay for the additions. Cecil Davis and June Shannon both recall the theatrical ways of this song leader. He always made the song service exciting and unexpected.
King Baxley’s was only one of the generous donations made to the church. The building was completed around October of 1916.
The ministers during this time were Ralph Robinson, T.H. Etheridge, and J.L. Pumell. In 1920, additional classrooms and a baptistery were added to the existing building.
In 1925, Ben West moved from Ft. Worth, Texas, to take on the full-time preaching job. In 1928, he left the Stephenville congregation to preach at Georgetown And later in Waxahachie.
June Shannon, a long time member of the church, first remembers the Stephenville Church of Christ when attending her older brother's graduation. Ben West gave the commencement at the graduation in Lingleville. His inspiration has stayed with her throughout the years. In 1929, Ms. Shannon went to Tarleton College and attended Graham Street where she is still faithfully attending today.
Tom Walker took over the ministry following Ben West from 1928 to 1931. During this time a lot was purchased on Washington Street near the college and plans were being made to build. The Depression hit causing the plans to be forfeited indefinitely. Eventually the land was sold and a tent was used for meeting purposes. June Shannon recalls in 1930 that an outdoor revival was held. Benches were set up and electric lights were used in the parking lot across from the present-day building. Brother Keeble, a black preacher was the speaker. He used no microphone and would walk around with his Bible and would shout, "Do you want to go to heaven!"
In 193 1, Luther B. Roberts took over the ministry until 1935. His wife, Anna, was known to have helped to build up the largest ladies Bible class up to that point. After leaving Stephenville, Luther preached at various places and taught Bible at Abilene Christian College.
Following Luther was W.R. Yowell (1935-1936), Olan Hicks (1937- 1938), and T.B. Thompson (1939-1940).
Cecil Davis, another long-term member and present elder, recalls one night when a young man came forward to be baptized and when the stage was lifted up - the baptistery was underneath it - there was no water in it! To solve this problem, the Stephenville Fire Department, located next door, was called and they came and filled the baptistery with water. "The water was cold, but we baptized him anyway," commented Cecil.
In 1940, C.M. Moser took over the Stephenville ministry. During his time in Stephenville, five new elders were appointed; Henry Williams, Howard Miller, Genie Hughes, L.A. Cox, and J.P. Gazaway.
Cecil Davis, recalls the flourishing college group. Mr. Davis was a member of the college group while attending Tarleton. Several years after graduating he helped plan the groups activities with his future wife.
Max Crumley took up the work in 1942 and remained until 1948. During this time, the church saw another demand to expand the building. Attendance was steadily increasing. The lot of land adjacent to the church building was sold to the church and a building fund was started for a new building.
Bill Coffman was the minister for a short time, then J.M. Gilipatrick took over the ministerial job from 1947-1950. During this time a building was planned and built. On March 5, 1950 the first worship service was held in the auditorium. The auditorium would hold 800 people and had eleven classrooms, an office, and a library. The unique building plan built around parts of the old church allowing a part of history to be preserved and used. Also, a house for the preacher was bought. Mr. Gillpatrick left Stephenville to preach in Pampa, Texas.
Ralph Starling came to Graham Street in 1950, after the new building was finished. Brother Starling worked hard to increase the growth of the church. He developed Vacation Bible School into a success for the children. A black Vacation Bible School was set up and supported by the church with Burl Trotter as their minister. Bible classes rose to a record high of over 400 people. A Biblical radio program was also begun during the Starling tenure. In 1956 Ralph Starling behind Stephenville with a flourishing Church of Christ congregation.
Jay Channel was the minister from 1956-1959. He was directly followed by Ray Wright (1960-1961).
In 1958 a Bible Chair was planned to aid in the college ministry. In 1959, a lot was purchased on the comer of Tarleton and Ollie Street. On September 4, 1960 the Open House was held, even without the furniture. The Bible Chair offered courses in Bible for college credit. Ray Wright took over double duty by becoming the Bible Chair Director and pulpit minister. James Greer took over the responsibility in 1961 (a list of directors can be found in the College Involvement section).
Around 1960, a building was purchased across Graham Street for a fellowship building. It was a little small, but it served its purpose. June Shannon's brother planned the architecture to turn it into a nice fellowship building.
A young Dan Anders became pulpit minister in 1961. W.L. Fry, an exceptional speaker, directly followed him in 1965. In 1969 Ralph Starling returned to Stephenville as the minister until semi-retiring in 1983. Michael Wyatt took the preaching duties over in 1983. He was a graduate of the Brown Trail School of Preaching. In 1988, Gene Glaser from Pampa, Texas came to minister to Graham Street. He was with us for three years when he left the field of preaching to do financial development for Boles Home for Children.
Larry Woodward, the current Christian Campus Center Director (Bible Chair), came to Stephenville in 1981 where he lifted the college ministry to a new level. The Christian Campus Center has been recognized on Paul Harvey, a nation-wide radio show.
In 199 1, Graham Street added another new face yet again. Rodger Weems and his family moved to Stephenville from Troy, Texas. Since his arrival we have experienced a turnaround in membership and attendance, as can be seen in the attendance records, and a healthy growth pattern has been established. In 1996, the Family Center, a fellowship facility was built to accommodate the growth.
June Shannon believes that the key to Rodger's success is that he, like Ralph Starling, is very involved in the community and participates in Christian-like city activities. Ms. Shannon also states " Rodger captivates his audience by going deep into the history to capture their attention."
Dean Gaines served the church as secretary from 1962 to her retirement. She was the only full-time secretary up until then. Margaret Tomlinson took over her position when she retired, and has been there ever since.
The youth ministry added a full-time Youth Director in 1996. Carl Smith and his family moved here from their ministry in Dallas. Since his tenure at Graham St. Church of Christ, the youth group has been active in many activities. Numerous activities in the keep the adolescents busy from going to Dallas and helping underprivileged kids to "A Mountain Top Experience" in the peaks of the Rocky Mountains.
The Christian Campus Center is just as busy with community service projects and teaching at congregations in the area.
Intensive study of the Bible can be obtained by the youth in the Bible Bowl/Bible Quiz elective class; this group goes to various congregations and to Abilene Christian and Harding to compete over a set book.
A preschool for three and four year olds is available to any one in the community. Worship for the elderly is just as active as the youth. A group named the Duracells plans many different activities to keep themselves occupied. For those that can't get to church, a church van is willing to come and pick anyone up. A nursing home ministry is also given at certain homes.
Graham Street is also involved in a variety of mission works in the United States and abroad.