By Carl Stagner
Before D. S. Warner, there was Mary Cole. When historians Dale Stultz and Doug Welch released the groundbreaking book The Gospel Trumpet Years in 2011, we learned that the totality of what we thought we knew about Church of God history was only part of the story. When the Church of God converges on Oklahoma this June, it enters into vibrant Church of God community, rich with Church of God history.
“Holding the annual convention in Anderson has been a time-honored tradition,” Church of God Historian Merle Strege reflects. “Although two-thirds of the constituency still resides east of the Mississippi, the west has contributed significantly to the life of the Church of God. Important leaders like Nora Hunter and Otto F. Linn were nurtured in congregations not far from the Santa Fe Trail. John Morrison was serving as a pastor in Delta, Colorado, when he was called to teach at Anderson Bible Training School. Hunter’s early evangelistic partner, Lena Shoffner Matthesen, played an important role in the Church of God in Oklahoma. From Oklahoma, many Church of God folk migrated west and formed new congregations in California and Oregon.”
Renowned CBH speaker Dale Oldham was born in Oklahoma. In Giants Along My Path, Oldham recounts his growing-up years near Ripley, Oklahoma. It was out of Mary Cole’s leadership that the ministries of several of early Church of God leaders, including Oldham and John Morrison, were born. Modern research suggests that when D. S. Warner reached many of the western locales, he ministered in churches already established by the Coles. By 1903, a man named J. A. Carter, captivated by the message of the Church of God brought by “flying evangelists,” accepted a call of God to relocate to the city. According to The Quest for Holiness and Unity, Carter moved to Oklahoma City, where he met Ed Matthesen, who would later marry Lena Shoffner. Remembered for her impassioned 1897 Alabama camp-meeting sermon that prompted the tearing down of the “middle wall of partition” that divided blacks and whites in worship, Lena Shoffner became the first Church of God pastor in Oklahoma City in 1904.
Other early Church of God leaders who had notable influence in Oklahoma include H. M. Riggle, Herb and Lola Thompson, Gospel Trumpet Company president Steele C. Smith, Lawrence J. Chestnut, and Chuck and Donna Thomas. By 1985, Church of God higher education came to Oklahoma City, as Gulf-Coast Bible College became Mid-America Bible College (now Mid-America Christian University).
Today, North America’s second largest Church of God congregation, Crossings Community Church, calls Oklahoma City home. Forty-nine Church of God congregations in total now preach salvation, holiness, and unity in Jesus Christ throughout Oklahoma. This summer, the first national Church of God Convention to be held outside of Anderson, Indiana, since 1907 is scheduled to take place in Oklahoma City, June 23–26. History is still in the making. You, too, can experience it. Register for the Church of God Convention 2014 at www.chogconvention.org.
Order your copy of The Quest for Holiness and Unity from Warner Press at www.warnerpress.org. Order your copy of The Gospel Trumpet Years from the Historical Society; the cost of the book is $35, plus $6 shipping and handling; send a check to the Historical Society of the Church of God, PO Box 702, Anderson, IN 46015, or call 765-621-3161.