St. Luke's

Episcopal Church

Serving Stephenville TX, Tarleton State University, Erath County, & the Cross Timbers

 (254) 968-6949

595 N. McIlhaney St.

Stephenville, Texas 76401

© St. Luke's Episcopal Church. All Rights Reserved.

Crafted with care by RSqaured Design

History

An Anecdotal History of St. Luke’s Church – Stephenville, Texas

Joe R. Christopher

The Bosque River Press

© 2005, 2011, *** by Joe R. Christopher

Permission to reprint this work in part or in toto is freely granted, so long as appropriate acknowledgement of the source is given.

 

This chapbook was published in an edition of thirty, numbered copies in 2005; it is now reprinted in a corrected and expanded form for (mainly) the membership of St. Luke’s Church.  The second edition is being printed in 2011 by means of the church’s Xerox, without numbered copies.  The third edition ***

An Anecdotal History of St. Luke’s Church 
Stephenville, Texas

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church began as a recognized mission in 1943, but that was not the beginning of Episcopal services in Stephenville.  In “Early Stephenville Worship,” Robert Walker dates the first service to 1888—when the Rev. W. W. Patrick became Missionary to the Panhandle of Texas; the next year he moved from Decatur to Dublin.  “In 1888 Fr. Patrick” (Walker writes) “found four communicants in Stephenville” (or, as Fr. Patrick spelled it, “Stephensville”); at that time, the town had a population of 700, and the mission theoretically paid $100 per year—but, like other missions in the area, it struggled financially and never met the promised amount.  Some years were bleak, for services in Stephenville were discontinued in late 1889.

By the early 1920s, Fr. Labough was in Hamilton: from there he came sometimes to Stephenville to celebrate communion.  Ferne Keyser, in her “Story of St. Luke’s Parish,” says five women were all the Episcopalians in Stephenville at the time—no men were members until the Everett family came in 1936.  (Later, George Dudley [“G.D.”] Everett was senior warden when Bishop Mason consecrated St. Luke’s as a mission. Still later, his granddaughter, Cissy Bramlett, was senior warden when St. Luke’s Church celebrated its jubilee, its 50th anniversary of that consecration.)

In 1924, a group of Tarleton students (“the first Canterbury Club,” says Keyser) met for a year or so at Tarleton, under the sponsorship of two Episcopal women.

In 1940, the Bedinger family moved to Stephenville—he was a lay reader.  The local group arranged to meet on Sundays in the club room of the Twentieth Century Club (at 650 W. Green, a building recently occupied by Pecan Valley MHMR and currently with that name still on a sign in front).  The first meeting was on 12 November 1940—but Mr. Bedinger had a migraine and couldn’t come.  One of the fourteen Tarleton students attending had had some lay-reading training in Galveston, so he read Morning Prayer.

Soon after that, Fr. Maceo was placed in charge of the Dublin church; since he journeyed from Fort Worth, he agreed to stop in Stephenville for services at the Twentieth Century Club.

In 1943, the Stephenville Episcopalians petitioned to become a mission and were accepted at the Diocese of Dallas convention.  (Although Keyser does not say so, according to Jack English’s oral account, the original request was to become Stephenville’s St. Stephen’s Church; but Bishop Moore, for reasons no one knew then or knows now, decided the name was to be St. Luke’s.)  Keyser does say that, to reach the proper number of members for the petition, they had to list all confirmed teenagers in town.

The first priest sent to the mission, newly ordained (as of 1942), was Fr. Harold H. Warren, who lived in Hamilton and served four churches in the area.  The first Episcopal visitation to St. Luke’s—for seven confirmations—occurred late in 1943.  Fr. Warren’s later career was a curious one: by 1946, he was canonically resident in the Diocese of Oklahoma.  In that year he was deposed by Bishop Thomas Casady.  He was restored to the priesthood in 1981 by Bishop Gerald McAlister.  (Fr. Warren died in 2007.)

The next priest (a deacon when he came, in 1945) was Fr. Menter B. Terrill.  While Fr. Terrill was vicar at Stephenville, the congregation purchased an Army Chapel from the closing Camp Bowie in Brownwood.  It was cut into four pieces and the roof removed to be brought to where it still stands as St. Luke’s, on the corner of  McIlhaney and Vanderbilt.  Ferne Keyser speaks of the members sitting on the stone wall of Tarleton, watching the church being brought down the street in pieces.  The church was consecrated during an Episcopal visit on 30 April 1948.

The early vicars at St. Luke’s usually served Dublin also—and sometimes Hamilton, when the need arose.  Fr. Terrill was involved not only with getting the church building for Stephenville but also with the covering of the wooden exterior of Dublin’s Trinity Church with sandstone.  Fr. Bruce Coggin commented in an e-mail about the latter, “I imagine it was a case of either recladding the little building (by then about seventy years old) or spending a lot on repairs and paint and ongoing upkeep.”  Perhaps Fr. Terrill was instructed by Bishop Mason to get the congregations into good buildings.

According to Gretchen and Robert Walker, Fr. William Maxwell, located in Comanche, served St. Luke’s sometimes during the 1947-48 period.  Fr. Coggin clarified the situation (in another e-mail): Bishop Mason was working Fr. Terrill “into the diocesan structure at the top, to raise money principally.  Mason had a vision of a vast new St. Matthew’s Cathedral up on the grounds, and Fr. Terrill’s job was to get it paid for.  Didn’t work out, so Fr. Terrill was soon the rector up at McKinney—where the vestry had recently voted to ‘close membership.’”  In other words, after fund-raiser, Fr. Terrill became a trouble-shooter.   Fr. Terrill stayed at St. Peter’s into the 1950s.

Fr. Coggin (in yet a third e-mail) adds another facet to Fr. Terrill’s career, him as mentor, briefly but importantly: “Another priest with S’ville connections, though he was never vicar or rector there, was Dale Blackwell.  He grew up down around Turnersville, desperately poor, did service in WWII, then enrolled at Tarleton where he got a degree in something, likely humanities of one kind or another.  He came into the church at St. Luke’s under Fr. Terrill’s tutelage and was later at General Seminary, then ordained, then priested in East Texas before becoming chaplain at All Saints’ Hospital.  Later he started and operated the Episcopal Counseling Center and was by the time of his death at 62 of cancer so beloved all over the city that his funeral had to be moved to First Presbyterian Church to accommodate the throng.”

The series of young priests serving as vicars at the mission for five or fewer years continued: Fr. Tom Talley (1948-1953), Fr. Gordon Miltenberger (1954-56), and Fr. Russell Clapp (1957-1960).  Some additions were made during these years: the parish hall/Canterbury House was built in 1953 (now just the smaller side of the parish hall); and the rectory was purchased in 1955.

Betty Grant tells that she and her husband, Oscar Aaron Grant (who went by “Grant”), were out for a walk when Ferne Keyser called them over to meet Tom Talley (then a deacon)—he was a friendly man with a gift for laughter.  The result was that they—and Dick Smith—were among those who attended Deacon Talley’s first confirmation class (which was taught in the choir loft of the Church), and were confirmed at the class’s end.  (The library at Tarleton is named for Dick Smith; a classroom-and-office building is named for O. A. Grant—symbols in their way that one of St. Luke’s missions is to the school, faculty as well as students and staff.)

Tom Talley was ordained a priest in St. Luke’s in February 1952.  A picture of the ordination has been printed in Fr. Sam McClain’s “An Historical Sketch of St. Luke’s” (p. 4, see “Sources”), showing the military pews and an early version of the church’s sanctuary.  (Military pews are still found in the choir loft.)  According to Betty Grant, the Stephenville newspaper reported that Fr. Talley had been “incarnated” at St. Luke’s.

In 1954 Fr. Talley became the rector of St. Barnabas’ Church in Denton, but he ended his career a goodly ways from Texas, as Professor Emeritus of Liturgics at The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church, New York City.  Among his books are Liturgical Year (2nd ed., 1986) and Worship: Reforming Tradition (1990).

Starting as organist just before or just after Fr. Talley  left, was Dolores Shepherd (the daughter of Nina Crimmons and stepdaughter of Carl Crimmons, “Daddy Carl”).  She writes in an e-mail: “Dr. Aaron Grant approached me one Sunday morning after church and told me, ‘Dolores, an organist does not lift her hands like a pianist’—and proceeded to show me in about a five-minute lesson how to play the organ.  The next Sunday I was the organist.”  That was soon after her graduation from high school in 1953; but she had already started at John Tarleton Agricultural College at the time, majoring in music, for her first action was to phone Dr. Don Morton of the Music Department to tell him.

She continues in her e-mail: “One Saturday late in the afternoon, a young man appeared while I was going over the hymns for the next morning, and introduced himself.”  He was Fr. Gordon Miltenberger, the next vicar.  She and her mother were in his first confirmation class.  In 1956, Fr. Miltenberger returned to Berkeley Divinity School, New Haven, Connecticut (he graduated from the adjacent but not yet thoroughly affiliated Yale Divinity School).  Then in January 1957, Dolores received a proposal by mail from Fr. Miltenberger.  (She had her stepfather place her phone call of acceptance, to discourage a telephone operator from being interested in listening; then she got on the phone and accepted.)

They had the first formal wedding in St. Luke’s on 23 February 1957 at 10:30 a.m. (and the previous Sunday was the end of her career as organist at the church).  One would-be guest showed up at 7:30 that evening, because “all weddings in Stephenville are in the evening.”  And, despite the formal wedding, there were jokes from the parishioners about Fr. Miltenberger running off with the church organist.

The organ at the time was a reed organ at the back of the church (not in the choir loft).  Dolores Miltenberger remembers one Sunday morning, after a Texas dust storm, when she found that the electricity was working but some of the small pipes were so filled with dust that no sound was coming out.  She had to “blow out the pipes.”

Her mother—Nina Crimmins—was mentioned as going through Fr. Miltenberger’s first confirmation class.  Lawrence Kaiser had been keeping the financial books for St. Luke’s for a long time (surely since it became a mission, probably before), but Nina had been helping him for several years.  After her confirmation, she became St. Luke’s treasurer—for the next thirty years.  The church-office computer, after she retired, had for several years the sign “Nina” on it.  (Her husband, Carl Crimmons, a Roman Catholic, was, often, privately, a financial angel for St. Luke’s.)

Fr. Miltenberger’s later career was as a vicar in Westbrook, Connecticut, and then in the Diocese of Dallas (as it was then): the Church of the Good Shepherd, Wichita Falls; St. Edward’s Chapel at Texas Christian University; the Church of the Holy Comforter, Cleburne; and finally at Dallas’s All Saints’ Church.  While they were in Cleburne, Fr. Miltenberger wrote and Dolores typed a history of the parish, The Church of the Holy Comforter (1971), upon the parish reaching its 100th anniversary, its centennial.  In retirement, the Miltenbergers live in Greenville, Texas.

Obviously from before her marriage, Dolores Miltenberger (in another e-mail) describes this scene in St. Luke’s: “Every Sunday morning during the Mass, the congregation was, as usual, all quiet—however, when the words ‘Our Father’ were said, a slight pause occurred—almost a nanosecond—because there was a rustle of movement by little people—the McMahan children—stopping whatever they were doing and moving to the kneelers; their voices could be heard helping all of us with the prayer; then, an ever-so-slight noise of movement was their return to whatever they had been doing.”   She calls this part of the family nature of St. Luke’s at the time.  (These McMahan children were the grandchildren of the Everetts who came in 1936.)

Barbara Thurman began her long career as St. Luke’s organist when she was twelve years old, during Fr. Clapp’s time here.  Grant again had been playing the reed organ at the back of the church, but turned it over to her.  However, Thurman’s years as organist were not continuous—Duncan McMahan (one of the Everett clan) played it from 1962 to 1980, beginning when Thurman got married and moved to Arkansas for a while.  He began when he was in the sixth grade; not being able to reach the pedals if he sat on the bench, he stood on the pedals while playing.

Fr. Clapp left St. Luke’s for St. Paul’s in Gainesville, from which church he retired as rector.  One of his parishioners there writes “Fr. Clapp, a good man and a good parish Priest.  Slow but methodical” (Joe Leonard).  No doubt he showed the much the same qualities when he was younger.

Perhaps something should be added about Ferne Keyser, whose history has been cited.  She and her husband, Lawrence, lived at 989 W. Tarleton with a sign outside announcing it was St. Stephen’s House; they made and sold excellent vestments and altar appointments, mainly to Episcopalians but occasionally to Roman Catholics and often to traditional Methodists.  Laborare est orare: Ferne considered her sewing part of her worship.  (The door of the Mary Chapel has a plaque in honor of her and her husband.)

St. Luke’s mission became a parish in 1963, and five priests have been rectors here since that time: Fr. James Garrard (1961-67), Fr. Martin Le Brecht (1968-1970); Fr. Warner Washington (1971-78), Fr. Marion “Sam” McClain (1978-2009), and the Rev. Curtis “Curt” Norman (beginning in 2011).  The Sunday School was constructed in 1962; the parish hall got its larger “half,” and the office complex was built, in 1995; and St. Luke’s Garden was developed in 2004, being blessed for use on Palm Sunday.  (Obviously, several expansions of property on the block—and across the street—have occurred through the years; the caliche on the parking lot behind the church has been replaced by asphalt.)

More about St. Luke’s Garden: the first wedding in the Garden was on 5 June 2004, the marriage of Phil Sudman and Diane Schwartz. “The best day of my life,” Phil writes.  The first burial of a parishioner’s ashes in the Garden was that of Van E. “Barney” Evans—however, the process was protracted.  He died in 2000 and the funeral service in the Church was that year; his wife, Jo, kept his ashes in knowledge that the Garden was planned.  Soon after the blessing of the Garden, on a warm day (Jo reports), the burial was held.

During part of this time, from 1966 to 1982, two Episcopal priests were living in Stephenville: Fr. Raleigh Denison was teaching German at Tarleton State and, on Sunday, was taking the churches in Dublin (1967-1982) and Eastland (1972-1982).  (He is still remembered by some in Dublin—and probably in Eastland—as their only priest who refused a salary.)  For his first six years in Stephenville, he helped serve communion in St. Luke’s at the ten o’clock service.  He taught a Sunday School class at St. Luke’s for one year, 1966-67.  He took the ten o’clock service at St. Luke’s for one month when Fr. Le Brecht was in the process of leaving.  (No doubt he also took occasional weekday services during those years.)  He left to teach in a junior high school in Woodsboro, so that his wife, Mary Bert, would not have a long commute to her teaching job.  (She had been commuting from Stephenville to Jonesboro.)  There he was no longer regularly active in the priesthood—he played for two years or so with the Victoria Symphony, performing on weekends—but, with permission of his bishop, he did perform a few marriages (one for a Dublin girl) and substitute for his local rector in cases of illness and vacations.  In their retirement, he and his wife live in Georgetown.

A final anecdote about Fr. Denison..  One of the odder happenings at St. Luke’s involved him.  But some background is necessary.  The church building then was often infested with wasps, which came down the holes for the bell ropes in the steeple’s ceiling.  (Jack English used to go around the church more Sundays than not in those days, crushing landed wasps with his thumb.)  Bishop A. Donald Davies, later the first bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth but at the time the bishop of the Diocese of Dallas, was leading a meeting one Sunday evening, and was in the middle of the liturgy when a wasp flew into his mouth, evidently when he was drawing in a breath, for it was immediately wedged deeply in his throat and he was coughing.  Fr. Denison was the first person who responded.  He was sitting on the epistle side in the front row, and he rushed into the church kitchen, returning with a glass of water.  Bishop Davies drank the water, swallowing the wasp, thanked Fr. Denison, and then went on with the service, saying nothing to the congregation, at least, about the incident.

The Denisons’ older daughter, Susie, was a student at  Tarleton during one of the periods when the Canterbury Club was active.  In her report on the Club at an annual parish meeting, besides some details about activities, she said with enthusiasm that it was the only venue in which she could hug a boy and it would be understood as just friendship.

Some of the changes in social activities during this period were due to the women of St. Luke’s having commercial jobs: Lynn Christopher was the last president of the Episcopal Church Women (Christopher says the meetings that year often had only three attendees); the Tasting Tea stopped after 1981; and the rummage sale stopped early in Fr. McClain’s time.  Only the Mexican Supper—begun in 1955—continues from those days when most of the women could re-arrange family and household priorities to include occasional weekday work at the church.

Betty Grant reports that the Mexican Supper was not originally on Election Day, and that the first one was a Mexican Supper + Bake Sale.  She cooked eighteen loaves of bread and all the pralines for that start of a tradition.  The combination of Mexican Suppers and bake sales continued for several years.

The first four priests who have served since St. Luke’s became a parish have been very different men.  Fr. James Garrard was a traditionalist in many ways, but with a pawky sense of humor.  In those days the students at Tarleton filled out religious preferences cards; Fr. Garrard went to visit all the Episcopal students.  Once he saw one of the young men looking out of his dorm window as he came, but the roommate said the Episcopalian wasn’t there when he reached the room.  So Fr. Garrard sat and talked to the roommate for an hour, “waiting” for the other to return—while the roommate kept casting nervous glances at the closet.

Another situation with a student started at the beginning of a fall semester.  A heavy-set woman introduced her daughter to him at the end of the Sunday service.  “This is Hildegard [or some such memorable name]; she’ll be here every Sunday and will be very active in the Church.”  Fr. Garrard thought to himself, “I won’t see that student again.”  And he didn’t, until the end of the school year, when the two women appeared at church again.  Fr. Garrard said, “Hello, Hildegard—I see you’ve brought your mother with you this time.”  The older woman beamed.  A month later, he received a phone call, thanking him.  “Mother would have killed me.”

Probably a more typical example of Fr. Garrard’s reactions was one Lenten supper when a new member brought fried chicken from a local restaurant, not knowing or not thinking that Fridays in Lent (at least in those days) were meatless.  One of the older women said, rather loudly, “She brought chicken.”  Fr. Garrard, not missing a beat, said, “Yes, and doesn’t it look scrumptious!  I’m going to enjoy my piece.”  And he did.

One of the regular attendees during Fr. Garrard’s time was Lucian Rich.  His wife, Irma, had told the priests at St. Luke’s not to pester him to join the Church; he was a Baptist, but he did come with her.  Fr. Garrard, however, ignored the injunction and asked him why he hadn’t joined the Church.  Lucian replied, “No one has asked me.”  They worked out an agreement, as Lucian explained, similar to dual citizenship: he could be both a Baptist and an Episcopalian.  So he joined.  (Mib Garrard writes in an e-mail, “One of my favorite things about Lucian Rich was that, when the sermon started, he would take the hearing aid out of his ear and put it in his pocket.  I imagine Irma tried to stop that and got absolutely nowhere.”)

In the same e-mail, she describes the service on their first Christmas at St. Luke’s: “Bernie Erwin kept saying over and over not to worry about the incense; he would handle it.  When the service started, as usual I was sitting toward the back and didn’t smell any incense as the procession went down the aisle.  But Effie English was breathing deeply and was obviously pleased, while Irma Rich was coughing and choking, no doubt in protest.  After the service I found out that Bernie had never been able to get the incense lit.”

Mib Garrard wrote in St. Luke’s Jubilee Memories Book of the reaction when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas:  “On November 22, 1963, the church filled with people all through the afternoon and the next day.  Community people, as well as our own, knew this was a place where other praying people would be.”  She later wondered in an e-mail, “Perhaps we were the only open church.”

And she recalled (in Jubilee Memories Book) “the old [reed] organ wheezing its last during ‘Ride on, ride on in majesty’ one Palm Sunday.  When we got the new organ [she goes on], I was so impressed that my husband spent so much time over at the church in the evenings—in prayer, I thought.  It finally dawned on me that he was over there playing his rather limited repertoire to his heart’s content.”   Fr. Garrard left Stephenville to become the rector of St. Stephen’s Church in Sherman.  (A good write-up on his time in Sherman is on St. Stephen’s website; the Church complex there also has a Garrard Educational Building.)  In 1996 he died overnight while on a visit to friends in Stephenville.

Fr. LeBrecht said, when he was being interviewed for St. Luke’s, that he was theologically High Church—as high as one can go—but he was liturgically flexible.  He it was who celebrated one weekday an anniversary of The Book of Common Prayer out of the original 1549 version.  He left St. Luke’s for a period as an assistant at All Saint’s, Fort Worth. Some years later, he was accepted into the American Orthodox Church (originally the American branch of the Russian Orthodox Church) and became a priest in the Dallas area, serving before his current retirement in Garland.  High Church, indeed!

Fr. LeBrecht encouraged Ferne Keyser to write her history of St. Luke’s.  Despite the fact he commented once that the mimeograph machine hated him, he managed to duplicate the copies.  And, although the slip was not typical of him, Fr. LeBrecht did commit a marvelous Spoonerism in a sermon one Sunday.  At the Temple in Jerusalem, he said, the Jews sacrificed their “loves and damns.”

Fr. Washington came to St. Luke’s from a period as a military chaplain.  The church sponsored a Vietnamese family in Stephenville at his suggestion.  His time at St. Luke’s coincided with the height of the Charismatic Revival in the Episcopal Church, and Fr. Washington was involved in various ways—he took part in some interdenominational meetings in Stephenville, at least twice in the Church on the Bosque; he led a small group of Episcopalians, meeting in St. Luke’s Canterbury House; and twice (about a year apart) he had Fr. Ted Nelson of Dallas’s Church of the Resurrection come for a non-Sunday meeting.  Fr. Nelson was given to dropping his Bible on its side on the floor, jumping up on it, and exclaiming, “I stand on the Word of the Lord.”  Admittedly, when picking up his Bible, he said, “Isn’t that terrible?”—but with a subsequent defense of Biblically-based Charismatic practices.    Fr. Washington also served St. Luke’s during the furor over women as priests in the national church.  Although he did not approve of ordaining women to the priesthood, he was the only diocesan rector to invite every woman deacon in the diocese to come to the parish, read Evening Prayer, and preach, on Friday nights at Lenten suppers.  He left the Episcopal Church to become a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church.  (The Roman bishop of Fort Worth wanted him to become a priest, but as a deacon Fr. Washington could remain in one town, wherever his wife had a job.)  Several members of St. Luke’s took communion at St. Brendon’s at Fr. Washington’s ordination there; the bishop just smiled, but said nothing, when Fr. Washington told him afterwards that the congregation had not been entirely Roman.  He has remained a deacon in the Roman Church, leaving the Diocese of Fort Worth for five years in the Archdiocese of San Antonio (in Kerrville), and for over a dozen years, to be closer to his and Gerri’s grandchildren, serving part time at the Church of Our Lady of the Lake (Rockwall), in the Diocese of Dallas.  He is now retired, but still attends Our Lady of the Lake.

Fr. McClain came to St. Luke’s because of a dream.  He prayed about his decision of a church to serve, and saw in a dream, church vestments.  He went to visit a St. Luke’s Church in Kansas and found their vestments were not what he had seen.  He came to St. Luke’s Stephenville, and found the vestments were the ones seen.

Fr. McClain served on the diocesan board for the training of the diaconate for a goodly number of years, and in 2004 three deacons were ordained in St. Luke’s in one large service.  Under his guidance, St. Luke’s was financially generous in outreach (26% of income in 2004, and including for several years all money raised by the Mexican Suppers), without everyman canvasses or other fund drives.  He calls it a theology of abundance.  Its justification starts with a faith statement: “God has already given St. Luke’s Church—that is, its members, guests, and visitors—all that is necessary to do His will and meet our needs.”

Other things occurred during Fr. McClain’s ministry, of course.  Three, not directly about him, may be mentioned.  Jane McClain, about 1980, planned an impressive Lenten liturgical set, burlap with the purple silhouettes of thorns and nails.  With some assistance from women of the parish, the set was made. A few years back, she said that it was beginning to wear out, after twenty-five years.

On 2 June 1985, Fr. Jim Rooney began his priestly apprenticeship at St. Luke’s and at the church in Dublin. His greatest, long-lasting influence on St. Luke’s has been the Seder Service that has been celebrated on Palm Sunday evenings.  Fr. Rooney and a friend of his (the best man at his wedding), Robert L. McBroom, Jr., worked out a Seder service, based on an Israeli Passover Liturgy, with touches from other services.  This was done before Fr. Rooney began seminary.  At first, after Fr. Rooney left, Dave and Judy Elkins, parishioners, ran the service at St. Luke’s, until out-of-town parental health needs left them with little time; after a break, Sam and Jane McClain took up the service.  Dave and Judy Elkins returned from their retirement near Austin to lead a Seder the year after Fr. McClain’s retirement; and then Rev. Norman and his wife, Margaret, were in charge their first year at St. Luke’s  To return to Fr. Rooney: he left St. Luke’s and Trinity Church, Dublin, as the Diocesan Curate, going to Holy Cross, Burleson; after another move, he became a priest in the Antiochian Orthodox Church; today he is rector of the Church of St. Benedict of Nursia in Wichita Falls, celebrating the western-rite version of the Antiochian liturgy.

The third episode involves the food pantry, set up during Fr. McClain’s period as rector, giving food without “strings.”  The congregation keeps it going with gifts once a month (twice a month during the Great Recession of 2009-2010).  About the turn of the century, a Tarleton student from China, Lana Lan, studying computers but here without adequate finances, was helped for a while by the pantry.  She had been trained in China as a painter, and the Dick Smith Library has up a painting by her of pandas and posted by it a Chinese postage stamp that was issued bearing one of her panda paintings.  As a thank-you to St. Luke’s Church for the needed food, she gave the Church two paintings—one of three fish (decorative carp) and the other of five horses.  These are now hung in the Church library, on either side of the doors—not Christian works, of course, but appreciated gifts.

Early in his period at St. Luke’s, Fr. McClain went to the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and earned a Doctor of Ministry degree.  Besides utility for his ministry at St. Luke’s, this seems to have been a useful credential to open Fr. McClain’s national ministry.  He and a parishioner, Linda Curtoys (now retired to Ohio with her husband, Jeremy), have been invited to various dioceses, including those of California, San Diego, Utah, Nevada, and Oklahoma; most of the ones in Texas; and that of New Brunswick, Canada, to present programs on the diaconate as a separate order, on discernment for ministry, and/or on an approach to Biblical spirituality.

Fr. McClain remained rector through a large upheaval in the diocese, when Bishop Jack Iker, the third bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth, in November 2008 led the majority of the clergy and of the laity out of the Episcopal Church into a purported, temporary diocesan membership in the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone (made up of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay), with hopes of becoming part of a conservative branch of the Anglican Communion in North America, without the ordination of women and uncloseted homosexuals.  The departed group also joined with other, basically similar conservatives to form the Anglican Church of North America (not, despite the name, recognized as part of the Anglican Communion).  Confusingly, Bishop Iker’s dioikesis still calls itself the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, since it claims that it is the same diocese, simply separated from the Episcopal Church—and that the name is valid because it is headed by an episkopos.  At the time of this history’s publication, the court has rejected the position of Bishop Iker and his fellow defendants, granting summary judgment in favor of The Episcopal Church and the local Episcopal diocese and congregations: the original church buildings and lands and other properties do not belong to Bishop Iker’s group.  But appeals and their replies probably will continue for some years.

Fr. McClain had kept St. Luke’s mainly out of the furors in the years leading up to the split, but eventually the time for the decision approached.  After several discussion meetings, the parish was polled on the matter of the division, with a ballot indicating three possible choices—(1) the Southern Cone, (2) the Episcopal Church, and (3) Don’t Care.  (The Vestry had spent time working out the phrasing, avoiding such terms as “remain with” and “join.”)  Then, the parish met at a final meeting for the result of its polling and to hear the Vestry’s decision on the matter.  The Vestry had been following Bishop Iker’s rules about reaching the decision, and Bishop Iker drove by himself to Stephenville to hear that decision.  The result of the parish poll was something like 83 to remain with the Episcopal Church, 17 didn’t care, and 5 wanted to join the Southern Cone.  Every member of the Vestry said that St. Luke’s should remain with the national church (that is, the vote was unanimous).  For example, Chase Kincannon—in his mid-twenties, the youngest member of the Vestry and the son of the Senior Warden—spoke about Bishop Iker’s anger in his video-taped speech about the split and about his lack of showing and expressing love.  (After the meeting, Kincannon said it felt very awkward giving his planned comments with Bishop Iker listening.  He expanded on this later, writing in an e-mail, “You should have seen my ‘planned comments’!  I was literally rewriting my speech while others were delivering theirs, as I had no clue Bp. Iker was coming.”)  Cissy Bramlett told the story of an earlier upset in the parish.  She had asked her mother—Elizabeth McMahan—if they were going to leave and start another Episcopal Church, as the family of one of her friends had left one Baptist Church and helped start another.  No, said her mother, Episcopalians are family—we may disagree but we don’t separate.

Bishop Iker was pleasant after the meeting, commending St. Luke’s on the thoroughness with which the church had followed the rules in making its decision, although he was surprised that so few had polled to join him—this he said to the Senior Warden, David Kincannon.

Fr. McClain had removed himself from influencing St. Luke’s decision mainly because the church needed to make its decision independent of his.  (He was old enough to retire and was approaching the obligatory retirement age; no one, thinking about it, expected him to leave the Episcopal Church; the decision of the members of the congregation and the Vestry was a separate matter.)  Chase Kincannon has written in another e-mail: “Throughout the ordeal, Fr. Sam was absolutely steadfast in keeping the parish focused on the spiritual purposes of the church.  This is one of the reasons why St. Luke’s remained relatively unfragmented.  He was unwavering in protecting the parish from the political inertia that was building in the diocese—inertia that had virtually nothing to do with the church’s true spiritual mission.”

Fr. McClain retired after the division had occurred; by the time of his retirement, some matters were settled, some tentatively settled, and some only beginning to be settled, if settled at all.  The first group includes the visit of the Presiding Bishop to the western side of the metroplex on 7 February 2009, meeting with diocesan members in a Special Convention that resulted in the reorganization of the Diocese of Fort Worth with the election of a Provisional Bishop and new diocesan officers.  (Fr. McClain’s last service at St. Luke’s was on 26 July 2009.)

Fr. Calvin Girvin, who, in the Diocese of Dallas, had spent much of his ministry at a combined Episcopal and Lutheran congregation in Texarkana, was an interim priest at St. Luke’s for over a year, from 18 October 2009 to 13 February 2011.  His instructions from the diocese included such regularities as Rite I at the 8:00 service, Rite II at the 10:00—not any mixing of the Rites in the same service as Fr. McClain had done.  In other words, being a transition for the congregation to a new priest.  Fr. Girvin retired to west Texas after this interim position.

Several visiting celebrants came from elsewhere in the diocese in the open times before and after Fr. Girvin, but the historically important one, who did not have to come very far, was Suzi Robertson, who was the first woman priest to celebrate mass at St. Luke’s.  That was on 23 August 2009.  The Rev. Dr. Robertson (she doesn’t care for the title of “Mother”) had been the priest at St. Luke the Evangelist, the oldest African American church in Houston (she is white).  She and her husband were living on her farm near Stephenville during what she has described as a “seven-month reprieve.”  She had been called by Bishop Greg Rickel, an old friend of hers from the Diocese of Texas, to come to the Diocese of Olympia and take Good Samaritan Episcopal Church in Sammamish—it’s a large, suburban mission.  Her job is to get it up to parish status.  This is why she vanishes from the account of the interim between priests after serving at St. Luke’s twice in 2009—the first time as given and then again on 30 August.

But perhaps the celebration on 23 August should not be considered the first service by a woman priest at St. Luke’s.  An interesting event occurred on 6 March 2007.  Dr. Robertson came from Houston to lead the funeral service of her mother (Bertha Margaret Robertson, not a member of St. Luke’s)—a funeral service conducted in St. Luke’s, with communion.  Amazing as it seems, Bishop Iker approved her actions—with two provisos: Fr. McClain was to be listed as the celebrant, and her name could not appear in the newspapers.  The Register of Church Services at St. Luke’s says:

c: Sam McClain

o: Suzi Robertson

That is, celebrant and officiant—and the terms are interchangeable.

The next rector, called from Santa Fe but with a background in the Dallas area before becoming a priest, including eight years at KRLD-AM (following an internship with The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour in Washington, D.C.), and with a wife whose sister and other relatives live in Dallas, is the Rev. Curt Norman.  (He doesn’t care for the title of “Father” in print, being from the Low Church side of Anglicanism.)  His media background is shown in his teaching of the adult class on Sundays—he begins with a short video or recording, with a discussion afterwards.  His first service was Ash Wednesday on 9 March 2011, his first Sunday service followed on 13 March, and his installation was on Wednesday, 18 May.

One of several actions soon after his arrival was the installation of the American flag on the Gospel side of the altar and the Episcopal flag on the Lesson side.  (His first July 4th at St. Luke’s—actually July 3rd, the Sunday before—was celebrated with a “picnic” [read “potluck lunch”], following a service that contained, among other patriotic-cum-religious songs, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”—in a town that has a memorial to Confederate soldiers on the Courthouse lawn and an active chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.)

Another early action was to move the baptismal font to the front of the sanctuary, inside the altar rail, where it has been sometimes in the past.  Presumably the intent is to place the “furniture” of the two sacraments that Christ established—the font and the altar—before the congregation each Sunday.

A third action was the beginning of the organization of the Episcopal Campus Ministry officially on the Tarleton campus (“No one today knows what ‘Canterbury Club’ means”).  Jane Dennis, a parishioner and Tarleton associate professor, who attended an eight-day CREDO retreat in 2010, was and is in charge of many of the practical details. (In Tarleton’s terms, she is the Faculty Advisor of the E.C.M.)   Rev. Norman has commented several times that the modern drop in membership in the national Episcopal Church began immediately after it eliminated financial support of campus ministry.

Although the installation service itself was impressive, with Provisional Bishop C. Wallis Ohl leading it, and with singing of music from the Taize religious community in France, perhaps the most moving moment for many parishioners was when Fr. McClain (who has retired to Fort Worth) gave Rev. Norman a copy of the Episcopal Church’s Constitution and By-Laws—one of the standard gifts to the new priest in the ceremony—and somewhat later when Fr. McClain and Jane were called to the front to be thanked for their help and their friendship.  A passing of the rectorship had been enacted.

And what of the future?  What will occur at St. Luke’s in the future?

More anecdotes.  New anecdotes.

As well as, one hopes, Christian lives well lived.

I'm a paragraph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. It's easy.