Church of God Mourns Losses, Celebrates Legacies in Missions and Music
By Carl Stagner
When one in the family suffers pain or loss, everyone feels it. This is certainly the case in the family of believers called the Church of God movement. Grief mixes with joy every time a minister in our movement passes away. We ache over the sting of separation yet rejoice for the deceased, who we know is more alive than ever in the presence of God. Furthermore, we can’t help but express gratitude to God for legacies that never fade away. Some in our Church of God family, though never having worked in formal capacities for the general offices of the movement, made uniquely general—broad, sweeping, national and international—impact on the past, present, and trajectory of this blessed spiritual family. Upon receiving word that Donna Thomas and Carolyn Patty had each gone home to be with the Lord, within just weeks of each other this summer, a brief tribute to each pillar in missions and music seems timely and appropriate.
Though she described her late husband Chuck as a “trailblazer” in her popular 2010 book The “Why Not?” Factor, Donna S. Thomas could aptly be described in equal terms. Those who knew the courageous-yet-humble lady behind the wry smile knew her best as a woman of extraordinary faith and fortitude. Into international ministry she may have taken the road less traveled, but her impact on missions around the world cannot be dismissed; over the span of her life, Donna visited over a hundred countries, representing six continents. Persuading thousands of people to travel with her, Donna quickly spread her contagious love for Jesus and her tender heart toward people of every nation.
According to her obituary, “Donna was born on the Bynum family farm in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on January 18, 1928, to Hazel Bynum Stanley and Charles Roy Stanley, lifetime residents of the city. She left Tulsa after high school to attend Anderson College, Anderson, Indiana, where she married Charles Franklin “Chuck” Thomas of Dayton, Ohio, in 1948. At the invitation of her uncle and aunt, Elmer and Vera Kardatzke, they moved to Wichita, Kansas, and, in 1950, founded Pawnee Avenue Church of God, where they made lifelong friends, where she played the piano and organ, and where they served together as pastors for over 25 years.”
From Oklahoma to Kansas to the ends of the earth, Donna Thomas proclaimed her Lord and Savior in word and deed. Alongside Chuck, Project Partner with Christ and Christian Vision Ministries established far-reaching work for the Lord and opened up the eyes of countless Church of God ministers and laypeople to the scope of kingdom work just beyond borders of government, familiarity, and comfort. Hundreds of thousands of people are reported to have been on the receiving end of witness and transformation directly linked to the ministry of Donna S. Thomas.
Music as Missions
Ron may have hit all the high notes, but Caroyn Patty covered all of them. On the piano, of course, Carolyn Patty performed her God-given artistry in ways that never spoke of her own prestige and prowess, but pointed consistently back to her Lord—about whom she also sang a strong alto. Though she, too, left her home on this earth to be with Jesus this summer, the legacy of Carolyn Patty continues to make indelible marks on our Church of God family everywhere.
As an accomplished pianist, Carolyn Patty’s music (along with that of her talented family) has been heard by millions of people around the world. Though she met Ron Patty at East Side Church of God in Anderson, Indiana, during their college days, Carolyn’s demeanor and steadfast support couldn’t possibly be overshadowed by a soaring tenor’s tones or, ultimately, a young soprano’s descants. Serving together with her family at the local church level in Indiana, Oklahoma, Arizona, and California, Carolyn found her own rich ministry, pouring into family and friends not only within her home congregations, but also on the road with the Ron Patty Family.
Granddaughter Anna Trent writes, “When Sandi, Mike, and Craig began to step into their own musical professions, Carolyn and Ron continued their ministry to churches nationwide for more than twenty years, blessing countless churches. While ministering to churches was a heartbeat for Carolyn and Ron, their talents also allowed them to perform for audiences such as George H. W. Bush and family at Camp David, Bill Glass Crusade events, Billy Graham’s The Cove retreats, and a concert with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Carolyn’s rich legacy certainly includes her music and ministry, and yet her deep love for her family remained paramount. As her eleven grandchildren emerged on the scene, Carolyn and Ron, affectionately known as Nana and Papa, devoted themselves to being present forces in their daily lives while continuing to travel as opportunities arose. Their legacy of love further expanded to include their beloved thirteen great-grandchildren.”
Two women of faith, two gaping holes at our family table, two legacies that touch our hearts still today. May the Lord continue to offer comfort in generous supply.
Read Donna S. Thomas’s obituary at https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/middletown-oh/donna-thomas-11424433. Read a tribute to Carolyn Patty at https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/carolynpattytribute.
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature (top) collage: Donna Thomas, left; Carolyn Patty, right.