Second of Three Regionals to Return Movement to Vital Roots Beyond Midwest

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Church of God Convention

By Carl Stagner

A single month separates the first Church of God Regional of 2024 from the second, though more than 1,300 highway miles form the gap between Center of Hope LA in Inglewood, California, and Crossings Community Church in Oklahoma City. Of course, each host church is known for thriving ministries and gracious hospitality, but they’re also positioned in places perpetually resonating fascinating stories of the Movement’s early days. While the California Regional afforded guests the chance to see firsthand the place where CWC’s founder Nora Hunter planted a church in 1924, the Oklahoma Regional puts attendees smack dab in the middle of a state where influential leaders of the Church of God were born, raised, conducted ministry, and left indelible marks on the Movement.

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 part of the Church of God converges on Oklahoma this June 18–20 for the second of three Regionals, it enters into vibrant Church of God community, rich with Church of God history.

An early scene outside First Church of God in Sapulpa, Oklahoma (exact date unknown).

“Holding the annual convention in Anderson [was] a time-honored tradition,” Church of God historian Merle Strege has observed. “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 people based on skin color, Lena Shoffner became the first Church of God pastor in Oklahoma City in 1904.

Dale Oldham

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 largest Church of God congregation, Crossings Community Church, calls Oklahoma City home—and this year, welcomes back a portion of the Church of God for an exciting Regional not like others held there—stay tuned for more details, or visit www.chogconvention.org for more information now and to register! Multiple dozen Church of God congregations in total now preach salvation, holiness, and unity in Jesus Christ throughout Oklahoma. History is still in the making. You, too, can experience it at the Oklahoma Regional of the Church of God.

Learn more about the two remaining 2024 Regionals, and register for either or both, at www.chogconvention.org.

Feature (top) collage: Church of God camp meeting in Oklahoma City, 1920 (left); Church of God Convention in Oklahoma City, 2014 (right).

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