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UCG members mark 50 years of 'COG' in Houston
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UCG members mark 50 years of 'COG' in Houston
By Ellis Stewart

HUMBLE, Texas--The two congregations of the United Church of God in the Houston area played host to a 50th-anniversary celebration of the "Church of God" Friday and Saturday, March 10-11.

The events consisted of a reunion of present elders and a former elder of the United Church of God. Also attending were local members of the UCG's present Houston congregations.

The activities included an open house and reception with food at the UCG's Houston North church building in Humble, a Houston suburb, at 2737 Broze Rd., on Friday evening.

The congregations combined the next day at the Humble Civic Center, just north of Houston, for Sabbath services, followed by a dinner and dance with more than 625 people attending.

On Friday evening, after the presentation of a 30-minute historic church slide show edited by local UCG member David Good and a vocal solo of "Find Us Faithful" performed by local UCG member Ella Mae Tyrkalo, 15 present-day pastors who had attended as elders or other members in Houston over the years--in the RCG, WCG and UCG--related their memories of the Church of God's history in Houston.

In 1956 the Radio Church of God, which later became the Worldwide Church of God, began its first congregation here, pastored by Wayne Cole, who with his wife, Doris, is in the real-estate business in Tyler, Texas.

Mr. Cole, who is now an independent Church of God member who attends frequently with the Church of God Big Sandy, kicked off the presentations.

"My brief perspective about the beginning of this church can be stated in a few minutes," Mr. Cole said. "In actual fact, the beginning of this church had its roots while I was still a student at Ambassador College from 1950 to 1954."

In either 1952 or 1953, Mr. Cole continued, the Radio Church of God and its Ambassador College, in Pasadena, Calif., underwent an audit by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

"The lawyer for the church and college was a man by the name of Bolivar O'Rear," Mr. Cole said. "Mr. O'Rear had in his earlier legal practice been an attorney for the IRS in Washington, D.C. He knew the ins and outs of the Internal Revenue Service as well as any man could."

Mr. O'Rear, who died in 1956 and was replaced by attorney Stanley Rader, had been instrumental in gaining the church's and college's tax-exempt status, and years had passed with no one questioning the status.

The IRS wanted to determine "if we were operating as we had submitted documents stating we would," Mr. Cole remembered.

"In short, were we living up to our claims that we were a legitimate church and college? In those early years [church founder] Mr. Herbert Armstrong kept the small local church in Pasadena and the student body informed of most of what was happening within the organizations. We were family."

The church and college came through the audit with a clean bill of health but with the observation from the auditing officer that the church--in order to be called a church--was short on the required number of local assemblies.

"There were only six or seven" in those days, Mr. Cole said, "depending on how you counted."

The IRS man recommended establishing a lot of local church fellowships as quickly as possible.

Therefore, after graduating in 1954, several new graduates including Mr. Cole scattered to their new assignments "to contribute to the solution of this shortage-of-local-churches problem."

Burk and Susie McNair moved to Tacoma, Wash.; Dean and Maxine Blackwell went to Chicago, Ill., and St. Louis, Mo.; and Wayne and Doris Cole were off to Corpus Christi, Texas.

Besides pastoring at Corpus, Mr. Cole began another RCG congregation that same year, 1954, in San Antonio, Texas.

Mr. Cole remembered some specifics related to the Houston church's founding.

"In late 1955, I believe, though exact dates are not available, a family by the name of Treybig attended our church service in San Antonio. They were from Houston. Wow! Here was another opportunity to establish another local church."

Mr. Cole thought about the opportunity, then called Mr. Armstrong to ask him if he, Mr. Cole, could establish a congregation in Houston.

"We could meet in Houston on Friday night, could then drive the nearly 200 miles to San Antonio through the night--get two or three hours' sleep--have the morning church service and then drive 145 miles to Corpus Christi for the P.M. church service."

Mr. Cole said Mr. Armstrong reluctantly agreed in principle to the plan and left the final decision regarding Houston up to the young pastor.

"Thus," said Mr. Cole, "the church was started."

Houston first met in a women's-club building in a residential area of the southwestern part of the city.

"There were not many of us, but we were a church. Harold Treybig and his family were the pillars of this new church."

According to Mr. Treybig's widow, Jeanette (he died in 2005), the Houston church began with 14 members including Mr. Cole on Friday night, March 9, 1956.

In June of that same year, the Coles left Texas for another assignment, and Burk McNair transferred in to cover the three-church circuit, becoming the second RCG pastor at Houston.

Other pastors and former pastors recalling Houston history were Jim Franks, Dave Johnson, Clyde Kilough and Tom Kirkpatrick of Cincinnati; Frank McCrady II of Gladewater, Texas; Burk McNair of San Antonio, Texas; Leroy Neff of Big Sandy, Texas; Harold Rhodes of Lansing, Mich.; David Treybig of Tampa, Fla.; Ken Treybig of Gladewater; and Don Waterhouse of Columbia, S.C.

Also speaking were Ken Giese, current pastor of UCG Houston South, and Jim Servidio, current pastor of the UCG's Houston North church.

Not able to attend was Dave Myers of Akron, Ohio.

Mr. Giese noted that without fail each of the speakers spoke of the warmth and friendliness of the Houston brethren, making them feel at home, over the years.

Sabbath activities included the service from 2 to 4 p.m., a slide show and a special-music program followed by a sermon by UCG president Clyde Kilough. After that came a buffet dinner and dance.

Following is a list of ministers who served the RCG, WCG and/or UCG over the years, as listed in the formal reunion printed program. Those who served at different times are listed more than once.

Wayne Cole, 1956; Burk McNair, 1956; Dick Armstrong, 1956; Burk McNair, 1957; Carlton Smith, 1957; David Jon Hill, 1957-1959; Ken Swisher, 1959; Richard Prince (with assistant Cecil Battles), 1959-1964; Charles Dorothy, 1964-1968; Paul Flatt, 1964-1969; associate pastors in Houston 1966-1972: Gerald Weston, Judd Kirk, John Strain, Mike Booze, Chris French, Larry Salyer, Roland Sampson, Malcolm Martin, Ed Marrs; Frank McCrady II (with associates Bill Sutton and David Johnson), 1969-1971; Larry Salyer, 1971-1974; Ed Marrs, 1972-1980; Harold Rhodes, 1973-1976; Ray Meyer, 1979; Don Waterhouse, 1973-1979; Leroy Neff, 1976-1979; John Ogwyn (with associate Rick Baumgardner), 1979-1987; Hal Baird (with associates Malcom Tofts and Marty Davey), 1980-1983; Burk McNair, 1980-1982; Dennis Van Deventer (with associate Warren Heaton), 1982-1985; Dave Johnson, 1983-1990; Ken Giese (with associate Gary Petty), 1985-1988; Jim Franks (with associates Chris Beam, Tom Kirkpatrick, Cecil Green and Stan DeVeaux), 1987-2006; Jim Jenkins, 1988-1991; Gerald Witte, 1990-1994; Bob Peoples, 1991-1994; Dave Myers, 1991-1996; Steve Nutzman, 1994-1997; Ken Giese, 1996-2006 (current); Jim Servidio, 2006 (current).

Other Churches of God with current congregations in Houston also trace their roots from the RCG and WCG, including the Church of God International, Intercontinental Church of God, Living Church of God, Philadelphia Church of God, the present Worldwide Church of God and many independent Church of God congregations.

"On behalf of both congregations of the United Church of God here in Houston, we would like to formally welcome you to this celebration of 50 years of the Church of God!" Mr. Giese and Mr. Servidio jointly stated in a printed program.

"As your hosts we are delighted that you could join us and sincerely hope that you will be inspired and encouraged by the weekend's events.

"We give thanks to God for all of His many blessings as well as His grace and strength during the trials and difficulties these five decades have presented. We would also like to recognize all of the faithful men and women, members and ministry, living and deceased, who have been a part of the Houston congregation through the years.

"We have much to celebrate and rejoice over as we mark this historic milestone."

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