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Memorial service leads to reunion and potluck in East Texas
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Memorial service leads to reunion and potluck in East Texas

By John Warren

HAWKINS, Texas--A memorial service for a longtime Church of God member who died March 21 led to a reunion of present and former Worldwide Church of God members near here in June.

At the memorial service March 24 of Wilbur Glenn Shipman, a longtime church member and former employee of Ambassador University in Big Sandy, many old friends saw each other for the first time in years.

Several people at the service for Mr. Shipman were apparently thinking the same thing: It's too bad we see each other only at funerals.

That thought led Lee Stolley of Pritchett, Texas, who attends services of (alphabetically) the Church of God Big Sandy and the United Church of God's congregation in Gilmer, to ask: "Why can't we get together and visit under better circumstances?"

Mr. Stolley, whom many will remember as the dedicated director of security at Ambassador for many years, said he discovered that several others were thinking the same thought.

"After talking to a number of individuals in various Church of God groups in the area and finding a great level of interest," Mr. Stolley told The Journal, "I said let's do something about it."

Mr. Stolley secured a meeting place at Hillcrest Manor, a government-subsidized housing project in Big Sandy, and invited some friends to a planning session.

Inter-Church of God reunion

Mr. Stolley had hoped that 35 or 40 people might attend the planning session for the reunion. The 15 planners who did come to the Hillcrest meeting decided to go ahead with some type of inter–Church of God reunion.

Organizers signing on with Mr. Stolley included Duane Canup of Winnsboro, Texas, a member of the Worldwide Church of God congregation that meets in Big Sandy, Wayne Weese, a member of the Church of God Big Sandy, and Ed and Ardith Weiss of Big Sandy, members of the United Church of God congregation that meets in Gilmer.

The planners decided to sponsor a reunion at a youth-camp facility west of here for any present or former WCG attendees.

The chosen site, the Salesmanship Club Youth Camp, is a facility for troubled adolescents, said Mr. Stolley.

The teens, boys and girls, return to their homes on weekends, which meant the facility was available for the reunion.

More than 100

The camp property includes a cafeteria and dining hall that served as a site for more than 100 people to gather on Sunday, June 9, to eat and renew old acquaintances.

The organizers said they wanted everyone to understand the reunion was not an attempt to reconcile church groups: the WCG and its descendants.

The sole purpose was for members (or former members) of the groups to eat a potluck meal together and visit with each other.

Some who attended had come from as far away as Alabama and Indiana.

Lloyd and Helen Garrison of Warrior, Ala., were in the area to visit Ian and Thalia Hufton of Hawkins. The Garrisons' trip to Texas coincided with the reunion, so they attended.

Steve and Brenda Wendling of Uniondale, Ind., were also there.

Others who had traveled from out of the immediate area included Johnny and Maria Snyder of Frisco, Texas, and Mr. and Mrs. Frank Parsons of San Antonio, Texas.

Mr. Parsons, a WCG pastor, was recently transferred from San Antonio to Big Sandy.

Other elders in attendance were Dave Havir (Church of God Big Sandy), David Leach of Big Sandy (WCG) and Aaron Dean of Gladewater (United Church of God ).

Mr. Weese, one of the organizers, pronounced the reunion a success but hopes for better numbers in the future.

What to expect

"We had right at 100 people," he said. "I had hoped for quite a few more, but timing and short notice were factors. The next time we will know more about what to expect, and maybe we can have more of a picnic with family games.

"We chose the Salesmanship Club because we were afraid some people would not come to a church location. We wanted to pick a neutral area."

No clue

Mr. Stolley agrees with Mr. Weese.

"I have learned not to get my feelings hurt if no one shows up," he said. "I have planned community programs that were great for the community, like neighborhood-watch programs, and had only four people show up.

"We didn't have a clue as to how many people would show up. If 15 had shown up, it would have been a success. We had over 100. I feel it was a big success."

Another reunion?

Mr. Stolley would like to see another reunion in November or December.

"It was all positive," he concluded. "I think I talked to almost everyone there, and everything seemed to go well. I saw a lot of hugs.

"One guy asked me when are you going to do this again."

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