Lewis Hale of Oklahoma City has a friend in Texas who wanted to beat his record for years as a pulpit minister.
Hale said the pals have joked often as part of a friendly Red River rivalry — preacher style.
The octogenarian said he recently told Robert Oglesby, of Waterview Church of Christ in Richardson, Texas, he would have to serve his congregation seven more years.
That's how long it would take the Texan to surpass Hale's 57-year tenure as pulpit minister of Southwest Church of Christ, 3031 SW 104.
Hale recently retired, with July 7 as his last Sunday in the pulpit. The congregation is hosting a retirement reception Saturday to celebrate his faithful and lengthy service.
“I've been very fortunate because the Lord's been very good to me. I recognize that and I'm grateful,” said Hale, 87.
He said he grew up in Cowlington during the Great Depression and , the son of a blacksmith turned carpenter. Hale said he never considered following in his father's footsteps because he always knew he wanted to be a preacher.
“I was always church-oriented. I admired the preachers, and I wanted to be one,” he said.
Hale said he attended Abilene Christian University and eventually went on to Freed-Hardeman College (now Freed-Hardeman University). He said did his graduate work at the University of Oklahoma. Hale saidsome of his college classmates decided to teach at the college level but his dream was to serve a local church. He said he served as a part-time professor at Oklahoma Christian University for about two years in the 1960s, but his first love was always pulpit ministry.
“I've never regretted choosing what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a local preacher,” he said. “If they go to the hospital, I want to be there. If they're getting married, I want to be there,” he said of his congregation.
Hale said he took that love of preaching with him when he served in the Navy during World War II. He chuckled as he said he once preached in his Navy uniform in Chula Vista, a San Diego, Calif., suburb.
Hale said he decided to retire to allow his beloved congregation to begin making long-range plans.
“I said, ‘Well this might be a good time for me to step aside and let someone else do the preaching.' It wasn't because I couldn't do the job,” he said smiling with a twinkle in his eye.
The church's new pulpit minister is David Deffenbaugh, who comes to Oklahoma City from Paragould, Ark. Hale said Deffenbaugh will take the pulpit at Southwest Church of Christ for the first time on Sunday. The younger man's call to a new ministry made Hale recall his own pastoral efforts over the years. He said he served as a full-time minister in Stigler, then took a ministerial post in Lorenzo, Texas. Hale said he was invited to return to his native state in 1956 to become pulpit minister of Southwest Church of Christ.
He said he and Ruth, his wife of 64 years, fell in love with the congregation of about 240 people, whose house of worship was on S Agnew at the time. Hale said the church was made up of many young couples who were faithful members and wanted to raise their children to know the Lord. By 1960, the church began to draw an average of 500 people to Bible school and about 600 for worship services. Hale said the church still draws about 600 for worship.
‘A special person'
Hale said he is not sure what kept him in one place for more than 50 years, other than his commitment to his ministerial call and his love for the church. He said being able to raise sons Michael and Barry and daughter Melinda Sims in one city was beneficial. He also said his wife enjoyed serving at the church in several capacities and enjoys a popularity of her own among church members.
“I tell people they might have let me move, but they weren't going to let her move and I wasn't going to move without her,” he said, smiling.
Hale said he thinks his longevity as Southwest's pulpit minister could be attributed to his general role as a peacemaker.
Longtime friends said the minister has special qualities that came to the forefront over the years.
Stafford North, distinguished professor of Bible at Oklahoma Christian University, said he has known Hale since they attended college together in the 1940s.
“He's a good preacher in the pulpit, but he also works well with people in other church work,” North said.
Lloyd Gramling, a Southwest Church of Christ member for 35 years, said Hale has a talent and desire to serve people and also has a remarkable memory. He described the minister as a “great Gospel preacher” who is knowledgeable of biblical issues and knows how to convey them.
“To be able to stay at one location through the years, it just takes somebody with special talents to keep people going the right direction, not quarreling and trying to split the church. He's just a very special person,” said Gramling, a former Oklahoma City police chief and mayor of Newcastle.