Oran Baptist Church was founded in Oran, Texas in 1904 and has been in the same location since that time.
Four women determined to save
their church sparked a renewal
___By Dan Martin
___Texas Baptist Communications
___ORAN--Ada Jennings was one of four elderly women who pledged to sit on the front porch of Oran Baptist Church--with a shotgun, if necessary--to keep their church building from being taken over by an outside group.
___That isn't a Wild West tale. It happened less than a decade ago.
|ADA JENNINGS, 94, one of the "honorary trustees" who kept Oran Baptist Church open, visits on a recent Sunday morning with Pastor Don Lilly and his
___Jennings, 94, has seen bad times and good times at the little frame church in northern Palo Pinto
County, and she's glad that now is one of the good times.
___But in 1993, a non-Baptist group was attempting to occupy the church. There were only four members left. Jennings, Lou King, Rose Manley and Verna Manley--all in their 80s--were the remnant of a once-thriving congregation.
___They called Doyle Welch of Mineral Wells, who had been their last pastor. He put them in touch with Bob Tremaine, director of missions for Parker-Palo Pinto Baptist Area.
___The remaining members closed the church and established themselves as a mission of First Baptist Church of Possum Kingdom Lake.
___"We made sure that if the church ever closed down, the building would be sold and all of the proceeds would go to Palo Pinto Association, to be used for mission work in the county," Jennings explained.
___First Baptist of Possum Kingdom sent Don and Shirley Lilly to the church to help them out. It was a fortuitous choice.
___Lilly, a retired senior master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, and his wife had been members of the Possum Kingdom church since 1983. They had been active in the church, and Lilly had preached when Pastor Ray Rogers was away.
___They arrived at Oran--seven miles east of Graford and 14 miles north of Mineral Wells--on Nov. 7, 1993. For several years, they did whatever there was to do, from mowing the grass to cleaning the restrooms to vacuuming the carpets.
___And Lilly preached, "sometimes to one person, sometimes to two and sometimes just to Shirl."
___Gradually, people came. A family here, a family there. A few people who had gone elsewhere to church came back, such as Charles and Vida Manley. Both had become Christians at Oran Baptist Church but were driving to Graford for worship. A plumber who came to repair the water system came back for worship and brought his family.?
___The church that had shrunk to include only four elderly women now has an outreach to youth, which draws as many as 50 and averages more than 20.
___After a great deal of soul searching, Amanda O'Brien, agreed to start a youth program. "We began with two children. Mine," she said.
___She and Mrs. Lilly got involved in making puppets.
___"The first ones were awful," she recalled. "We borrowed some patterns, and now we can make them without having to use patterns."
___The reinvigorated congregation is missions-minded as well. Within a year after the church became a mission, it voted to start giving 10 percent of its income to missions--7 percent through the Cooperative Program of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and 3 percent to Palo Pinto Baptist Association.
___After several years of patching things up and making do, the church decided to do some major remodeling. Tremaine told them about the Small Church Matching Grant, available through the BGCT.
___Funds for the grants are made available through gifts of Texas Baptists to the Mary Hill Davis offering.
___Keith Crouch, director of the BGCT church facilities department, said grants of up to $5,000 are available to match funds raised by congregations to assist in renovation, repair or expansion of existing space. Congregations must have been in existence at least five years and have fewer than 150 members.
___The grant, which matched about $9,000 raised by the Oran congregation, was given April 30, 1998. A few days later, May 3, 1998, Oran Baptist Church constituted as a church for the second time.
___Jennings is the only one of the four "honorary trustees" --as the church calls them--remaining in Oran. Two, Verna and Rose Manley, have died; Lou King recently moved to an assisted living facility in Graham.
___About six months after the church constituted--and six years from the time he went to help the little congregation--Don Lilly was ordained to the gospel ministry.
___Lilly was called to the ministry as a 17-year-old in West Virginia, but "the military upset that," he said. "I got drafted." He served in the Air Force but preached as much as he could.
___Hanging on the walls of the new sanctuary are certificates attesting to the faithfulness of the church in giving to the Mary Hill Davis Offering, as well as others showing the congregation had the largest percentage gain in Sunday School enrollment in its association in 1999.
___Another is from the Progressive Farmer magazine and the Texas Conference of Churches naming Lilly as an outstanding rural minister for 1999.
___"It is unbelievable what God has done for this little church," Lilly says. "We come to church every Sunday to see what God is going to do."
ORAN, TEXAS. Oran is located five miles northeast of Graford on Farm Road 52 in northeastern Palo Pinto County in a grazing and farming area that produces peanuts, corn, small grains, fruits, beef cattle, sheep, and poultry. Early settlers in the area included cattlemen Oliver Loving and George Bevers. Citizens wanted to name the town Black Springs, but the United States Postal Service refused; the name Oran was submitted and approved. It is the opinion of old-timers that the name Oran was selected in honor of Governor Oran M. Roberts. The Oran post office was established in 1886 with Daniel B. Matheny as postmaster. In 1908 several wells began to produce mineral water, and a crystal plant was built to ship the product nationwide. The Weatherford, Mineral Wells and Northwestern Railway, a Texas and Pacific extension, was built into town. Soon Oran had a gin that ran twenty-four hours a day during cotton-picking season, a livery stable, a skating rink, a weekly paper, three churches, a lumberyard, a restaurant, and four general stores. There was also a twenty-room hotel where one could stay for a dollar a day. By 1912 school enrollment had reached 112. A two-story, four-classroom school was built. Through the early 1920s Oran enjoyed continued prosperity, but then the boll weevil began to devastate the cotton industry. The gins were dismantled and moved away, the mineral wells abandoned, the railroad tracks taken up, and the depot dismantled. The school district was consolidated with the Perrin and Graford districts. There was a post office in operation as late as 1967, at which time a population of eighty was reported. No population figures were available in 1990. By 2000 the population was sixty-one.
Palo Pinto Historical Association, History of Palo Pinto County (Dallas: Taylor, 1978). Jeanne F. Lively
Oran Baptist Church
604 Bailey Street
Graford, TX 76449
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