The history of Grace Lutheran Church is a vivid picture stemming from traveling missionaries and meeting in lodges to the church worshiped in now. Grace is a small church in this area, but has a history of faithful pastors and faithful people. These people are far from perfect, but they operate under the grace and forgiveness of God. The history of Grace is actually a record of the Spirit of God at work, and is the record of the Lutheran Church slowly gaining a foothold in the community.
As early as 1882, preaching services were held by travelling Lutheran missionaries at various locations in Grayson County, including Sherman, Denison, Whitesboro and Pottsboro. St. James congregation attempted to serve this area until 1912, however these services were held on an irregular basis, depending upon the requests of the Lutherans scattered throughout the county. The services were primarily held for baptisms, weddings, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and an occasional funeral. No enduring congregation was established in this area by these efforts.
Lutheran preaching services were again held in this area in 1939 by Rev. W. E. Meyer of Denton. In 1940, the Mission Board of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod decided to send a pastoral candidate to this area in an effort to establish as congregation. Mitchell J. Prifogle was sent in February of 1940. For the first thirteen weeks, services were held in the Short-Murray Funeral Chapel. The first worship service had seventeen in attendance, the thirteenth had fifty-six. God’s word was spreading. After that, services were held in an upstairs lodge hall at 931 W. Main, with this property eventually being purchased and changed into a chapel and parsonage. This building was originally a meat market and residence. Purchase was made from Mr. D. Nelson for $7000 dollars (with only a seventeen dollar utility bill).
Grace Lutheran Church
In 1941, Rev. Prifogle accepted a call to Bowie, Texas and was succeeded in Denison by Rev. Martin Ramming. It was under his leadership that the congregation was organized and became a member of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. The first church property was bought in 1942, and was dedicated in 1943. The first constitution of the congregation was drafted in May 1942. The name Grace Lutheran Evangelical Lutheran Church was chosen at this time. The congregational charter was issued in October of the same year. Mrs. Loretta Brockett of Colbert, Oklahoma was a member of Grace at that time and is still an active member.
The property purchased from Sudie C. Nelson and Denison Nelson was due to the diligent work of Rev. Ramming. Stones that formed the first free high school in Texas were soon to be converted into a chapel and parsonage for Grace Lutheran Church. In April 1943 dedication services were held. The building cost $7000 and an additional $4000 was spent for remodeling and furnishing the structure. The chapel was kept open at all times for meditation and prayer.
Rev. Ramming left in nineteen-forty-four, and Rev Prifogle returned to be pastor of Grace. The construction of Denison Dam and the establishment of Perrin Field brought a number of Lutheran’s from around the country to this area, adding to Grace’s membership.
From 1944-1947, Grace introduced to the community a Bible Kindergarten open to all children between the ages of three to six years old. Grace Bible Kindergarten was the only one of its kind in the Denison area and children of all faiths were accepted. Physical examinations were given regularly by Mrs. Flora Weber. Bible Kindergarten, under the direction of Rev. Prifogle, began with an enrollment of nine that jumped to nineteen in six months which required the church to look for future accommodations and limited class enrollment. There was no fee for this program. This was an exciting, fulfilling time for the Lutheran Church. Rev. Ludovit Vajda and Rev. Donald Vetter served their pastorates in the main street Chapel. Although statistical growth was small they worked faithfully for the Lord.
Land Purchase for Grace Lutheran
The land for the present location at Texoma Parkway (then Highway 75) and Woodlake Rd., midway between Sherman and Denison, was purchased in 1956, during the pastorate of Rev. Marcus Lang. Grace originally purchased a little more than seven acres at a price of $12,500. A portion was then sold to Kemper Western Store for $5000. Grace Lutheran’s dedication of the new structure centrally located to serve members from Pottsboro, Howe, Van Alstyne, Sherman, Denison, Tom Bean, Colbert, Ok., was held in August 1956. Church officers were L. H. Krumm as President, Dean Miller, vice president, T. J. McCurry, secretary; Jack Harrelson, treasurer; John Rathke, & T.L. Hinricks, elders; W.W. Brockett chairman of the trustees; and Dorothy Harrelson, chairman of The Tabitha Society, a ladies group.
The present sanctuary and fellowship hall were built the same year the property was purchased. The cost for the building and furnishings was $35,000. This was financed through the Lutheran Church Extension Fund of the Texas District. This fund makes low interest loans available to Lutheran Churches throughout the state for the purpose of construction costs. The money from this fund came from investments by members. When Grace was built at this site, there was little else in this area. Now, the towns of Sherman and Denison have grown next to each other, with Grace sitting on the dividing line. The construction of this new sanctuary in 1956 was an exciting time for the congregation. It was a turning point in the history of Grace. A feeling of established roots and a new self-sustaining congregation was possible because of the new church building.
An old European custom for the Advent Season, that comes from Germany, the land of Luther’s birth, was introduced to Grace Lutheran Church: the Advent Wreath. This custom was originated to give more emphasis and to remind the people of the significance of Advent, which is a four week season of preparation for Christmas festival. Several members of Grace Lutheran Church who constructed the Advent Wreath were Mrs. L.M. Weldon, Mrs. Elaine Lang of Denison, Mrs. D.D. Whiting of Bells, and Mr. & Mrs. Loren Jacob of Sherman.
Throughout its history, Grace has had various auxiliary organizations, such as ladies societies, men’s clubs, Boy Scouts of America (1958), Youth Group, Altar Guild (1960), Aid Association for Lutherans and Lutheran Brotherhood Fraternal groups, and others. The first ladies group was the Tabitha Society, formed in 1943. A second ladies group, The Koinonia Society, was added in 1956. These groups eventually merged and are affiliated with the national women’s organization of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League. This group actively supports local projects as well as mission projects throughout the world. The primary purpose is to help spread the message that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.
Rev. Walter Snyder served from 1958 to 1962. During this period, the church went through a number of crises in making payments on the construction debt. There were many difficult times, yet the congregation endured. The pastor and people worked in meeting each challenge as it arose.
Growing in Grace
Rev. George Lueke served Grace from 1963 to 1969. During his ministry Grace’s membership grew from 80 confirmed (communicant) members and 140 baptized members to 190 confirmed and 300 baptized. A couples club was started in 1964, with a choir and Walter League started in 1966. Much of the reason for growth was due to the Perrin Air Base which moved many families in and out from various locations. The church was air conditioned in 1968 and a new organ was purchased.
The first part of the education wing was added and dedicated in 1972 under the Pastorship of Delmar Brack. The steady growth of the Sunday school was the primary factor for expansion. At the close of Perrin Air Base in 1972 the membership of Grace steadily declined. The loss of the Base was felt throughout the community.
Grace Lutheran was a dual parish arrangement with St. James Lutheran of Honey Grove from 1948 until 1976. In this arrangement, both congregations were served by the same Pastor. The pastor would hold an early service each week at St. James and then drive back to Denison for the late morning service each Sunday. This arrangement was terminated peacefully in 1976.
Pastor Marvin Koch served Grace from 1977 to 1987. During his pastorship the interior of the entire building was renovated. In 1978 women’s suffrage was enacted allowing women to become voting members of the voters assembly of Grace Lutheran Church. This was a giant step for women in the church. In 1981 the church was remodeled to look as it does currently in 1993.
In 1988 Pastor Michael Mattil accepted a call to Grace from Watonga, OK. Under Pastor Mattil’s leadership, Grace experienced growth and the need to expand it’s educational wing with the intention to one day house a parochial school.
Expansion of the education wing was completed in 1990. Extensive landscaping complimented the church grounds. In 1991 Grace opened a Preschool for children of all faiths between the ages of three and five. With the enrollment of nine students the message of Jesus Christ was proclaimed. The pre-school is still functioning in 1993 with an enrollment of eight students. Grace faces challenges daily: membership changes, financial needs, missions, youth involvement, ladies organizations, men’s club, Sunday School, sponsoring local broadcasts of Lutheran Hour, and many others. There are many active groups in the Grace Congregation and by the Grace of God many more will come.