St. Elijah OKC Church History
by Jabour S. Shadid
(Revised September, 1995)
At the beginning of the 20th Century in 1900, the first three Orthodox families who settled in the area of Oklahoma City were Rasheed Jabara, Meible Jabara, and Shaheen Dieghsh (Saied), all from Judaidet Marjayoun, Lebanon. Shortly after, others followed and the Orthodox community began to grow little by little. By 1920, the number of Orthodox families who had settled in Oklahoma City was about 30.
Prior to 1920, several traveling Orthodox priests including Father Basil Kherbaweh would visit the city periodically for Sunday services at different homes. Due to the growth of the community, the possibility of having a permanent priest in Oklahoma City was the main topic of discussion.
After World War I in 1918, the congregation held a meeting at the home of Diab Eddie to discuss the possibility of establishing a permanent Orthodox parish in this area. As the result of that meeting, a petition was drawn and signed by the people, with the approval of Bishop Aftemios Ofiesh, Bishop of Brooklyn, N.Y., to be sent to His Beatitude, Patriarch Gregory Haddad of Antioch, asking him to grant permission to send for Reverend Father Shukrallah Shadid of Judaidet, Marjayoun, Lebanon to become the permanent priest in Oklahoma City.
The request was granted and Father Shadid arrived in Oklahoma City on October 5, 1920. He began celebrating the Divine Liturgy at his home on 1118 N.W. 2nd Street in Oklahoma City and continued conducting services there until 1931. Due to the increase of the parishioners in the area, the parish of St. Elijah Church decided to purchase an existing Church building. Early in 1931, after looking for some time, they chose a building located on 1920 N.W. 30th in Oklahoma City. It was a frame structure, about 30 x 40 feet, costing $2,000, payable on an installment plan. The entire note was paid in full on June 10, 1934.
Since St. George (Greek) Orthodox Church was already established in Oklahoma City, the parish voted to name the Church St. Elijah. The Church building was remodeled to comply with Orthodox tradition and dedicated on the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross on September 14, 1931.
The original Board of Trustees elected by the parish included B. D. Eddie, F. H. Barkett, Aziz Farha, N. J. Shadid (who was later ordained a priest for St. George at Judaidet, Marjayoun, Lebanon), Sam Kouri, and
Saleema Adwon. On April 2, 1933, Father Shukrallah Shadid was elevated to the rank of Economos by His Eminence Bishop Emanuel AboHatab.
In November, 1935, a miraculous event occurred, resulting in newspaper headlines. Three nearby neighbors of the Church, Mr. & Mrs. A. S. Bell and Mrs. G. W. Croskery (living next door to the Bell family) were awakened by the tolling of a bell coming from the direction of the Church. The Church, however, had no bell. These two families, not members of the parish, were so disturbed, they called Father Shadid to ask him to please not ring the bells at night. Two articles appeared in the Daily Oklahoman, Oklahoma City, written by reporter Eugene Dodson describing this event. These articles, one on November 21, 1935, and one on January 12, 1936, were as follows:
NOVEMBER 21, 1935
OUTSIDERS MAY BE SKEPTICAL, BUT SOME MEMBERS OF ST. ELIJAH?S ORTHODOX CHURCH BELIEVE THEY HAVE RECEIVED A MYSTERIOUS MESSAGE FROM THEIR PATRON SAINT.
It came in the tolling of bells at the Church. And what made the ghostly phenomenon authentic to the devout members was the indisputable fact that there are no bells at the Church.
On two separate nights? last Friday and Sunday, the sound of ringing bells was heard from the Church, which has no steeple and no bell according to the neighbors who are not members of the Church. The Church is located at 1920 N. W. 30th Street.
Details began unfolding Wednesday when H. S. Shadid, 1928 N. W. 27th Street, received a telephone call from A. S. Bell who lives at 1914 N. W. 30th Street, next door to the Church.
He asked me if we could stop ringing the bells in the Church after midnight,? said Shadid, a son of Very Reverend S. J. Shadid, priest of St. Elijah?s Church. He said the ringing of the bell kept him and his wife awake and that it was getting annoying.
I was surprised. I told him that we did not have a bell in the Church. We never have had a bell and only my Father and I have Church keys. Surely neither of us would go to the Church to ring a bell after midnight.
Mrs. Bell said that she and her husband were in bed last Friday night after midnight when Bell heard the tolling of a bell.
It sounded like it was coming from the Church and we were surprised at anyone ringing a bell in the Church after midnight, she declared. It kept up for 30 or 40 minutes.
Again Sunday night at about the same time, we heard the bell ring, and it kept up for quite a while. It was bothering us and I was frightened a little.
In the morning my husband called Mr. Shadid and asked him if it would be possible to discontinue ringing the bells at night.
We were shocked when Mr. Shadid said there were no bells in the Church.
Shadid later took Bell through the Church. They found all windows locked, nothing misplaced, and no bells anywhere. Further proof of the mysterious tollings were offered by Mrs. Croskery, who lives at 1912 N. W. 30th Street.
?I heard the first sounds of the bell about 10 p.m. Sunday,? she declared. Later I heard them after midnight. They came at intervals and I thought it was something in the Church.
Mr. and Mrs. Bell and Mrs. Croskery said they had not heard the bell since Sunday night and had never suspected a message from St. Elijah.
Immediately after taking Bell through the Church on the inspection tour, Shadid excitedly talked with other members of the congregation. All interviewed interpreted it as a direct order from the saint of the Church.
We bought the Church five years ago, Shadid related. We talked then of building a steeple and buying a bell. However, nothing was done about it.
But now we believe that Elijah wants us to build the steeple and put in the bell, and that he sent his message by tolling of the bell and by having Mr. Bell bring the message to us.
Elijah worked many miracles as you will see by reading I Kings, Chapter 17, on through II Kings. It is nothing else but a modern miracle. Monday night a few of the members donated to the bell and steeple fund and we have $32.
Shadid estimated the new steeple and bell, the answer to St. Elijah, would cost about $300 or $400.
We are going to build it, he said. We have received the command.
January 12, 1936
DEVOUT HEED CALL OF EERIE NIGHT KNELL ST. ELIJAHS COMMAND IS BEING FULFILLED
His devout followers have heeded his word and the symphony of hammers and saws is ringing out at St. Elijahs Orthodox Church, 1920 N.W. 30th Street.
It was on the night of November 15 that Mr. & Mrs. A. S. Bell, 1914 N.W. 30th Street, heard mysterious tollings of a bell coming from the Church. They were a bit surprised and somewhat annoyed at being disturbed late at night by ringing bells.
Then again, the night of November 17, they heard the eerie knell.
That time it kept the baby from going to sleep. On the same night their neighbor, Mrs. B. W. Croskery, 1912 N.W. 30th Street, also heard the bells.
The next day Bell called H. S. Shadid, 1928 N.W. 27th Street, son of Reverend Shukrallah Shadid, pastor of the Church, and insisted that the bell ringing would have to be stopped.
With great astonishment, Shadid heard the complaints then he told Bell that there were no bells in the Church. In fact, he escorted Bell through the Church on an inspection tour but no bells could be found.
Excitedly, Shadid told of the strange phenomenon at a gathering of members of the Church. The Bells and Croskerys went about their business, hoping the bell ringing would be halted, especially late at night.
But the ringing of the bells where there were no bells meant only one thing to the devout members of the Church it was a message from their patron saint telling them to get a bell and put it in a steeple on the Church. They agreed that the Church must have a bell.
Immediately a campaign to raise funds was started and small contributions began rolling in. Friday, the fund was swelled to approximately $50.00. Not just from Church members here in Oklahoma City, but contributions came also from New York, Ohio, Texas, Georgia, Canada, and from several Churches of the denomination throughout the state.
The bell is a magnificent silver in color, with a giant clapper, and looking capable of ringing a clear toll of St. Elijah in the skies.
Workmen have the steeple half completed and are keeping right at it. In another week, St. Elijah can rest assured that his devout followers have done their duty, for then the bell will be in the steeple.
We are very happy about it, said Shadid. We had been intending to get a bell for five years, but hadnt got around to it until we got the command. Special dedication services will be held within the next two weeks.
Hereafter, when neighbors hear a bell tolling in St. Elijah Church, they will know it is the real stuff, metal against metal.
Because of the bell incident, the parish became concerned about the Church and were ready to fulfill the call. Immediately a fund was raised, a bell purchased and placed in a steeple on the roof of the Church on 30th Street.
Father Shadid continued to faithfully serve the parish of Oklahoma City until his death on April 4, 1938. Reverend Father George Massad was appointed by Metropolitan Antony Bashir of North America to succeed Father Shadid as the priest of St. Elijah Church early in 1937. He had been ordained in St. George Church, Wichita, Kansas, on November 8, 1936, by His Eminence, Theodosius Abourjaly, Bishop of Marjayoun, Lebanon (visiting the United States and who later became Patriarch of Antioch), assisted by Father Seraphim Nassar of Springfield, Illinois.
Father Massad conducted services in two languages, English and Arabic, until 1947. The members of the Church were composed mainly of the older Arabic-speaking generation, although their children spoke English, also. In order to increase the membership and for the benefit of the younger generation, a group of enthusiastic young people headed by J. S. (Jabour) Shadid became interested in organizing a Church choir. After a short time of practicing, the new choir participated in the Divine Liturgy with responses sung entirely in English. After the first service, the congregation was so inspired they raised $400 within an hour to purchase robes for the choir members.
After the end of World War II, the parish continued to grow, especially when the men who had been in the service returned to their homes and families. Because of this sudden growth of the parish, the building on N.W. 30th Street became too small. The members, therefore, thought of building a larger structure. To study this possibility and to raise funds for this purpose, a committee consisting of five of the parish leaders was chosen: B. D. Eddie, F. H. Barkett, H. S. Shadid, Zeak Naifeh, and Fred Monsour. This committee became the first Building Committee.
In order to raise money and to encourage more people to take part in the Church program, the Building Committee traveled from town to town, city to city, within three different states, Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. Their mission was most successful and their goal was accomplished. The Building Committee had secured enough funds to build a large, well-equipped Church building with a recreation hall. The prize silver-colored bell was moved from the old building and installed on the roof of the new structure. The debt of $115,000.00 was paid in full upon completion. A house on N.W. 17th Street and Pennsylvania was purchased for use as a Parish House by the Eddie family, in memory of the late Kamil Eddie. Other numerous gifts and donations were given by members of the Church.
The first Divine Liturgy in the new building was celebrated on Easter Sunday in the spring of 1949. The dedication of the new Church by Their Eminencies Metropolitan Antony Bashir and Archbishop Samuel David was held on the Sunday of the Feast of the Cross, September 14, 1949. This was the same date the first Church had been dedicated eighteen years before. Several auxiliary organizations began: the Sunday School, SOYO (Syrian Orthodox Youth Organization), Junior Guild, and the Ladies Aid Society was continued from the original Church. The Board of Trustees, originally composed of seven members, was increased to 12 in 1952.
Father George Massad served the St. Elijah Parish from 1937 until retiring in 1954. He was succeeded by Reverend Father Michael Welborn. During the next five years, the choir, under the direction of Eddie Jabara and Mickey Wehba, became famous for winning the choir contests in the Southwestern SOYO Region competitions for four successive years and was, upon the fourth victory, permitted to retain the coveted trophy permanently. The Sunday School, SOYO, and other organizations were also functioning most successfully. After five years of service, Father Michael Welborn was transferred to the parish of St. Michael Orthodox Church in Beaumont, Texas. Father George Massad was recalled; after two months of service, he was elevated to Exarch during the St. Elijah Anniversary Banquet by Metropolitan Antony Bashir.
In 1960, Reverend Father Gregory Ofiesh, newly ordained from Pennsylvania, was assigned to St. Elijah. During his tenure, another parish house was purchased on 17th Street. The Pledge Envelope System was inaugurated. After serving the Oklahoma City Parish for almost five years, Father Gregory was transferred to St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in San Francisco, California, in 1964.
At that time, Father Elias G. Karim, who had served the parish of St. Nicholas in San Francisco, California for 12 years and who was known there for the many successful programs he initiated, was appointed by Metropolitan Bashir to be the priest of St. Elijah Orthodox Church. Father Karim was elevated to the rank of Archpriest by His Eminence in Oklahoma City on December 6, 1964.
During Father Karins stay, there were many great accomplishments. St. Elijah Church was placed before the public via newspaper articles, radio, television, and through many public appearances.
More than 400 Icon exhibits and lectures were given by Father Karim to outside organizations within the Oklahoma area. Also, the property around the Church was purchased for future expansion. Now, with
the exception of only four houses, St. Elijah owned the entire block. Many necessary religious items such as the Chalice Set, processional lanterns, crosses, fans, censors, and icons were donated to enhance the beauty of the worship. Progress continued in all aspects of the Church life, from the provision of the infants nursery to the active participation of the members of the Parish Council. The Adult Liturgical Choir won several trophies. The All-girls Concern Choir gave many concerts in addition to their continued active participation in the Divine Services. The Church Chanters continued to serve steadfastly, following the traditions set forth by three most faithful ones of the early Oklahoma City parish: H. S. (Hafeeth) Shadid, L. S. (Lamy) Shadid, S. E. (Said) Samara. All have passed on to their reward.
Beginning in the early part of 1965, many serious debates and meetings were held regarding possible improvement and expansion of the facilities. Some members were in favor of a clean sweep, new location and new buildings; others felt we should remain at 16th and Pennsylvania and build the much needed additions. The tabulations from four valid parish meetings over a six-year period indicated the voice of the people (by better than 2/3 majority) favored expansion of the present location.
A program of doing the building and reconstruction in four stages has been adopted by the parish members. Phase one, the building of an Educational and Social Center, was completed. In addition to the central fellowship hall which is large enough to accommodate 450 people being served banquet style, there are 14 classrooms, kitchen facilities, offices, and reception rooms.
Phase two was to see the construction of a covered walkway between the new Educational and Social Center and the Church building, enclosing a beautifully landscaped promenade. Phase three was to be the enlargement of the Church building to allow the seating of an additional 150 people. And phase four was to be the removal of all the other building now on Church property to make room for additional parking area. After serving St. Elijah Parish with much dedication, Father Elias Karim retired as an active priest of this parish in 1982. In August of that same year, upon the recommendation of Metropolitan PHILIP, Father Constantine Nasr, who had served the Church and parish of Cedar Rapids, Iowa for a period of nine years, took over responsibility of St. Elijah and became the permanent priest.
In the course of the years between 1982 and the present, many activities began to develop toward the future success of St. Elijah. Father Constantine brought with him many blessings for the betterment of our Church. One of the things that has happened since Father Constantines arrival is the development of the Committee on Committees, which birthed several sub committees to help better the Church. Additionally, Father Basil McMurray was ordained Priest and is now serving as Assistant Priest. Father Constantine himself was elevated to the rank of Archpriest. In 1994, St. Elijah was blessed with a youth director, Sub-Deacon Jack Salem. And on September 24, 1995, Father Constantine was elevated to
Economos. The original plans of 1965 changed when a new Building Committee was formed by Metropolitan PHILIP. He named Benny Homsey and Charles Shadid as co-chair of this committee. Their mission was to secure a site and construct a new Church for St. Elijah. That nightly dream of 1965 has become a daytime reality in 1995. The construction of an elegant Church building is now in the making, conveniently located at N.W. 150th and North May Avenue. Our new Church will be of the Byzantine style construction.
This has all been done for the glory of God and the fulfillment of the prayers and wishes of the people of St. Elijah Orthodox Christian Church. All of this for the greater glory of God and Holy Orthodoxy.
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