TEXAS CITY — Many decades ago, on a bus journeying from Brownwood to Bryan, the self-described “leader of the gang,” then known as Goober, had a Damascus Road-style experience. The impact of a heavenly voice on the young D.N. Benford Sr. has continued through his 69 years of subsequent ministry. Sixty-four of those years have been as the leader of Texas City’s 100-year-old Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church, 302 N. Oak St.
“I was 12 years old on that big old Continental bus, and it was noisy and kids were hanging out the windows, and I got this eerie, eerie feeling in my head,” he said. “At first it troubled me; I didn’t know what it was. All the fun I was having just couldn’t override it, so I finally went to the very back of the bus and wrestled with it — I was about to go berserk. Then I heard a voice saying, ‘I want you to preach.’
“I heard it several times, but I couldn’t nail it down. After seven or eight times, I knew I’d been called to preach.”
Rising Star and its longest-serving pastor have been all but inseparable since he arrived as a young man. Neither of them seems to have any intention of cutting back or slowing down. Today at 84, Benford remains an irrepressible, spiritual force, focused on the church’s youth and the needy, equipped with an impressive drive that many a much-younger clergy might well envy.
As for Rising Star, well, just about any church rounding the century mark in Texas City has had to face explosions, floods and storms. It comes with this geography. But the biggest test for Rising Star happened just two years after Benford arrived and took up his prophetic role here. The defining event is recorded in its official history:
“In 1952 the church experienced tragedy when a fire burned the sanctuary and its adjoining buildings to the ground. But God, by his grace, saw fit to strengthen the congregation and favored the flock to erect a building campus, which today consists of a sanctuary for worship, a fellowship hall and two annexes on the very spot the ashes lay.”
Livenia Washington remembers that historic turning point. Her family goes back some four generations here to the 1930s.
The 76-year-old UTMB retiree was only 12 when that fire struck.
“We were like cattle losing their barn,” she said. “Some may have strayed, but they all came back. We built it all back ourselves.”
Quitting, it seems, just isn’t an acceptable plan at Rising Star, regardless of one’s age.
“Pastor has told us that he has the only job you can’t retire from,” Washington said. “He’s a God-sent man. You’re going up the wrong side of the mountain if you try to talk him out of it. His mold was broken, and there won’t be another like him.”
The Rev. James E. Daniels is on the pastoral staff there with Benford.
“It would take volumes to really talk about the accomplishments of Pastor Benford and Rising Star,” he said. “One of our greatest assets is our family atmosphere. The bedrock of our church is the scripture that talks about training up children.”
Venolia Cobbs-Hackley is another lifelong fan of both the church and its pastor, whom she describes as “well seasoned.”
“This world is in dire need of the good news, and Rising Star does her best to fulfill that obligation,” she said. “We hope you will help us celebrate this first 100 years.”
At a glance
WHAT: Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church’s 100th year celebration parade
WHEN: 10 a.m. today
ROUTE: The parade will travel west down Magnolia Street, turn right on Bayou Road, left on Cedar Drive toward Westward Street and will end at Carver Park.
INFO: Call 409-978-2210, 832-657-9385 or 409-336-1812.
WHAT: Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church’s 100th anniversary service
WHEN: 11 a.m. Sunday
WHERE: Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church, 302 N. Oak St., in Texas City