"Don't be dismayed at goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetime, is certain for those who are friends." - Richard Bach?

When the Ganther family arrived in Stephenville on New Year's Day, 1996, they jumped at the opportunity to become active members of the local community.

Pastor Paul brought his wife, Rachel, and children, Hayden and Corinne, to Stephenville, where he took on his new role behind the pulpit of First Christian Church in Stephenville. In less than two decades, the family has given a lifetime of service to Erath County.

When asked about his local accomplishments, Pastor Paul - who is not one to brag - simply spoke of some of the highlights of his service to the community. He chaired, June 1997-June 1998, the steering committee - comprised of 12 people from eight area churches - that established Erath County Habitat for Humanity, a Christian housing ministry. He also served as the chairman of Habitat's board of directors for the first three years. In an effort to increase funds for Habitat, Pastor Paul put the fun in fund raising by bringing the Harlem Ambassador Basketball Show to the area.

When he moved to the city, Pastor Paul almost immediately joined the Stephenville Lions Club. He has spent most of the last 15 years on the club's board of directors and served as secretary for one year.

Meanwhile, he encouraged parishioners to continue to serve the community and asked those who were not involved to follow their example.

"Leaders from First Christian Church have been presidents of the Lions, Kiwanis and Zonta Clubs, helped establish CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and Habitat for Humanity," he said. "They have been - and are presently - servants and leaders in nearly all of the service clubs in Stephenville, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, HOPE, Meals on Wheels and more."

According to church member Yvonne Jenkins, Pastor Paul also makes a special effort each year to honor individuals across the county who volunteer to serve their neighbors.

"He holds a special service every year to honor community members who are office holders and members of local service organizations," Jenkins said. "He invites honorees from across the community and also recognizes church members for their efforts."

In the Ganther family, serving the local community and making the best of their gifts has become a tradition.

Rachel, Pastor Paul's wife of more than 24 years, became a "very active" part of the First Christian Church family. She also served the community as a prevention specialist with STAR (Solutions Toward Addiction Recovery) Council from 2005-2008. She worked as an aide and serves as a substitute teacher within the Stephenville ISD. And her pride shines as a part of the school district's Band Fans.

For Rachel, the family's parting is bittersweet.

"Our kids have grown up here, and both will be at Texas Christian University (TCU) in the fall - Hayden as a senior and Corinne a freshman," Rachel said. "It is a new season in our lives, so we are moving on. I will be around through June - until after Corinne graduates and gets back from church camp. Then we will be moving toward Weatherford or Fort Worth."

Corrine is a senior at Stephenville High School, is active in band and color guard and is listed on the "A" Honor Roll.

Today, Pastor Paul, is preparing to bid farewell to his First Christian Church family and the county as a whole.

For many community members, the Ganthers' departure is also bittersweet. While the community is losing a family that quickly transformed from City of Champions transplants into champions among the ranks, the departure was spurred by yet another selfless act by Pastor Paul, who has taken his service to another level. He expanded his ministry by signing on with the Texas Army National Guard in October, 2008 as an Army Chaplain.

He serves as battalion chaplain with the 111th Engineer Battalion TXARNG of Brownwood.

"The 111th Engineer Battalion is comprised of National Guard units from Abilene, Brownwood, Weatherford, Denton, Stephenville and San Angelo," Pastor Paul said, adding he is preparing to deploy with units from Brownwood and Stephenville. "We are being deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom Afghanistan."

He is closing one chapter of his ministry and penning another as he prepares to serve one year of active duty with the local units.

Saying Farewell

First Christian Church is hosting a special service on at 10:30 a.m. next Sunday, followed immediately by a light lunch and reception for the church family.

For other community members, a "come and go goodbye reception" will be held from 3-5 p.m. next Sunday at the church, located at 450 West Tarleton Street. Event organizers are sending out a special invitation to community members with past and current service with the Stephenville Lions Club, Chamber of Commerce, Paster Paul's 2008-09 Leadership Stephenville class, Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels and Stephenville Band Fans.

For more information, contact First Christian Church at (254) 965-4878.