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|One of the oldest organizations in the present-day City of North Richland
Hills, Tarrant County, Texas is historic Smithfield Church of Christ. It
is one of only a handful of institutions still in existence which date back
to the time when the older town of Smithfield grew and flourished before
being annexed by North Richland Hills. Since 1960 the church has met at 6529
Smithfield Road, at its intersection with Main Street. From its founding
in 1888 until 1960 it met only a few yards east of its present site, directly
across Smithfield Road.
The congregation can trace its history back to October 25, 1888, when two pioneer Smithfield citizens, J. E. Turner (1842-1917) and his wife, Mary E. Turner (1844-1928), deeded two small lots in the town of Smithfield to the first three "Trustees" of the "Christian church at Smithfield, Texas." Those three pioneer Smithfield Christians were Uriah Milton French (1850-1895)1, Lewis Westmoreland Jones (1817-1895)2, and Thomas H. Garrett (1835-1919).3
While the term "Christian church at Smithfield" might seem inappropriate to modern-day members of the churches of Christ, the names "church of Christ" and "Christian Church" were used interchangeably until the first decade of the twentieth century when a doctrinal schism which had been brewing for years led to a formally-recognized division of the two groups now known by those names.4
The original church site was Lots 1 and 2 of Block E of the J. H. Barlough Survey. The purchase price was five dollars. Strangely, the church did not have the deed recorded in the county records until June 5, 1907.5 The two lots were adjacent, each measuring fifty feet east-west by one hundred feet north-south. Both lots had Smithfield's Main Street as their north lines. In 1888, the north-south street now known as Smithfield Road was called Turner Street,6 and it formed the property's western boundary.
On October 23, 1888, only two days before the church lot was purchased, the Turners had a plat of the "old town of Smithfield" recorded in the county records. The church's two lots are plainly marked.7
We now have only one bit of oral tradition concerning the founding of the church at Smithfield. In 1966 in California at the funeral of Rosa (French) Nance, daughter of founding member Uriah M. French, a statement was read during the eulogy which said in part:
It is difficult to write detailed histories of individual congregations of the older churches of Christ. As Texas church historian Stephen D. Eckstein noted in 1963:
Aside from details gathered from oral history sources, most of the facts which may now be discovered about local congregations in Texas are found in the pages of a prominent and widely-distributed religious periodical, The Gospel Advocate. Begun in Nashville, Tennessee in 1855, it has been published without interruption since that date, save for a short interim during the Civil War. Largely through Tennessee immigrants to Texas who brought the magazine with them and helped spread its circulation here, the Advocate shaped in large measure the way the churches of Christ developed in Texas.10
References to local congregations within its pages are most numerous for churches in Tennessee and Kentucky. While there are scattered references to churches all over the United States in each week's issue, there is no index or finding aid and researchers must simply pore over the old issues line by line.
Notes about specific congregations in Texas diminished to some degree after a Texas-based publication, The Firm Foundation (1884-1983), began to be published in Austin. The organization of the earlier issues of The Firm Foundation makes scanning them for local information even more difficult and time-consuming than searching The Gospel Advocate.
Other than the deed to the church lot, we have only two tantalizing pieces of primary evidence about the Smithfield church during the nineteenth century. Both appeared in the pages of The Gospel Advocate. In the issue of August 28, 1889, the following notice appeared:
In the issue of Thursday, October 20, 1892, a shorter note also appeared:
Even after the days and dangers of the frontier had passed in north-central Texas, churches of Christ continued to hold old-fashioned camp meetings typical of those their ancestors had attended back in Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, and other states. We are certain that several such meetings were held only five miles away at New Hope [now Bedford] Church of Christ in the last days of the nineteenth century, and they must certainly have been held at Smithfield as well.13
Such a camp meeting held in 1886 at Bartlett, Texas, along the Williamson and Bell County line between Waco and Austin, was probably typical of those known by the Smithfield congregation. Pioneer evangelist Carroll Kendrick:
In the years following the Civil War the churches of Christ in Texas became increasingly involved in internal doctrinal conflicts. These led first to bitter discussions, then later to a schism which resulted in a division first formally recognized by the U. S. census bureau in 1906. The two major questions involved the use of instrumental music in worship services and the support of organized statewide or brotherhood-wide missionary societies. The more progressive elements in the church after that time became known as the Disciples of Christ (or Christian Church), while the conservative elements became known as the churches of Christ.15 The Smithfield church came out of the division adhering to the conservative position.
Throughout the period in Texas from the Civil War to the division, the churches of Christ experienced considerable growth in Texas. The greatest growth occurred in North Texas centered around Dallas and Fort Worth.16 In 1906 it is estimated that Texan members of the churches of Christ numbered about 1 per cent of Texans claiming membership in any organized Christian body.17
Jack Tarwater (1912-1999), a member of the Smithfield pioneer Daniel family who were members of the Smithfield Church, could remember from his boyhood seeing the "First Christian Church" sign which hung over the door. His uncle, Tom Tarwater, and family were members.
Another of Jack Tarwater's uncles, Paul Jones Merrill (1885-1949), grew up in the Smithfield community and preached his first sermon at the Smithfield church. Siding with the "progressive" elements, he left the Smithfield church after the "split" and gained some prominence in the Disciples of Christ movement. He later held pastorates at Christian churches in Pampa, Crowell, Hereford, Corsicana, and at Henrietta, Texas, where he preached for fourteen years. Merrill served as a chaplain in both World Wars I and II. He was a member of the Knights Templars and was a Shriner. He also served as pastor of the Riverside Christian Church in Fort Worth for a time. At the time of his death on July 31, 1949, he was pastor of the First Christian Church at Leesville, Louisiana where he died. His body was brought back to Smithfield for burial on August 2, 1949.18
The fact that Mr. Tarwater could remember when the Smithfield church divided over the question of instrumental music indicates that it must have happened around 1920 or shortly before, and not much earlier as it did in many other congregations. Thus Jack Tarwater's memories, via Vera Redding, give us another early preacher's name for Smithfield and an approximate time for the progressives' departure from the church.
Stephen D. Eckstein reports in his book that in 1916 in Tarrant County, Texas there were 2,825 members of the churches of Christ, while the Disciples of Christ claimed 2,541.19 In a report in The Firm Foundation on August 17, 1937 concerning the religious censuses being taken by the federal government at ten-year intervals, J. G.Malphurs suggested that members of the churches of Christ were probably being undercounted since they had no designated officials to make the information known to the government enumerators. Unless some individual member took it upon himself to find the official and give him the information it was probably not made a part of the record in many instances.20
In the years following the split only a few families remained at the Smithfield church. One family was headed by Ed Walker (1870-1954) and his wife, Mattie (1873-1948). The Walkers' daughters, Ruth and Ella, were also faithful members. Without the powerful spiritual influence and example of the Walkers during those years, the church might have lapsed. They led in all the church's activities except in the preaching.21 Mr. Walker was a native of Tyro, Mississippi. He and his family arrived in Smithfield in 1905, where they remained until they moved to Fort Worth in 1936. He was a member of the Smithfield School Board until 1927, when he was appointed to the Tarrant County School Board; he was still serving as a member of that board when he died.22 Walker served as an elder at the Smithfield Church as late as the Great Depression. He farmed and worked in the Smithfield community as a blacksmith.23 After he moved to Fort Worth, Walker owned and operated a service station on East Belknap Street.24
Community oldtimer Philip A. White (b. 1912) recalled in an interview on August 15, 2000, that his mother attended the Smithfield church from time to time as a girl. She was born in 1880. Mr. White recalls that his mother's brother, James H. Prather (1872-1932), his wife, Betty (1874-1961), and their daughters were active in the church in the 1920's and before. Mr. Prather stopped attending church a few years before his death, but his daughters continued to be active and taught Sunday School classes before they married and started families of their own. The daughters were, in order from oldest to youngest, Eura, Nina, Helen, and Opal.
Mr. Prather's paternal grandfather, Jeremiah Prather (1803-1859), was a pioneer gospel preacher in Tarrant County, having arrived from Adair County, Missouri in November, 1857.25 Jeremiah Prather was probably a member of Tarrant County's first church of Christ congrega-tion, which was established at Birdville on February 26, 1852.26
While Mr. White only attended a few services at Smithfield around 1928, he was in almost constant contact with his uncle, James H. Prather, and heard from him several items of church news. Mr. White recalls hearing that one of the elders of the church prior to 1920 was Bro. John T. Overbey (1859-1927), who built and operated the old brick store building which still stands along Smithfield's Main Street about 1,200 feet east of the present-day church building. Overbey died in a Fort Worth hospital on April 2, 1927. His obituary calls him a banker and merchant. His funeral was held at the Smithfield church on Sunday afternoon, April 3. M. H. "Harv" Moore officiated, and Overbey was buried in Smithfield Cemetery.
Mr. White recalls hearing one specific sermon, probably shortly before 1930, in which the preacher used the lesson to be learned from the sinking of the Titanic. "While man was busy building the Titanic," he pointed out, "God was building the iceberg."
Mr. White also remembers hearing that Bro. Milton Harvey "Harv" Moore (1871-1938), a popular and influential preacher in the local brotherhood, sometimes held meetings at Smithfield. Moore may have done more to advance the public image of the churches of Christ in Tarrant County than did any other man prior to World War II. He was universally loved for his many talents and tireless willingness to perform marriages, conduct funerals, and hold gospel meetings, even when he had to travel some distance to do so. 27
The original Smithfield church house sat at the southeast corner of the intersection of Main Street and present-day Smithfield Road. Directly in front of the building was a huge, double-boled post oak which is still thriving today. Another large post oak, also still alive, sat just to the northwest on the same lot. There were several other large oaks on the church lot. A small water hydrant stood under the double oak, and served as the church's only water source.28
The building had long slatted unpainted wooden pews which were arranged to form an aisle in the center. Facing the pews was a small bedroom table which was used as a communion table and as a place to collect contributions. In the back of the building there were curtains in the corners to close off small areas for classrooms. There were no hat racks or coat racks, so those were simply placed on the back pew. 29
In all but the coldest weather the windows were left open for ventilation. There was no indoor running water at the time. Lucas Funeral Home provided cardboard hand fans which helped during the hot months.30
Several older members have recalled that the original white frame building sat facing west. A violent storm once blew the church house off its foundation. After studying the situation, the men decided it would be easier to finish the turn to the north the storm had begun rather than trying to make the building face west again.
A few small photographs of the church house as it existed with additions across the years have survived. They appear to have been taken in the late 1950's.
The Smithfield church is privileged to have as one of its active members Vera (Abbott) Redding, who began attending services there in late 1932. Since that time she has been a dedicated worker and interested observer of the church's history. Her memories of the church, recorded in two publications done by the church in the late 1990's, are the basis of this church history during the last seventy years. In one entitled "Reflections and Smithfield Church History," Mrs. Redding was assisted by Harry Daggett, J. C. Harston, and Kent Matthews. In 1998, member Darlene Smith also put together "Smithfield Church of Christ, 1888-1998," in which she drew on Mrs. Redding's knowledge.
By 1932 the Great Depression was in full swing, and the church house was in need of repair. Bro. L. L. [Levi Lesley] Jameson began preaching that year, and he stayed until about 1936.31 He was remembered as a blusterous and stormy speaker, but very congenial and friendly. He was completely bald. His lack of hair inspired young Tommy Abbot, then about three years old, to tell Barber Cobb (a Smithfield institution in his own right, having cut hair in Smithfield for sixty-four years when he retired) not to cut his hair like the preacher's because he didn't like the preacher's haircut.32
On one cold Sunday in November, 1932, the ground was heavily covered with snow. A cold rain mixed with small hail pellets was falling during the worship service. Everyone was huddled around the coal-burning, potbellied stove when the stovepipe fell, bringing down with it large pieces of the ceiling. One version of the story has a few faithful members staying to finish the service; another says they dismissed because the building was filling with heavy smoke. That same day was the first on which the Abbott family became a part of the Smithfield congregation.33
The Abbotts walked the mile-or-so to church, but like most members of their day thought little of the inconvenience of it. Not many members had automobiles then, and even those who did often did not have enough gasoline to squander it on such "short" trips.34
During the Depression the church suffered along with its members. Evangelist Jameson remained optimistic, and through his good influence and hard work the church began to grow in spite of financial needs and a church house which was beginning to show its age. One of his first projects was to build an outhouse. Next, he put in a new ceiling and a deflecting jacket around the stove so that the warm air would circulate. A water fountain was added to the hydrant which stood beside one of the oaks outside. He also arranged to buy new song books and asked Foy Abbott to help Moody Walker with the songleading.35 During the sermons he would sometimes say to Vera Abbot, "Vera, go see about Rachel," if Rachel [Mrs. Jameson] had been gone too long to the outhouse. Bro. Jameson's favorite song was, "There Is a Habitation." His favorite food was chicken legs.
Bro. Jameson suggested that the church needed a second elder to help Bro. Ed Walker. Brother E. F. "Foy"Abbott accepted the role in 1933. Bro. Abbott served as one of the Smithfield elders until 1981. Both at church and in everyday community life, the Walkers willingly helped the Abbotts in their new Smithfield home.36
After Bro. Jameson left Smithfield in 1936, he was succeeded by evangelist Fred Trimble. Bro. Trimble was a gentle, soft-spoken person, who preached brotherly love within the Smithfield community. He was well-loved by everyone, but had to leave his work after a short time due to illness. He probably preached only for a time in 1936. Vera Redding wrote of him, "...One felt that he was in the presence of angels with Fred." His favorite song was You Never Mentioned Him to Me,' and his favorite food was ice cream. Bro. Trimble died shortly after he left the ministry.37
In 1945 Bro. Wade Banowsky, a member of the Riverside Church of Christ in Fort Worth, volunteered to come and preach on Sunday mornings. He was a popular preacher who worked hard and did much good for the church. This was to be his first term as Smithfield's preacher, and it ended in 1949.
Vera Redding recalls that while Bro. Banowsky was at the church the Abbott family had a dog named Bozo. If the gate had been left open at home Bozo would sometimes come into the church on Sunday mornings during the worship service and would hop up onto the seat beside Vera. Bro. Banowsky would see the dog when he appeared at the door and would say, "Vera, go take care of Bozo," without breaking stride in his sermon. While he preached at Smithfield he was also working as a teacher in the Fort Worth public schools. Vera Redding remembers that his favorite food was anything that happened to be in the ice box.
During Bro. Banowsky's first time of service the church began to grow considerably. A communion table was bought and two trays with individual glasses were purchased. Before that there had been only one cup and the communion service was laid on the table at the front. During those years the church also got an indoor restroom.38
Following Bro. Banowsky two other ministers came for a short time and left: Roy Sterling in 1949 and 1950, and Pat Patterson in 1950 and 1951. Bro. Sterling was unhappy with the singing, saying that singing parts (alto, tenor, and bass) was unscriptual, and that church singing should be chanted. Bro. Stubblefield also preached at Smithfield for a short time after Bro. Patterson left.
At some time after Bro. Stubblefield left, Joe Rhoten came to preach for a short while, perhaps as long as one year. Brother Rhoten was a self-taught gospel preacher, but a well-respected one. He is remembered especially for his stance against women teachers for boys who had been baptized. Sometime after Bro. Rhoten left Smithfield he went to preach at the Bedford congregation.39 The records of the Bedford church show that Bro. Rhoten worked with that congregation from December 1958 until August 1959.40
At the end of Joe Rhoten's time of service, Wade Banowsky began his second term of work at Smithfield. During Bro. Banowsky's second time the church built three new classrooms...one for the primary children, one for the intermediates, and one for the young people. Vera Redding was still serving as the young people's teacher. Brother Banowsky helped to build the classrooms himself. He brought his sander and sanded the floors, including the old splintery auditorium floor. He and Vera Redding painted all the woodwork. Bro. Banowsky was offered a promotion in the Fort Worth school system if he would go to Austin and complete some degree work. He did so, and was made supervisor over all the cafeterias and food distribution in the school system.41 On Sunday, September 17, 2000, Bro. Banowsky was honored by The Fort Worth Star Telegram with a feature article and photograph by staff writer Pat Nimmo Riddle.42
Beginning in about 1955, and continuing for about two years, the church was served again by evangelist L. L. Jameson, who served until Bro. Bob Barnhill came in 1956. During Bro. Banowsky's and Bro. Jameson's years, Smithfield's membership rose from 25 to 60 persons.
Long-time member J. C. Harston recalls a lady visiting in the 1950's who had gone to the church as a child. She pointed out to him where her father once tied the horses. Since some families traveled more than an hour each way to attend services, she said only one service was held each day. It seems possible that this visiting lady may have been U. M. French's daughter, Rosa (French) Nance (1880-1966). In the address made at her funeral in California, it was mentioned that, "...Not many years ago Sister Nance had the pleasure of visiting this pioneer congregation [founded by her father in Texas], which had grown to a solid church of many members."43
The history of the church on its present-day property began on June 18, 1956, when it purchased Lot 6 of the Smithfield Estates addition from E. F. and Eula Abbott.44 A few days later, on July 2, they also purchased Lots 1, 2, 3, and 4 from the Abbotts for a token payment.45 In March of 1959, the men of the church met and agreed to begin a $65,000 project to build a new meeting house on the just-acquired land. On May 3 a building loan application for $70,000 was approved, and church members were asked to sign the note to secure a portion of the loan.
In 1958 two new men became elders of the congregation. One was W. S. "Dub" Couch,46 a member of several pioneer Smithfield families, who served until about 1967. The other was Olen Goldsberry, who served until about 1964. The year 1961 saw both W. A. Letbetter and Elbert Lindley selected as elders. Mr. Letbetter served about six years, while Mr. Lindley served until about 1972.
Early 1959 was a time of unprecedented growth for the Smithfield Church of Christ. In eight out of nine weeks in April, May, and June, newcomers placed membership at Smithfield. The additions continued, but at a somewhat slower rate, through November.
Construction began on the present building on May 31, 1960. Only eighteen weeks later, on October 10, 1960, the first service was held in the new building; two hundred two persons attended. On December 18, 1961, the church bought Lot 5 of the same tract from the Abbotts.47
As completed by late 1960, the church house would seat 530 worshipers and had thirteen classrooms, a minister's study, church offices, and a nursery. By then the two new elders, Olen Goldsberry48 and W. S. "Dub" Couch, had joined Foy Abbott in leading the church. They, along with deacons J. C. Harston, Elbert Lindley, and Marvin Shockey, served as the building committee.
Foy Abbott handed over the duties of song leading to Tommy Abbott, who in turn was succeeded by Don Abbott. Both boys had been taught notes, pitch, time, and tone by their father. Both were in Southwestern Medical University at the time studying to become doctors. Still, they drove home from Dallas to lead the singing.
On Saturday, December 17, 1960, the Smithfield Church of Christ was featured in a long article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The article included photos of Evangelist Bob Barnhill; song leader Don Abbott; deacons J. C. Harston, Elbert Lindley, and Marvin Shockey; and elders W. S. "Dub" Couch, E. F. "Foy" Abbott, and Olen Goldsberry. The article reported that since 1956, when Bro. Barnhill's ministry began, church membership had increased from 60 to 184 persons, and that weekly church attendance was around 200.49 At the time of the founding of nearby College Hill Church of Christ, about one hundred of Smithfield's approximately three hundred members moved there.
On November 21, 1962, a meeting of the church was held during which the elders, E. F. Abbott and W. A. Letbetter, were given permission to purchase a "parsonage" at 7724 Deaver Street. This was Lot 7, Block 5, of the College Hills Addition.50 The church kept the property until February 1, 1983, when they sold it to Ron and Julia Smotherman.51 On May 1 of the same year, the old "white house parsonage" which now sits on the west edge of the church lot was sold to the church for a token amount.
On May 11, 1963, the Smithfield congregation held a barbecue feast for its members, friends, and neighbors. One hundred and eight chickens were prepared on grills, and three hundred people came to fellowship and eat together that day.
At the time of Stephen D. Eckstein's work on the history of the Texas churches of Christ in 1963, Texas contained more congregations and members than did any other state in the nation. Texas then had more than 2,600 local churches and an estimated 450,000 members; this accounted for about 35 per cent of the church of Christ membership in the United States.52
In 1964 Harry L. Daggett began his term of service as an elder, and it continues to this day. In that same year, Doyle K. Fincher also became an elder, and served until 1981. Bill Gideon served a ten-year term as one of Smithfield's elders, beginning in 1971. James Ballard was a Smithfield elder in 1971-1973, and Robert Anderson served in 1972-1973. Bud Chaffin served an eight-year term of service, beginning in 1979.
After about six years of work at Smithfield, Bro. Barnhill had a chance to move to Houston and work with a much larger congregation, and he took the opportunity.53 Gus Eoff, a dynamic preacher, was next hired, but he stayed only a short time during 1963 and 1964. Next, Claud Guild from the Riverside Church of Christ came for a time before he went to work for the Fort Worth Christian Schools.
One Sunday in February, 1965, Sister Cora L. Beck became ill and missed a service of the Smithfield Church. That brought an end to an amazing record of unbroken regular church attendance which stretched back to 1915.54 She died in Tarrant County at the age of 91 on December 21, 197655. Later in 1965, on Sunday morning, August 15, a record total of 334 worshippers crowded into the auditorium for the worship service that morning.
Bro. Guild was replaced by Bro. Charles Hill, whose wife and two daughters added interest to the congregation. Bro. Hill's tenure began in 1966 and lasted until some time in 1968. He was followed by Bro. Woody Stovall, a calm and self-controlled man. He was a very knowledgable preacher and was well-loved. Stovall later moved to Tennessee.
After several interviews with other men, in 1969 Bro. Ron Smotherman from Arkansas was chosen as the church's next preacher. He was well-liked and readily accepted by the congregation. It seemed that about the time Bro. Smotherman arrived, and perhaps for a short time earlier, a wave of dissatisfaction was sweeping through the area brotherhood. Many Christians, in families or small groups, came to Smithfield and the membership blossomed in numbers. Before long many of them left, some to start new congregations of their own, others to join older established churches.
In the 1960's, the average attendance at Sunday morning worship services was 238. By 1972 that number had decreased to 150, with an average attendance on Sunday evenings of 116.
Ron Smotherman preached at Smithfield until 1983.56 He was quickly followed by Bro. Larry Calvin, originally an Everman boy who earned his Ph.D. in counseling.
During the 1980's, the average attendance at Sunday morning worship services was 211 persons, with an average attendance on Sunday evenings of 126. During the 1990's, those averages had fallen to 150 and 105, respectively.
The Smithfield church kept its original 1888 tract of land, across Smithfield Road from its present meeting house, until January 26, 1982. On that date they sold the tract to the First Baptist Church of Smithfield, which still owns it. The old double-trunked post oak, and several other oaks which were standing there in 1888 when the church began, are still standing there today.57
In 1995 Bro. Calvin moved to the Richland Hills church where he thought he could more effectively minister using his counseling skills. He was followed at Smithfield by Bill Paxton, who preached until some time in 1997 and who was followed, in turn, by Bro. George Carman. Bro. Carman and his wife, Hilda, had been missionaries in several areas.
After Bro. Carman left Smithfield, Bro. John Maples of the Richland Hills congregation served as Smithfield's pulpit minister for a little more than one year. Bro. Maples maintained his Richland Hills membership, and taught at Smithfield principally on Sunday mornings.
In 1995, the Smithfield Church of Christ, acting in the capacity of the overseeing congregation, started an urban (inner-city) mission work in an old two-story antique store on Fort Worth's near south side. Naming it Fortress Church of Christ, the church and its members continue to help with funds and active involvement.
In 1998, the church celebrated its 110th birthday. At that time, the church's elders were Harry L. Daggett, Joe Potts, Marvin Reed, and Lyndal Womack. The deacons were Dan Corley and Arthur Smith. Lyndal Womack had been named to the eldership in 1988, and served until the late 1990's.
The church's present eldership consists of three men...Harry Daggett, Marvin Reed, and Joe Potts. Marvin Reed became a Smithfield elder in 1981. In 1998, Joe Potts began his term of service as an elder. Dan Corley, Melvin Harbison, and Terry Cantrell are presently serving as the church's deacons. The church conducts a weekly Sunday School, morning and evening worship services on Sundays, and a Wednesday night prayer, song, and study service. There is also a regular visitation program in which newcomers in the community are contacted and invited to services.
Bro. Avon Malone, a well-known gospel preacher throughout the brotherhood and a member of the faculty of the Brown Trail School of Preaching, became the Smithfield church's pulpit minister in the summer of 2000. He continues to serve in that capacity as this paper was being completed in August, 2001.
This narrative was researched and compiled by Smithfield member Michael E. Patterson, Colleyville, Texas.
This page was last modified 9 Sep 2002.
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