The First United Methodist Church in Waxahachie celebrated 170 years of serving Waxahachie and Ellis County this past Sunday.
As the members, families and guests visited with one another and enjoyed breakfast burritos, coffee and cake, Dr. Kevin Tully, senior pastor at the church, read a proclamation by Texas State Representative John Wray, a Waxahachie resident.
The church, which carries a mission "To Glorify God by sharing Christ, discipling believers and serving others," was founded in 1848 and was the first established church in Waxahachie.
Tully spoke with the Daily Light about the astonishing longevity of the congregation and what an honor it is to be a part of the historic church.
"To think that this church was established before the Civil War and lasted through that, then going through reconstruction, the Great Depression, World War I, World War II, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, the wars in the Middle East as well as the troubling times during the 1960's, is a truly amazing accomplishment," Tully said. "It is an honor to be a part of this celebration and to realize the thousands of people this church has reached and served."
Jane Ann Shipp, Communications Director at FUMC, also took time to provide a little history as she spoke with the Daily Light.
"This area was all just a frontier," Shipp said. "Circuit Riders (preachers) would travel to cities on horseback to establish churches."
"We were the first established church here, we beat the Baptists," she added with a grin.
In the spring of 1849, Reverend Falacius Reynolds organized a formal Methodist Society and the first service was held shortly after.
The first FUMC building, a 16-foot-by-20 foot wooden framed structure, was erected in 1852 on what is now East Franklin Street. A second building was constructed on the adjoining lot, and it took two years for this worship facility to be completed. This wood-frame structure served the congregation for nearly 40 years after being dedicated in 1856 by Bishop Robert Paine.
During that time, the congregation allowed the Cumberland Presbyterian and Baptists to meet in the building until their groups were able to construct their own holy buildings.
This structure on East Franklin was later used as a boarding house and a tire showroom.
FUMC later moved to a newly-construct brick building in 1893 on College Street, which is what C. A Wilson Company currently occupies. The beautiful brick Victorian style structure had a high-quality pipe organ and stunning stained glass windows.
During remodeling in November 1904, only a few things were saved after the building caught fire. A new building, on the same lot, was completed in 1905 — it was a beautiful Prairie-style building like many Methodist churches during those times with a new pump organ and more beautiful stained glass windows. Over the following 50 years, the building served the congregation, though many expansions and modifications were made.
The final service was held at the College Street location in June 1950, after new land on Marvin Street was purchased. In October 1950, District Superintendent Stanley Williams delivered a message during the groundbreaking service that a war surplus building would later be placed on site.
A respected member of the congregation, W. C. Bynum, delivered the opening prayer, as well.
An Education Building was added to the site in 1952 followed by the Sanctuary in 1955, and an office and Children's Wing in 1967. There was then a groundbreaking ceremony for the Family Life Center in September 1999.
This 24,000-square-foot facility was consecrated in December 2000, and it continues providing space for community events, education and fellowship to this day.
Though FUMC has seen many changes in across country and city during its existence, the congregation still seeks to be an instrument of God's plan and had successfully done so by serving God and the community for 170 years.
Over the course of its 170 years, the church has also grown from nine members in 1848 to over 1,300 members in 2003. Its current membership is at 957.
As the anniversary celebration unfolded on Sunday, June 9, the Daily Light had an opportunity to visit with many attendees and learned several amazing things that are a part of the church history.
The very first couple married in the church were Charlie and Iris Wilson. Tom and Martha Banks Knox married in 1956 and Jim and Annette Curry Cooper married there in 1958.
Annette Curry Cooper and Martha Banks Knox have been members of the church since birth.
The oldest living member, who currently resides in San Antonio, is 108-year-old World War II veteran, Col. Tom Morris, who is also the oldest living alumni of Texas A&M University.
Peggy Carley, a 98-year-old member, has been a part of the church since 1992. She was enjoying a piece of cake and was asked what she thought of the event. "It is nice and the cake is good," she said with a big smile.
Waxahachie Mayor David Hill was also in attendance and shared a little history with the Daily Light.
"In early days many things were organized by Emory Rogers, founder of Rogers Hotel. He would hold services in his home," he commented. He added that Waxahachie currently has 84 places of worship.
A good time was had by all at the 170-year celebration, and Martha Banks Knox summed it up perfectly when she remarked, "This was such a good turnout for this event and it was really nice to see people we don't normally get to see."
This article was updated to reflect Col. Tom Morris' age to be 108 years old, not 102 as previously reported.