Leaving its mark: Church plans historical dedication Sunday

By Erika Pedroza | Published Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sharon Dawson wanted to help her church leave a mark on its community.

Thanks to the accreditation of the Texas Historical Commission, she will – literally.

After a two-year waiting game, the 131-year history of St. John Baptist Church in Decatur will be commemorated in an official historical marker.

Making History

MAKING HISTORY – The 131-year history of St. John Baptist Church in Decatur will be commemorated Sunday with an official historical marker. This photo was snapped in the early 1980s, around the church’s 100th anniversary. Submitted photo

“This was something I wanted to do,” said Dawson, a lifelong member of the church. “I thought, ‘We’ve been here all of these years, we should qualify.'”

In 2011 she approached the president of the Wise County Historical Commission, Rosalie Gregg, who helped her fill out the application and gather information on the church’s history and as much documentation as possible to support it.

Church members then collected the money to purchase the marker and waited until this past spring, when they received word the application had been approved.

The marker was finally delivered in May, and a ceremony to dedicate it is planned for 3 p.m. this Sunday at the church.

The event tentatively features the Rev. Charles Allen as keynote speaker. Allen, who preached his first sermon at St. John, is a member of the church’s longest-attending family.

Descendants of past members will also be invited as guests of honor. Although the church now has a small, close-knit congregation of about 10, it once boasted as many as 50 or 60, Dawson said.

“Most have passed on or moved away,” she added. “But many original, founding families are still represented – the Brooks, the Walkers, the Dawsons. Other families, like the Bibles and the Mitchells, have come in, but even they’ve been members for 20 to 30 years.”

By obtaining the historical marker, Dawson hoped to document that legacy and the rest of the church’s history, which began with Missouri Brown starting Sunday school classes in her home in the early 1880s.

Then in the spring of 1882, a group of consecrated women called on the Rev. Morris Anderson of Gainesville to help formally organize St. John Baptist Church.

The Rev. Anderson answered the call himself, becoming the church’s first minister with the Rev. A.R. Griggs of Dallas and the Rev. Tom Wilburn of Fort Worth his associates.

Since the church’s inception, there have been almost two dozen pastors. During the Rev. H.B. Allen’s tenure in 1947, the church’s auditorium was built.

Rev. Eugene Florence, who died last September at the age of 108, shepherded the church from 1963 to 1992.

In the 1960s, the church sanctuary was completed along with a choir room, pastor’s study, dining room, kitchen, bathrooms, new pews and parsonage. The church’s cornerstone was laid in 1962.

“It’s been a waiting game the whole time,” Dawson said. “But it’s all worthwhile. This is a legacy for our families, something so people know we’ve been here, something to help us leave our mark.”

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