Church celebrates a milestone

By Roy J. Eaton | Published Wednesday, April 9, 2014

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There was a building boom in Decatur in 1913 and 1914. More than $100,000 worth of projects were underway including a public school, a feed mill, a Masonic lodge – and a church.

The church was the First Methodist Church South, built downtown at Miller and Pecan Streets. That church, now the First United Methodist Church, will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the sanctuary building with a series of events this month, culminating in a Palm Sunday worship service and a luncheon at the Decatur Civic Center.

100th Anniversary

100TH ANNIVERSARY – The historic First United Methodist Church in Decatur sits just off the downtown square at Miller and Pecan streets. The congregation will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the building this weekend. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The sanctuary building, officially dedicated on Easter Sunday 1914, was the third building for Decatur Methodists. In 1881, the first church was built on the property where the present church stands. Legend has it that the church was destroyed by fire in 1893 in retaliation for a “red hot” sermon by a minister supporting prohibition.

Members met in vacant store buildings around the square until the second church was completed. By 1911, the congregation had outgrown the 18-year-old frame structure and plans began for a new building.

In January 1913, the Rev. A.R. Nash called a meeting of the building committee, and it was estimated the new church would cost $20,000. It was to consist of four rooms and a large sanctuary to seat 950 persons.

Construction began in July and regular church services were moved to the Wise County Courthouse until the building was completed.

Easter Sunday was a perfect day to celebrate the completion of the new church. Easter bonnets and fine suits took a backseat to the beautiful new sanctuary as hundreds packed the pews.

The opening of the First Methodist Church South’s new home was big news for the Wise County Messenger. The paper published a front-page picture of the new church, a very expensive process at the time.

There is some confusion over how much the new structure cost. Church records indicate a $20,000 price tag, but the Messenger headline put the cost at $27,000 while the news story used a cost of $25,000.

The story read that the Rev. Mr. Nash delivered a “splendid sermon” and that the new church building “is said to be the most substantial and imposing church structure on the Fort Worth and Denver Railway between Fort Worth and Wichita Falls.”

The paper was effusive in its praise for the Rev. Mr. Nash and said the new church building was “in keeping with the progress and spirit of the growing town.”

The story also mentioned several leaders of the church who “gave freely” to make the building a reality.

When you enter the sanctuary of the church today you basically see the church that was completed in 1914. The worship space is the same, and the extended spaces in the north, south and east sides of the sanctuary were used for Sunday school classes. Classroom space was also provided on each side of the second floor balcony and above the choir loft.

For Methodists, music is an important part of worship. On Easter Sunday 1914, the wife of the presiding elder used a pedal organ to accompany the choir. It was not until 1935 that the Woman’s Missionary Society purchased an organ for the sanctuary.

For the next 25 years the church building remained essentially the same. As the ravages of the Great Depression began to wane and before the United States was engaged in World War II, members of the church began thinking about additional facilities.

Those plans, dated in the fall of 1939, included a three-story structure that would house a fellowship hall and kitchen, a nursery and 14 new classrooms. Plans for the new structure were announced in a front-page story in the Messenger.

“The Methodist people of Decatur plan to build a $20,000 Sunday school structure adjoining the main church building,” the story said. “It will be of the same building material as the church building and will be one of the most comfortable and convenient structures of its kind in this section of the state.”

Through the years there have been other major building projects on the block owned by the church in downtown Decatur. The realities of sweltering Texas summers in the church sanctuary provided the impetus to air condition the building in 1955. Other major projects were completed in 1983, 1995 and 2001. As the 100th anniversary celebration began, church members were planning yet another project on the site of the old Decatur Fire Station, which the church now owns.

The Texas Historical Commission honored the church with a historical marker in 1980.

Bishop Mike McKee of the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church will join the Rev. Dr. Brian Bosworth to celebrate the 100th anniversary at the Palm Sunday morning worship service. Other activities planned include a Friday morning prayer breakfast, a golf tournament at Decatur Golf Club Friday afternoon, a churchwide picnic Saturday afternoon and reunions of former members of the Methodist Youth Fellowship and Chancel Choir.

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