Ten: God Bless Us Everyone

For a time, you could find them scattered throughout Midland. In yards, of course. Even in ones of people who didn’t attend First Methodist or weren’t even Methodists. But also along public thoroughfares and placed in the windows of businesses. The iconic West Texas scene and simple yet powerful phrase caught people’s eye and captured their attention.

That’s what they were designed to do of course. These corrugated plastic black and white yard signs led people across the city to think of First Methodist as that “God Bless Midland” church.

The “yard” or roadside sign has been a staple of advertising for decades reaching back to the early years of automotive travel. Among the most famous are the Burma Shave jingles which first appeared in the early 1920s. Wood eventually gave way to cardboard then plastic as the primary sign medium. Messages “selling” everything from commercial products to politicians, from art shows to concerts, have appeared on these mass produced, easily distributed marketing tools. Churches adopted them to announce revivals, concerts, and special Christmas and Easter events.

With the God Bless Midland Campaign, First Methodist undertook a grander initiative, not one event or season but an entire year built around this basic premise–to bring an extra measure of blessing to the Midland community.

The campaign eventually produced a wide variety of other artifacts, from coffee mugs to wrist bands to gold coins. But it was the basic yard sign with its silhouette of a pump jack that more than any other symbolized this dramatic venture into extravagant generosity by First Methodist.

In the fall of 2010 a team led by Senior Pastor Dr. Tim Walker began turning a vision into a reality. At its core was the idea of dramatically expanding the practice of compassion among the congregation for the city in which they lived through large-scale projects that would stretch them beyond ordinary giving and serving. Projects would be designed with different recipients in mind, but all would bless both them and those undertaking the effort.

Robert Schnase, Bishop of the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church, wrote about such projects in his book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. In discussing ideas for extravagant generosity, he suggested considering big, bold, audacious, even a bit scary, ideas.

As the First Methodist church leadership worked to develop this idea, the phrase “God Bless Midland” became the defining tag for the entire approach. A basic black and white logo was designed and a website established using this phrase.

In late 2010, the God Bless Midland blueprint was finalized. Throughout 2011 there would be several large-scale projects, led by volunteers supported by a church staff person. Each project would include a team of at least 100 volunteers. A seedbed fund was added to the church budget, but the long-range plan was to encourage giving to underwrite these different events and activities. Further, these activities would not replace existing programs, such as AMOS, which would continue as always.

Brainstorming meetings produced a huge number of ideas which were whittled down to a half-dozen. Only those with enough volunteer buy-in and on a large enough scale made the cut. The original six blessing projects included: Feeding of 5,000 people in a single event, Constructing an entire Habitat House, Sponsoring a night at the Rockhounds Ballpark, Holding a Special 9-11 Remembrance Service at the ten-year anniversary of that event, Flowing at the Mall dispensing water to all who entered, and conducting Prayer Walks at every Midland County school facility before the start of the 2011-12 school year. That list would evolve and change as the year progressed.

Church staff member Kaci Rybolt was named coordinator of the program. As each event developed, a coach was assigned and the process of designing the details, recruiting volunteers, and gathering resources began. Media campaigns, both within the church and in the larger community, informed everyone about the program and each specific event. In one of the earliest press releases for church members, Kaci said, “It is going to be an amazing journey as we allow God to bless Midland through our church.”

Flowin’ at the Mall became the first event. On three separate dates in the spring, coach Jil Dolloff led teams who stood at the entrances to Midland Park Mall, opening the doors and handing out bottles of water. As Jill explained the idea, “We are helping the flow of people and sharing flowing water. Hence the term ‘flowin’.” 80 volunteers manned 14 mall doors and distributed over 4,000 bottles of water.

Prayer became the focus of the second event with Dee Kemp serving as the event coach. For a week in April, volunteers rode city bus routes carrying prayers throughout the city. Others visited all the city buildings to pray for local leadership. A team flew over Midland praying for the entire community. A small team of individuals reached the four corners of Midland County to make the prayer net county-wide.

The School Prayer Walk has become a special God Bless Midland event repeated before the opening of each school year.

As summer drew to a close, Coach Karen Walker led 140 volunteers in a School Prayer Walk. Teams visited every public school facility in Midland County offering up prayers for a safe and successful school year for students, teachers, and school administrators.

Scheduling complications moved the feeding event to the Fall. Mark Semmelbeck coached the event and he and his team worked diligently to create a fun evening. While the numbers were less than the original plan, almost a thousand people were provided food and entertainment.

Another 140 volunteers led by coaches Blue Hyatt and Jacob Davidson helped host the Night at the Rockhounds in August, distributing a thousand free tickets and hot dog meals. Team leader Hyatt described the event, “We are going to be able to provide a group of kids who may have never been to a professional game or seen a fireworks show with an exciting evening and, at the same time, show them and their parents that there are people out there in our community who care.”

Robert Hale led a team of 74 in the construction of a Habitat House in September. The group compiled over 700 hours of work time. As part of this project, church members contributed money, almost fully funding the house construction cost of over $30,000 and requiring very little of the seed money for the remainder. They then wrote prayers on the lumber that went into the structure, literally filling the house with prayer. When the house was completed, Dr. Walker led a special event welcoming the family to their new home and giving them several special gifts from the church.

The September 16, 2011 Tower Times issue reported the 9/11 tenth anniversary service.

1600 people attended the 911 Remembrance event coordinated by Valerie Hale and her 147-member team. The ceremony included speeches and reflections from local leaders. Among these was a moving recollection of that day in 2001 by former Secretary of Commerce Don Evans. Then special guest Lee Greenwood gave a powerful rendition of “God Bless The USA.” It was an amazing event!

In November, a group comprising many of the leaders of the God Bless Midland year met to assess how it had gone. Even as they celebrated the tremendous success of all that had been accomplished, plans were made to continue the idea into 2012. A new list of extravagant projects was created.

The Tabernacle Experience contained many moments for special prayer and meditation.

Some events, such as the school prayer walks returned. Other new events emerged. Among these was the bringing of a special full-scale replica of the Tabernacle of Moses to Midland. Visitors listened to an audio tour as they physically walked through the Tabernacle, experiencing a bit of what it must have been like for the Hebrews in the wilderness. A large team of volunteers manned the many stations involved, from gift shops to headset checkout to positions throughout the tour. Hundreds took advantage of the opportunity, including several bus loads of church and private school groups.

By the end of 2012, God Bless Midland had become part of the First Methodist “brand.” For the next few years, the term was given to any large-scale, beyond-the-ordinary church event. A new color logo with the same basic look graced the second generation of yard signs. Special concerts, distributing water at the Fourth of July Children’s Parade, renovation of several elementary campus facilities in more economically-disadvantaged parts of town, all became God Bless Midland events.

A simple phrase that called the congregation to action. An ordinary tool of advertising that became an agent of grace. The God Bless Midland yard sign became a visible image of the Methodist ideal of service, summed up so well by John Wesley. “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”


The First Methodist archives contain fragments of the rich history of First Methodist Midland. Arranging these ten artifacts in order constructs a brief narrative of this congregation of Methodists. Yet, the greatest legacy of this church lies not in these things but rather in the fruits of all the acts of faith, of love, charity, and service that span more than 130 years and which began when that small handful of people gathered and decided, “We need a church here, in this place.” Like the blessed in Psalm 1, First Methodist Midland has been “like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither.”


Nine: A Special Joy

Display Board for Lay Ministry program 1999

As the twentieth century drew to a close, members of First Methodist were invited to attend a Lay Ministry Appreciation evening in the fall of 1999. Each year at least one campaign took place to recognize the large variety of church ministries and recruit church members into service. Among the displays was one created by members of the Community of Joy mission. Spread across three folding cardboard panels, the exhibit celebrated the history of this novel outreach in discipleship.

 In 1990, First Methodist program staff and members of the Council of Ministries began considering the idea of an alternative church service, unlike the standard ones occurring every Sunday. This new effort would not replace traditional worship. Rather, it would provide an option, a “mission outreach,” to attract the “unchurched, ” those folks less likely to venture into a conventional church service.

Community of Joy Worship Bulletin with COJ logo

The vision finally became reality on September 18, 1994. The mission design team chose the name Community of Joy for this new venture with the desire of making that phrase “an identifying reality for the service.” Services would be held at Midland Community Theater on Wadley Avenue and take advantage of that venue to provide drama and contemporary music.

That first Sunday morning began with a pre-service concert. Associate Pastor Mark Alexander welcomed those in attendance, then a music team took the stage to lead the group in songs of praise. Following the offertory, Chris Olsen and Alathea Blischke were the cast for “An Hour on Wednesday,” a short dramatic presentation with a spiritual message. Tanya Eustace played for a time of music meditation and Reverend Alexander then delivered the message. Though the attendance was small, everyone involved felt the venture had begun successfully. 

COJ, as it was often affectionately labeled, became a regular part of First Methodist Sunday morning worship. The praise band Joyful Noise, directed by David Thomas, usually with eight to twelve musicians, provided contemporary music that was “very 90s.” The Rio Wadley Players, directed by Delanna Thomas, performed the dramatic scripts, either produced locally or purchased from national script services.

Snapshots of COJ worship

The message was non-denominational. The entire worship experience was designed to “speak to current problems in contemporary forms.”

As intended, the mission program attracted a non-traditional audience and flourished in its own small way. COJ services appealed to community members who regularly performed in Midland Community Theater productions. Eventually more than 80 actors and actresses became part of the Rio Wadley company.

 There were some tensions and challenges in delivering three services from two locations, but the program continued. It survived changes in First Methodist leadership, as Associate Pastor Alexander was followed by John Rech. Seventy members of the outreach celebrated their fifth anniversary with a “birthday party” at the Polo Park Clubhouse. Those present all agreed that “Contemporary worship is here to stay.”

 In January 2000, a contemporary service was launched at First Methodist, held at 8:30 in the Glass Chapel. COJ continued at the Cole Theater at 10:45 am. An Associate Pastor led both services. The two Sanctuary Services, at 8:30 and 10:35 am, would eventually became the “traditional” ones. By 2001, the Contemporary Service time had moved to 9:30 am.

In 2003, the growing contemporary service moved to the Fellowship Hall and met at the same time as the 10:45 Sanctuary service. The COJ service continued but the stress of managing two contemporary services at two different locations eventually became too much. After nine years, the decision was made to end this unique ministry. The final Community of Joy service took place on September 14, 2003.

 Yet, despite its closing, COJ was a success. It was the first contemporary and first satellite service in Midland. It led the way for First Methodist’s move into a more diverse offering of worship options, a tradition that remains strong. Its bold different approach still provides an example each time new options (such as the Recharge initiative) are considered. In recognizing the contributions made by those who worked so diligently in this outreach, First Methodist Senior Pastor Lane Boyd wrote in the Tower Times, “Tremendous energy and faithfulness has gone into the COJ ministry. We are grateful for their contributions to Christ’s mission.”


NEXT: God bless us everyone

Eight: Commemorative Plate

Ninety seems an odd date for a commemorative year. Grand recognition events usually occur on the 25-year marks. Even the proximity of the nation’s Bicentennial hardly provides enough collateral reason, that event still being a full year away. The manufacturing and sale of a ceramic plate to mark the occasion also appears incongruous.

A previous plate was designed and sold in 1960 in recognition of the 75th anniversary. In 1965, there was virtually no mention of the church’s founding. No celebrations took place. No stories in the church paper. No mention in the columns written by staff.

Yet a ten-inch plate, with a sketch of the church facility on the front and a “brief history” (actually a short paragraph) on the back was produced and sold as a permanent keepsake in recognition of nine decades of Methodist presence in Midland. Upon closer examination, however, a reason begins to emerge. This celebration, while focused on the origins of the church in the community, was less about history and more about a sense of the need to recognize a watershed moment in the church’s history.

On Sunday, January 26 of 1975, Dr. Timothy Guthrie, Senior Pastor, announced in the 11 am service his plan to retire from the ministry in the near future. He provided few details at that time, but soon clarified that he would retire at the end of the ministerial year in June.

The changing of the pastor, often with little advance notice, was an institutional feature of the Methodist Church. In its earlier years, First Methodist regularly had pastors depart after only a year or two in Midland and even in more recent years, turnover often took place in less that five years. Yet, Dr. Guthrie’s coming had changed that pattern.

Pastor Guthrie arrived in Midland in June of 1957 to become Senior Pastor at First Methodist. He remained in that position for the next 17 years. As the church grew in numbers along with the city of Midland during the prosperous 50’s and 60’s, Dr. Guthrie became an institutional figure in both church and community, partnered with another long-tenured figure, Worship Arts Director George de Hart. He was an important player in the demolition of the 1940’s Sanctuary (which had developed structural problems) and the erection of a new and grander facility, dedicated in 1968.

Then, in 1974, Dr. Guthrie led the congregation in a capital campaign entitled, “One Shining Light” that would be the culmination of a six-year master building plan. A final piece of this was the construction of a “small but extremely useful memorial chapel” on the corner of Main and Illinois where the old sanctuary had once stood. The Glass and Johnson families pledged funds for the proposed chapel as a memorial to long-time faithful church member Mabel Holt Glass. The chapel construction plans included the incorporation of materials (stained glass, sconces, and pews). Mr. and Mrs. Paul Davis underwrote the addition of an organ for the new facility. Construction was well underway in 1975 with completion scheduled by the beginning of the following year.

As plans for Dr. Guthrie’s retirement developed, a parallel project began for a ninetieth anniversary celebration as well. The two were linked, as the Guthries planned to live in Midland following retirement. The April 11th issue of the church paper included a resolution commending Dr. Guthrie for his years of service, enumerating the many projects he had overseen as the church’s leader, and expressing the “love and deep respect” and “gratitude and appreciation” of the congregation.

That gratitude included more than words. Dr. Guthrie was given the unique title of “Pastor Emeritus” and the opportunity to continue working as a Special Associate Member entitled to work “as willing and able” for which he would receive a salary of $210/month. More importantly, he and his wife would be provided a “special parsonage” in which to live. A committee, headed by Stanley Erskine, located a residence at 1401 Country Club Drive. Pat McNair headed the committee to raise the needed funds, which was quickly achieved.

Seven hundred members of the congregation attended the Guthrie retirement reception on May 25. In addition, numerous guests from around the Northwest Texas Conference and beyond were present, reflecting Dr. Guthrie’s prominence among the clergy. Many community leaders also came by to thank Dr. Guthrie for his civic leadership in Midland.

Charles Lutrick received the assignment to assume the pastorate at First Methodist. On June 22, the church held a reception to recognize the new incoming pastor.

That same month, an Anniversary Task Force was created. Ray Gwyn became chairman for the ninety-year observance. Saturday August 23 was scheduled as the big day, with “dinner on the ground,” a display of relics from yesteryear, and a program which included former pastors as speakers. The approaching national Bicentennial had an influence on events. The day would include a performance by a bicentennial band and those attending were encouraged to dress (incongruously) in colonial costume!

Even as the different events of the year transpired, work continued on the Glass Chapel. The dedication took place on February 29, 1976 with the new building filled to overflowing. On March 7, Vespers moved to the chapel. The first weddings were already on the calendar. The Glass Chapel quickly became an integral part of life at First Methodist.

New Pastor Lutrick may have felt a bit like a latecomer to the party but he gamely included comments about historic features of the church in his weekly column in the church paper. Several issues also included historic notes and photographs of the different church buildings provided by Ray Gwyn.

The anniversary event went off successfully. Former pastors Marvin Boyd and Howard Hollowell attended and provided interesting sermons. Everyone attending had a grand time. 

Thus, when the Buddy Wood Class, decided to produce their second commemorative plate, they may have subconsciously been recognizing the dramatically changing present as much as the storied past. While the back of the plate contained a brief note on the church’s mythic origins and listed the various buildings in which Midland Methodists had worshiped, the front included a sketch with the new chapel in place–a profile not there only months before.


NEXT: A New Joy

Seven: Singing With de Hart


 Imagine the difficulties for a moment. Getting that many people to stand still, much less having them face the bright sunlight in their choir robes. Expecting the youngest children to remain motionless at the front without supervision. No fidgeting. No bothering your neighbors. Asking them all to look into the camera. And with an expression befitting the importance of the occasion. And, of course, no scowls or inappropriate faces from any of the young men clustered in the center of the photograph.

And they did. There they stand–The First Methodist Choral Union in May of 1955. One has to be impressed with the professional-looking result, though a closer examination does reveal heads turned here and there, a few eyes closed, and one or two less-than-enthusiastic expressions.

On the far left, wearing an appropriately proud smile is the man most responsible for this assemblage–Mr. George L. DeHart. His tenure at Midland forever changed the music program of the church.

First Methodist Choral Union May 1955

In October, 1950 The Midland Methodist, First Methodist’s church newspaper, resumed publication after a three year period of inactivity. As it had in its earlier years, each issue included a weekly church calendar, activity reports of different groups within the church, and messages from church staff.

The initial October 5 issue also contained a message from the new Ministry of Music Director. George L. DeHart, a graduate of Westminister Choir College, Princeton, New Jersey, had assumed his duties on September 1. DeHart expressed his excitement at being in charge of the First Methodist Music Ministry and the warm welcome he had received. He began work on implementing a Westminister Plan of graded choirs which would “provide an opportunity for people of all age levels to develop the art of Christian leadership through music.”

The hiring of DeHart marked the first time the church employed a professional Minister of Music. In prior years, various volunteers or part-time staff led the music program. Pianist and organist were also church members who assumed those duties. While volunteers remained an important portion of the music program, it would hereafter be led by a paid staff member.

DeHart organized a set of choirs to encompass all ages. The Carol Choir included children in Grades 1 through 3. Fourth through Sixth graders formed the Junior Choir. The Youth Choir included Grades 7 through 12. Adults, and sometimes advanced youth singers, made up the Chancel Choir. DeHart also instituted a handbell program for young boys in grades 7 through 9, whose changing voices often created problems for their singing.

The success of this program eventually led to the formation of an adult handbell choir in the fall of 1965. A pioneer ecumenical group of seven women (representing six different churches) formed the first choir as a fun way to perform community service. Their first performance was for the Golden Agers, one of the adult Sunday groups, in December of that year. They played for a variety of venues, including the First National Bank during the Christmas season.

The Schantz Sanctuary Organ was dedicated on May 5, 1968 in a special evening Dedicatory Recital.

When Mrs. Raiford Burton, in memory of her husband, underwrote the purchase of a Schantz pipe organ in 1968, DeHart, planned the components of the instrument, which eventually grew into a fifty-one rank pipe organ. Since its installation, that organ has been played by a number of outstanding musicians, including several of the Worship Arts Directors.

George DeHart remained the leader of the First Methodist music program for an amazing 29 1/2 years, finally retiring in December 1979. Over the years, he directed many special worship programs for the church and performed in numerous community events. The handbell choir became an all First Methodist group and grew to include men. They continue to perform on a regular basis.

With DeHart’s departure, Ted and Candace Markle accepted the leadership of the program for a couple of years. They would be followed by many directors over the years, some staying for nultiple years, but none approaching the tenure of DeHart.

Children and Youth Choir perform in the 1980s

The Worship Arts program would remain professionally led, except during the interim periods between directors. Each new director benefited from the foundation of his or her predecessors.

Changing times brought an expanded program of music in worship. The formation of a Contemporary Worship Service involved a new group of performers who brought different instruments (guitars, drums) into the services. The children and youth choirs evolved into slightly different formats and the boys handbell choir disbanded.

The De Hart Trumpet still remains a selection on the Sanctuary organ.

The organ designed by DeHart almost a half-century ago continues to occupy an important role in Sunday morning worship in the Sanctuary.

As the notes of this impressive instrument roll out across the room, blending with the voices of the Chancel Choir, First Methodist’s worship music still comes, in a sense, from DeHart.

NEXT: Commemorating Change

Six: Not The Times


In mid-January 1946, the members of the First Methodist received something new in their mailboxes–the first issue ever of a newspaper for their church. Entitled The Midland Methodist, the edition was printed on a single sheet of 8 ½ by 11 inch paper, folded to create four pages. The front page of Volume 1, Number 1 included a photograph of the church facility, completed only three years earlier. There was also a message from Reverend Howard Hollowell, appointed to Midland just two month before.

Pastor Hollowell described the rather lofty goals of this new venture:

It is our purpose to give adequate mention of the various activities and organizations of the Church. . . .Therefore, this parish paper, to be published once each week, will endeavor to present various articles of information and of inspiration for the edification of the membership of this great Church. To this end we dedicate our efforts, and we ask your co-operation and prayers.

The inside pages of this first issue also included a greeting from the new Church staff members. As First Methodist continued its sustained postwar growth, more paid staff were both desirable and affordable. Alice Fleming served as Secretary and Director of Youth Work. Ms. Fleming challenged parents to involve their children in the Methodist Youth Fellowship. She told them, “Each new generation of youth is another God-given opportunity to lift mankind toward God!” and then asked (in capital letters), “WHAT ARE YOU AS PARENTS GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?”

That simple first paper delineated a watershed moment in the history of the church. It represented the growing size of the congregation, requiring more creative means of communicating with them. It indicated a more professional world, where a church news column in the local newspaper seemed antiquated, something that no longer belonged in the burgeoning city of Midland. It also marked the beginning of longer pastor tenures, allowing them to become more influential, and more responsible, in shaping the direction of the local congregation.

Hollowell’s little paper launched an initiative at First Methodist that has continued, albeit with some interruptions, under different names, and through a variety of different formats (eventually becoming digital) down to the present day. The weekly church newspaper begun by Pastor and Editor Hollowell was forever after an important feature of religious life at First Methodist of Midland.

The young pastor who so boldly launched the church’s first newspaper had grown up in the Northwest Texas Conference. Born in a small town south of Sweetwater in 1907, Howard H. Hollowell was a graduate of Sweetwater High School. He earned a Bachelor of Arts from McMurray College, then did post graduate work at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. He began his ministerial career in 1937 as an associate pastor in Abilene. Thirty-seven year old Hollowell arrived in Midland with only seven years of experience. Accompanying him were his wife Aretta and their eleven year old daughter Helen Joyce.

The paper Hollowell edited included features that became fairly standard over the years. The pastor’s column provided a forum for Hollowell to speak to the congregation beyond the Sunday morning pulpit. While not always earning the front page, it became a weekly element of the paper. His columns offer devotionals or reflections. At other times, they recognized the work of church volunteers. In one issue, he praised organist Mrs. J. Holt Jowell and the “unusually competent” church choir for their dedication and outstanding performances. Another issue recognized the work of the ushers. Hollowell also found editorial space for more personal thoughts and comments, such as low attendance for Sunday evening services (only ten percent of the active membership). He regularly signed his pieces, “H. H. H.”

Dated on Thursday of each week, the paper was designed to arrive in time to include the latest information about upcoming events for the following week. Along with the weekly calendar, new members were listed, including their addresses. Short reports or editorials exhorted the congregation to action or thanked them for their efforts. A subscription cost fifty cents a year.

Events and meetings of different church groups also appeared regularly. The Methodist Youth Fellowship enjoyed Sunday night fellowship. The Friendly Builders Class sponsored a forty-two party on a Wednesday evening. The Roy McKee family donated a Pulpit Bible in honor of their son.

Major events in the growing city also gained mention in the paper. The February 7 issue commented on the campaign for a new hospital and even provided instructions on donating to the Midland Memorial Foundation. First Baptist hosted a Union Service for the Boy Scouts, Cubs, families, and friends.

Other items were more lighthearted. The young people’s group asked for help to locate the manikin they had borrowed from a local department store for the Christmas play. The model, attired in a black suit, had disappeared. The youth hoped someone could advise them of “the whereabouts of this suit or manikin.” And Mrs. J. M. Protho lost her square aluminum utility pan.

While the modern reader might smile at these items from a simpler time, other entries provide reminders that those days, too, held their own challenges and darker times In its first issue for 1947, The Midland Methodist  noted President Truman announcement of the official end of the Second World War on the last day of 1946. Even as one peace was celebrated, the seeds of future conflicts were already sprouting. That January 2 issue also included a column by Pastor Hollowell noting the growing tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech earlier in the year captured the increasing division among the former allies. Hollowell commented, “Maybe it is wishful thinking, but it seems all of us ought to breathe a prayer for the rebirth of honesty, humaneness, and sanity in all the relationships of life.” The world still awaits the answering of that prayer.

Other items have taken on new significance with the passage of time. The September 3, 1947 issue’s list of infants baptized included Laura Lane Welch, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Bruce Welch, and future First Lady.

The Midland Methodist ended its run as the official organ of the church with that September 3rd issue. In October, 1950, the paper was reborn. This time, different individuals and groups pledged to pay for the cost of one month’s printing–$135, including postage. Mrs. Daryl Davis underwrote the first month.

That year also marked the first pastoral transition recorded by the church paper. Events in Dallas led to Hollowell’s appointment as pastor at Oak Cliff Methodist in Dallas. He left at the end of 1950. The final issue of The Midland Methodist for 1950 included a photograph and brief message from the new pastor, Luther Kirk.

In 1951, the paper became a monthly, then ceased once more.

It was reborn as a weekly again in 1953, now in full newspaper sized mode. Published by Church Week in Fort Worth, the paper took on the basic format that endured for many years. The front page (and, rarely, a second page) contained local church news. The remainder of the paper included copy produced by the publisher, usually national and international news and a variety of religious filler. The rather generic banner included the name The Midland Methodist Edition of Church Week.

In 1955, the banner was more personalized. Now, entitled First Methodist Midland, it included a detailed drawing of the sanctuary.

A decade later, The Texas Methodist assumed publication of local Methodist church papers. The format remained similar, though the back page was now devoted to Conference news and the interior material was more aligned to Methodist doctrine and issues.

In 1968, the banner included the new sanctuary, constructed in the 1960s, as well as the 1940s facility. The title became First United Methodist Church. In July, 1975, only the 1960s Sanctuary sketch appeared.

Finally, in January, 1992, the church paper became the Tower Times, the name it continues to bear. A less detailed, more impressionistic sketch of the Sanctuary and bell tower replaced the older drawings. Eventually, a bell tower sketch would become the primary logo.

In 2008, the paper began publication in a smaller format. In 2010, The Texas Methodist ceased publication and the Tower Times became a weekly digital newsletter, which it remains today. For some 70 years, First Methodist has provided its members with a publication to instruct, inform, and inspire them. The church archives contains a fairly complete collection of these communications. Printed in lower quality formats, they grow increasingly fragile. While they endure, they provide a rich and detailed window into Methodist life and faith on Main Street.

Next: Singing with DeHart







Five: Final Service Bulletin


On August 4, 1940, members of Midland First Methodist gathered for the final time in the little church the congregation had erected in 1907. A note in the church bulletin recalled how, thirty-three years earlier, “devout Christian men and women erected this temple, dedicated to the worship of God by its members. . . . This house of worship is a testament to their faith, to their love for God. Around it there hovers today some of the tenderest and most cherished of memories. . . . It has been a shining beacon of safety in this community . . . . Its passing brings regrets.”

There was no sermon that day. Building Committee members Charles Klapproth and M. C. Ulmer spoke of the long process that had finally brought them to this point. The little church closed its doors for the last time. By mid-October, it was gone.

The day was one of celebration rather than sorrow, however, as it marked the beginning of a new phase in the life of the church. For more than a decade, church members dreamed of and struggled with the possibility of building a new and more grand sanctuary on the corner of Main and Illinois. And now, as the old structure was demolished, the dream was finally becoming reality. Not even the outbreak of the international struggle that became World War II dissuaded the Midland Methodists from their mission to erect a new sanctuary.

Years earlier, in December, 1928, church members received a budget proposal packet that included plans for significant renovation of the church building. This “larger budget” was nearly double that of the previous year. The city of Midland, and the congregation of First Methodist had grown dramatically in the decade of the Twenties following the discovery of vast oil resources in the Permian Basin. Midland entrepreneurs worked industriously to attract petroleum-based companies. Construction was already underway at several sites within a few blocks of the church, including T. S. Hogan’s Petroleum Building, with its decorative stonework and crenelated spires and twelve stories of office space.

Yet that sense of optimism would be short-lived. The prosperous days of the late 1920s across Texas and the oil boom days in Midland came to an abrupt end in October, 1929. The Stock Market crashed on October 24, “Black Thursday,” and stock prices plummeted. Panic selling led to a complete stock collapse the following week and by “Black Tuesday” banks were calling in loans. $30 billion in stock values had vanished by mid-November.

Though Midland was not hit as hard by the falling stock values, the community began to feel the bite of the spreading depression by the summer of 1930 with the plummeting of prices for cattle, cotton, and oil. The discovery of vast oil reserves in East Texas in the fall of 1930 only exacerbated the decline in oil prices.

The plans for a new Methodist church building never made it off the drawing board.

As oil prices stabilized in the latter 1930s, Midland resumed growing, as did First Methodist. In a single church quarter, 84 people joined the church, thirty-one by baptism. Additional communion glasses had to be obtained to adequately serve communion.

Sunday school space remained the greatest impediment to growth, even as the primary and children’s division number increased. “To be convinced of this fact,” Hines commented, “one would only have to observe our crowded conditions on Sunday morning.” Teacher Ray Gwyn recalled one especially congested Sunday. “I remember teaching a class of young people in the sanctuary pews, with another class in front of me and one behind me, three more across the aisle, one class in the choir loft and one in each vestibule.” The Sunday school leadership did not even hold a membership drive because the facilities were inadequate for those already attending.

There was little hesitation at the close of 1939 when the First Methodist Building Committee, consisting of M. C. Ulmer, Charles Klapproth, George Glass, J. C. Miles, Mary Scharbauer, and Pastor William Hinds, asked the congregation “What are you willing to build?”

The members gave the Building Committee a clear answer. It was time to erect a new educational building and a new church as well. Final design and plans for the new structure were completed with a projected cost of $750,000. 740 church members pledged over $122,000 for the project.

The August 4, 1940 Final Service bulletin included a photograph of the old sanctuary on the front and a drawing of the future church on the back entitled “Our new pride and joy.”

Inside was the order of worship for the service, which began at 11 am. Mrs. De Lo Douglas directed the choir, accompanied by Mrs. Holt Jowell on the piano. Mrs. Roy Parks sang “I Shall Not Pass This Way Again” as the Offeratory solo. After Charles Klapproth and M. C. Ulmer spoke, the congregation sang “Blest Be the Tie that Binds.”

The page opposite the worship order contained an essay entitled, “Lest We Forget–An Appreciation.” It recounted the dramatic changes in Midland during the years this church had stood. It spoke with heartfelt nostalgia of the many events that had taken place within its walls. It concluded on a more positive note, “Its passing brings regrets but these are swallowed up in the joy that is ours with the building of a still greater temple to Him.”

During the construction, Sunday morning services were held in the Ritz Theatre a block south on Main Street. For evening worship, members chose the service of another denomination to attend. Other church meetings were held in the Sunday School Annex across the street. The young adult Fellowship Class first met in the parsonage, but quickly outgrew that space. They relocated to the Ritz and eventually moved to the Ellis Funeral Home on Ohio Street. Church membership continued to grow steadily.

The events of 1941 offered challenges, but construction continued. An increasing awareness of the global struggles brought the realization among West Texas oilmen that their petroleum resources would be crucial to success in modern mechanized war. In November, First Methodist received a new pastor with the appointment of Walter Carl Clement.

December 7, 1941 was a Sunday unlike any other, as news reached congregations across Texas and the nation of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. One week later, on December 14, the first troops assigned to Midland Army Air Field arrived, transported by night along a railroad siding directly to the new base. Texas, like the nation as a whole, quickly responded to the call to war. No other state contributed a larger portion of its manpower to the conflict.

Despite the wartime demand on resources, work continued on the new church facility, which was completed in early 1943. Bishop Ivan Lee Holt spoke at the dedicatory service for the new Spanish-style structure on May 2, 1943. A new Wurlitzer organ donated by Mr. and Mrs. George Glass in memory of her parents provided accompaniment to the hymns. Along with the Holt family, other pioneer church members were remembered, including Phil and John Scharbauer, Mrs. Marie Riggs, and J. W. Bullock. Bishop Holt led the congregation in the words of dedication. Together, they reminded one another, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” For a church now numbering almost 1,000 active members, the days of meeting in theaters and funeral homes were over.

For the third time, the members of First Methodist had raised a sanctuary, each one more majestic than its predecessor. With each time of change, there was an understandable degree of sadness, of mourning that which was passing away. For each congregational generation, the former church had been their church. The particular building; the unique space in which they had worshiped. Where they had shared good times and bad. Celebrations and funerals.

But each change also marked the reality that they had outgrown the space for the faith they had inspired. A new and larger congregation entered the new space, which now became our church, until that building in turn became too small.

Again, in the 1960s, the members would level the old sanctuary to make space for a new one. Once more, there was the same mix of nostalgia and excitement.

Though the 1968 sanctuary remains, the First Methodist congregations have never ceased to renovate and remold their space on Main Street in response to change. And, as long as men and women of faith gather for worship on North Main Street, they will continue to do so. And final will continue to become finally , something new.

[NEXT: Not the Times]

Four: On the Edge

In the Fall of 1906, Pastor Nat Read received reappointment as Midland’s pastor at Annual Conference. However, he had to travel south instead of north to learn this. In a bit of geographical rearranging, the Texas Methodist church redrew some of the Conference boundaries. When Read returned, the Midland congregation learned that their church had changed conferences.

What remained the same was their relative location. Lying on the southern rim of one conference, they now found themselves at the far northern edge of another. Though little was entered into the official record until years later, most members probably did not view the change as in their best interests.

From its beginning, Midland Methodist always seemed to find itself on the edge of the map. When the church began as a congregation that gathered whenever a circuit rider passed through, Midland was a tiny frontier town. This part of western Texas contained only a handful of settlements, most of them scattered along the route of the Texas and Pacific Railroad. The coming of the railroad helped change that, however, providing easier access to much of the region.

The rapidly shifting West Texas population led to redrawing of Methodist conference boundaries within Texas. In 1886, the Panhandle became part of the Northwest Texas Conference. The southern edge of the revised conference actually bisected Midland County from east to west. The city of Midland lay just across the boundary in the West Texas Conference. West of Midland, the Trans-Pecos region fell within the New Mexico Conference.

In 1894, the southern boundary of the Northwest Texas Conference was tweaked to include the town of Midland. Midland Methodist remained in the conference for over a decade until its reassignment back to West Texas in 1906.

San Angelo hosted the 1907 West Texas Annual Conference meeting in early November. Midland Methodist Episcopal, South became part of the San Angelo District. The counties just to the west were annexed into the New Mexico Conference. In 1907 the West Texas Conference still remained a vast territory which included the southwestern half of Texas. The conference encompassed over 83,000 square miles and extended from Midland County at its northwest corner to Brownsville at the southern tip of the state, almost 700 miles from Midland.

In many ways, this was not a good fit for Midland. Lying on the southern edge of the Llano Estacado, the community and church had more in common with neighbors to the north than to the south. Also, the city of Midland had somewhat of a commercial rivalry with San Angelo. From its beginnings, when Midland County was formed from Tom Green County, the two had sparred over their influence on the space between them. To be assigned to a San Angelo district might not have set well with church officials who were also prominent businessmen.

The Fourth Quarter reports of 1913 do record some dissatisfaction with Midland’s assignment. Church stewards voted on a petition to the General Conference to move Midland back to the Northwest Conference. The vote was split, however, five for, two against. The petition went unheeded. Midland remained in the West Texas Conference.

With the discovery of the large oil resources in 1923, the rivalry with San Angelo intensified. The early oil strikes lay along the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railroad, which ran through San Angelo and gave that city rapid access to the new oil fields and boom towns that sprang up. Midland leaders, including prominent Methodists such as B. Frank Haag, lost little time in initiating efforts for improved highways south from Midland to the new oil fields. As Midland’s growth as a business hub for the Permian Basin oil fields began to eclipse that of San Angelo, the new oil city had even less in common with most of its rural neighbors to the southeast.

In December, 1933 the Midland church officially began an important process of change. Reverend Kenneth Minter, who had been returned to Midland for another year, opened the church year with a sermon entitled “Looking Forward.” At the First Quarterly Conference of 1933-1934, the members present voted for Reverend Minter to call a church conference to consider transferring the Midland church back to the Northwest Texas Conference. Presiding Elder S. L. Batchelor would act as the church’s agent in the transfer. Even as they voted to begin the process of moving, the group also appointed a committee, consisting of Fred Wemple, W. I. Pratt, N. Y. Oates, and Kenneth Minter, to analyze the merits or demerits of the transfer. The merits must have outweighed the demerits as the Midland Methodist Church rejoined the Northwest Conference in 1934 and became a member of the Sweetwater District.

First Methodist Midland has remained a member of the Northwest Texas Conference since that date, looking to Lubbock for leadership rather than among its oil-based neighbors, who largely lie in other conferences.

One other important change occurred in 1952. Between 1948 and 1958, all major cities in the Northwest Conference saw the creation of new churches. St. Mark and Asbury Methodist were established in Midland during these years under the leadership of First Methodist. At the 1952 Annual Conference, the Sweetwater District was dissolved and Midland became part of the new Big Spring District, where it has remained.

Studying the changing conference maps reveals Midland’s consistent location near the conference boundaries. That status, and the moves back and forth to neighboring conferences, may represent Midland’s unique position, not quite completely at home in any of them. First Methodist, in some ways, remains a frontier church, on the edge of the map.


[NEXT: The Final Service]



Three: Stained Glass Memories

As the design for the new church became more detailed it included plans for three large sanctuary windows. Memorial gifts would underwrite the cost of these windows. O. B. and Viola Holt knew they wanted one of these windows to honor the memory of their daughter, Cornelia, lost at such a young age. That window would illuminate worship for over five decades and become a treasured artifact of First Methodist enduring to the present day.

 In May 1906, at the Quarterly Conference, members of Midland Methodist Episcopal Church, South elected a building committee and launched their first capital campaign. They felt they had outgrown the original church of the congregation. This small wood frame building had been constructed with funds loaned by the Methodist Board of Church extension. Midland was rapidly changing as well, with brick building rising along Main and Wall Streets. It was time for a larger, more permanent edifice.

On May 15, members drew up a statement pledging to fund construction of a building of stone or brick, costing no less than $10,000. The largest contributors, promised $1000 each and signed the original typed pledge sheet—John Scharbauer, W. H. Brunson, Sunday school superintendent E. R. Bryan, and cattlewoman Marie Riggs.On five carbon copy pages of the pledge, other church members signed their names and wrote down their pledges. $500 pledges included C. A. Taylor, F. E. Rankin, Phillip Scharbauer and Dr. J. F. Haley. Pastor Nat Read pledged $100, along with the First National Bank and former church trustees M. M. Pitman who had moved to Cleburne, Texas. O. B. Holt pledged $250, as did J. T. Blair and E. C. Good “and wife.” The names and commitments continued in smaller amounts—church steward Charley Gibbs and newspaperman C. C. Watson, $50; Burton Lingo Lumber Company, $50; Henry Rohlfing, $25; Ned Watson, $10. Each pledged what he or she could, down to $5, but all 65 firmly added their names to the list. With pledges in hand, the stewards began work on turning their vision into a brick and stone reality.

 Architect S. P. Herbert of Waco worked with church officials. He located W. P. Nugent and DeFord, General Contractors and Builders from Stephenville, Texas. The firm proposed to construct the new church according to plans and specifications for $10,750. Herbert promised E. R. Bryan, “While your building may not cost as much as the Baptist, I think your people will like it much better.”

Work began in summer 1906. What the contractors could not buy in Midland was shipped in by rail. Nugent and DeFord attempted to use available local labor, if they were “sober and reliable.”

While materials and manpower were being acquired, trustees ordered furniture for the new church. The Texas Seating Company delivered 31 oak pews for the sanctuary, an oak pulpit, and three oak chairs trimmed in black leather for the pulpit area, as well as 30 oak opera chairs and 42 book racks.

Trustees formed a separate contract with Dallas Art-Glass Company for the church windows. The vestibule entrance would have two windows. The twelve windows in the Sunday school room were to contain emblems, three of them being the Epworth League design and motto, “All For Christ.” The Sanctuary would have 18 windows, each measuring 32 x 34 inches. Eight transoms above the doors would correspond in design and workmanship.

Three larger sanctuary windows contained memorials. The south window depicting The Annunciation was in memory of Irene Wood Taylor. The north window depicted Christ Blessing the Children honored Hattie Belle Goldsmith. The west window, entitled Rock of Ages was in memory of Cornelia Holt, daughter of O. B. and Viola Holt, who died from a childhood illness in 1902 at the age of 10. Each memorial window included a name plate with the memorial details. All the windows were to be made from “the best pearlescent glass, interspersed with jewels” at a cost of $1.00 per square foot.

On Thanksgiving Day, November 28th, 1907 the local Masonic lodge led the ceremony to lay the cornerstone for the new building. Freemasons have historically performed a special ceremony at the laying of cornerstones for new buildings, especially churches and public buildings. At three o’clock in the afternoon, a procession began at the Masonic Hall, located in the First National Bank, on South Abilene Street.

Arriving at the church, the Midland Orchestra performed a music selection. Masons then performed the cornerstone ceremony. The stone was checked to be certain it was square, plumb, and level to ensure the building would stand strongly on a solid foundation. The cornerstone was consecrated and symbolically tapped in place with a gavel. Judge E. R. Bryan gave an address on “Freemasonry,” followed by a Pastor Nat Read. The ceremony concluded with a prayer for the new church.

Once the church was finished, the new stained glass church windows glowed at night with illumination provided by tantalum electric lights installed by the Midland Light and Ice Company.

The window chosen by the Holt family, depicted a young woman clinging to a stone cross as storm waters swirl around her.With her other hand she holds tightly to a second girl caught in the water below her.

From 1907, until the early 1940s, this window shed its light onto Abilene Street, proclaiming the message that the solid rock of Christ provides hope, shelter and strength for all. But it also provided an apt image for the little church itself.

When a new, larger sanctuary was begun in the early 1940’s, the brick church was removed to make way for the new place of worship. Several pieces of the stained glass, including Cornelia’s window, were saved and placed at the front of the church, behind the chancel area. They remained there until that church building also gave way to a new facility in the 1960s.

Cornelia’s window was stored until the completion of the Mabel Holt Glass Memorial Chapel (named in honor of Cornelia’s younger sister) in 1976. A special lighted display featuring the window was given an honored place in the entrance to the chapel, where it still remains, sharing its beautiful message of memory and faith and love to all who enter.


[NEXT: On the Edge of the Map]


Two: Read’s Pastor Books


In November of 1891, 24-year-old Nathaniel B. Read arrived in Midland to serve as pastor for the congregation there. The young pastor proudly wrote the new assignment of two “half-stations,” Midland and Big Spring, in his Pastor’s Book.


The Pastor’s Book, a small leather volume created by Reverend J. T. L. Annis, provided a resource for the local pastor to enter an annual record of his work. Printed by a Dallas publisher, they included pages for sermons, members, finances, and other information ranging from “Sermons Preached” to “Transferred Members.” Read wrote a short note in the back of his book. “We begin our work in Big Springs and Midland Charge with a total membership of 165 members. This is the summing up for the year 1892.”


The Midland charge was only a year old as Pastor Read began the chronicle of his first pastoral assignment. When a small band of Methodists in a community first organized, they often began with a local preacher as pastor. If they proved they could endure, they eventually gained recognition as a “charge.” A charge consisted of a group of small congregations served by a single pastor who traveled about preaching and ministering to these fledgling churches. These were the legendary circuit riders. They originally traveled on horseback, their Bibles in their saddlebags and their reliance on their tiny congregations for their room and board.

The 1890 Annual Meeting of the West Texas Conference established Midland among the charges of the Abilene District and appointed the legendary leader J. T. L. Annis as the pastor for Big Spring and Midland. Annis was a Civil War veteran who came to Texas in 1865, where he was “gloriously converted” in 1874. Three years later, he began his pastoral service in the Northwest Texas Conference and served several West Texas circuits, stations, and districts with great energy until his retirement in 1900. (1)


Annis inspired church building wherever he went. Midland was no exception. Assigned the Big Spring station in 1889, he encouraged the Midland congregation to acquire the property and funding to erect their first church building. Annis brought Bishop Joseph Key to the building dedication on February 16, 1890. In November, 1890 and Annis’ assignment was amended to “Big Spring and Midland.”(2)

The West Texas Conference records list Midland Methodist Episcopal South, in 1890, as having “138 white members.” The town of Midland, at the time, consisted of slightly more than a thousand people. Annis divided his time between the two churches.


Pastor Nat Read in 1934.

In the fall of 1891, Nat Read followed the venerable Revered Annis as the spiritual leader for Big Spring and Midland. Read’s family migrated from Tennessee to Texas in 1878. At the age of nineteen, he found his calling to the ministry at a summer revival. He studied at Southwestern University at Georgetown, becoming a deacon in 1890. A year later, he received his first appointment, Big Spring and Midland stations. Read lacked the experience of Annis, but held an equally deep faith in the future of these small congregations.(3)

Most entries in Read’s book reflect the more ordinary events in the life of a pastor, though perhaps a bit unique as a novice preacher with two churches. In the “Membership” section, he listed names in alphabetical order, first for Big Spring, then Midland. Big Spring was the larger of the two congregations and probably occupied more of his time, but Read did not neglect Midland. He added annotations beside the names of several church members. Helen Bartlett was “dropped by request” from the roll. Jennie Mugg “joined the Baptist” church. Margaret Roundtree “died in the faith.” Read noted her February 10, 1892 funeral service in another section.


“Infant Baptism” and “Adult Baptism” each had their own sections. One especially poignant entry was September 19, 1892. “Jim Stewart Hadlock, 1 year, 10 months, 28 days; Baptized while dying. An agonizing Father and Mother kneeling by the little one.”

Read also recorded marriages performed. On January 27, 1892 at a ceremony in Fort Worth he united Midland County Clerk O. B. Holt and Viola Josephine Bell, who had come to Midland from Arkansas. Read was paid $16.50 for the ceremony, more than the usual fees of five to ten dollars (perhaps to help with his travel costs). Upon their return, the Holts bought a large home in Midland and remained lifelong members of the church. Descendants of the Holts still worship at First Methodist.

“Sermons Preached” were also diligently entered. Read’s regular schedule was first and third Sundays in Big Spring and second and fourth Sundays in Midland. Read’s initial sermon in Midland was delivered December 27, 1891. His text was Revelation 22:17. “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” It was a particularly appropriate message for a region where physical water was scarce as well as recognition of the growing stream of Methodist faith in Midland.

Ironically, Read does not list the sermon for March 20, when he wrote a special entry. Based upon his regular rotation, he should have been in Big Spring. However, some event altered the schedule as he added a separate note regarding that date in the back of his pastor’s book. Read wrote, “Red letter day at Midland, Texas, Sunday March 20th. Hallelulia![sic] The town on fire. Never saw any thing like it.”

Though Read records no other details about this day or his role in it, another section of his pastor’s book provides clues about this historic moment in the life of the small church. In the period between March 20 and March 27, 30 adults were baptized and 9 joined the congregation through transfer of membership. Clearly, something significantly spiritual took place during that week.

Read may have also had another special reason to celebrate. One of the two baptisms on March 20 was Jennie Custis, a young lady whom he married the following year. The coming to the faith of the woman with whom he shared over 50 years of marriage certainly marked a “red letter day” in his life.

At Annual Conference in November, 1892 Read handed off his Midland appointment to J. L. Browning. At some point in his career, he gave his original Pastor’s Book to the Midland church, where it was preserved through the many changes of buildings and pastors over the years.

Read would return to lead a larger Midland church in the years from 1905 to 1907, the only pastor to serve twice at Midland. During that tenure, he would help shepherd the church through its first capital campaign and the construction of a beautiful brick church, completed in 1907. Read eventually also gave his three books from those years to Midland.

These small thin books, filled with fascinating details, have become invaluable time capsules from those days over a century ago.


1. Macum Phelan, A History of the Expansion of Methodism in Texas, 1867-1902

(Dallas: Mathis, Van Nort and Company, 1937), 223.

2. “Letter from O. B. Annis,” First Methodist Midland Newspaper, December 30, 1960, 1.

3. Southwest Texas Conference Journal, 1946, 426-427.

[NEXT: Stained Glass Memory]

One: Foundation Document

On the 8th of November, 1889, three Methodists– M. M. Pitman, Valentine Goetz, and F. E. Kelly, trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, of Midland– entered the office of Justice of the Peace A. S. Hawkins to officially file a document. Four years after first organizing, the congregation they represented was ready to construct a building.That legal document, a Refunding Bond and Mortgage, laid the foundation for the first Methodist structure in Midland.


In the document they filed, the trustees promised to “procure and possess a House of Worship, adapted to their wants, and to be by them and their successors, held in trust.” To assist them in this endeavor, the Board of Church Extension (BCE) of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, provided $500 which they would have to refund should the Midland church “cease to be connected” with the Methodist denomination. For one dollar, the Trustees secured the agreement by conveying ownership of “all of lots four (4), five (5) and six (6) in block No 54 in the town of Midland” to the BCE.

The following day, Midland County Clerk A. B. Rountree certified the document was properly filed. The first Midland Methodists would finally have their own church.

In the summer of 1885, seven Methodists, six of them women, met and took the first steps to start a congregation in the fledgling community of Midland. It was not the best of times to undertake a new church venture. Blizzards in the winter of 1884-85 destroyed thousands of head of cattle, driving many ranchers into bankruptcy. Two years of severe drought followed, wiping out more farmers and ranchers.

The local Methodists were determined, however. They began meeting in the community’s school buildings or in the Baptist church when it was available. They were ministered to by a combination of supply pastors and circuit riders. Supply pastors served on a part-time or fill-in basis for churches unable to support a full-time preacher. Some might only be commissioned to serve as local pastors. Once established as a viable congregation, a small group such as Midland became part of a circuit of churches, called a charge. A single pastor, appointed by an annual conference, traveled about preaching and ministering to the churches in his charge. He would be one of a legendary company, the circuit riders, who traveled on horseback, their Bibles in their saddlebags and their trust in the tiny congregations they served for their subsistence.

Official records of those early years are sparse. W. T. Burk and Bush McDonald ministered to the Midland community between 1885 and 1888 and may have been local supply pastors. In 1888, William Monk was assigned the newly-formed New Mexico District, the frontier segment of the West Texas Conference. His charge included all of western Texas lying beyond the Pecos River, still a largely unsettled region. Monk, a veteran circuit rider, spent the next two years wandering this huge expanse. Reverend Monk must have also worked with the Midland congregation in his travels to and from far West Texas. Local church history records him as pastor.

Monk helped build the first Methodist church in New Mexico and may have inspired the young Midland congregation to plan a house of worship. Reverend J. T. L. Annis actually helped them accomplish that. A Civil War veteran who came to Texas after the war and found religion, Annis served several West Texas circuits during his career. He inspired church-building wherever he was appointed.

In 1889 Reverend Annis was appointed to the Big Spring station. Five years earlier, as the first Presiding Elder of the Colorado Circuit, he had encouraged the Big Spring congregation to erect a rough-hewn wooden building.


Trustee Signatures

 As pastor of the Big Spring church, Annis was close enough to Midland to periodically lead worship services. He provided advice and guidance encouraging congregation members to build a church. According to his son, Revered Annis “took the first collection for the building of that edifice.” In November 1889, the Midland Trustees filed the paperwork to begin their church facility.

The Methodist Board of Church Extension agreed that it was time to build a church in Midland. As communities arose in western Texas in the late nineteenth century, the BCE provided funds and guidance to help congregations erect church building and parsonages. BCE policy was designed to help smaller congregations build stylish but moderate structures. They provided funds for church construction where the cost did not exceed $10,000. (1)

To assist churches in erecting suitable buildings, the BCE contracted with Benjamin D. Price, Architect, in 1876 to prepare plans for a range of affordable churches from very simple structures to rather stylish ones, mostly with a Gothic flavor.


Benjamin Price Church Plan Catalog

By 1885, Price had prepared 67 different church plans which could be purchased from the Board through mail-order booklets. Church Plans ranged in price from $2 up to $50. Congregations receiving BCE funding were expected to purchase a set of plans and use them in constructing their sanctuary. Many small Texas churches were built according to Price plans, though they often included local variations from the template.(2)



The Midland church was erected on three lots of Block 54 fronting Abilene Street. Abilene Street was later renamed Main Street. The church site now houses the Convention Center and Midland Chamber of Commerce. In 1890, this was at the heart of the city, adjacent to Midland’s first hotel, the Llano, which quickly became a prominent area landmark.


No record of Benjamin Price plans remain in the church archives, but this original structure bears a close resemblance to Plan 19-A. The building was dedicated on Sunday, February 16, 1890 by Bishop Joseph Key and Midland had its first Methodist church. (3)




1.  “Benjamin Price & the Board of Church Extension,” The New Jersey Churchscape. http://www.njchurchscape.com/index-Mar09.html. accessed January 9, 2017.

2.  “Price of the Oysterville Church,” Sydney of Oysterville.com. http://sydneyofoysterville.com/2011/price-of-the-oysterville-church/. accessed January 9, 2017.

3.  “Letter from O. B. Annis,” First Methodist Midland Newspaper, December 30, 1960, 1.

–Jim Collett, Church Historian

[NEXT: Read’s Books]