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]


One Response to “Five: Final Service Bulletin”

  1. Lane Boyd says:

    I really enjoyed reading about the building projects. Remarkable to accomplish so much during WW II. THANKS.

Leave a Reply to Lane Boyd