Words From the PastFUMC_Cross_WebFor the Present

Sometimes when working with historic records, we find items that not only provide information about the past, but also communicate with us here in the present, providing wisdom, challenge, guidance or comfort. In each entry below, images, facts, and stories from the past form a central part of the message; words from yesterday that speak to us today. 

Have You Noticed the Activity?

“Have you noticed the activity around the Chapel? The salvaging of parts for reuse . . . and disposing of the remaining portion of the building are proceeding at a rapid pace.” 

Well, you probably haven’t–not quite yet. The latest construction project here at First Methodist is scheduled to officially begin on Tuesday, November 2. The above quote actually came from the
First United Methodist Church Newspaper edition for August 23, 1974.
But this isn’t the first time we’ve been here. Perhaps not you and I specifically, but the congregation of First Methodist Midland. We have undertaking several major construction projects over the years, including the one from the quote above. In late summer of 1974, the church members sold the church building completed in 1943 for salvage to clear the way for future construction, including the building of the Glass Chapel. 
Chapel architect Charles Neuhardt watches as the old sanctuary ceiling sags into the hole made by the demolition team.

Chapel architect Charles Neuhardt watches as the old sanctuary ceiling sags into the hole made by the demolition team.

The demolition of the 1940s sanctuary was part of a years-long building program that included the construction of the current sanctuary in the late 1960s. The congregation in those years endured the same type of excitement and discomfort we will face over the coming months. In fact, during the construction of the 1940s church, services were held down the street in a movie theater! At present, the worst we face is moving some adult connecting classes and relocation of Contemporary worship to the Activity Center.

“Orco Studios, designer and manufacturer of the art glass in our present Sanctuary, has removed and taken to their shop for reworking and making suitable for reuse one of the memorial windows. . . . All the remaining smaller windows have been taken by Orco to their studio for design and reassembly into a large inside type window suitable for use in the new chapel. . . . The remaining structure has been sold to the highest bidder for salvage with the stipulation that he deliver to the Church the bell [and the] cornerstone and contents.”

We saved significant pieces of that church to become elements of the Glass Chapel. As we rework a major segment of the building again, we will keep a few special items, including the bell and cornerstone preserved in 1974.

But we only preserve a few relics. The rest is removed to make way for the new. We may fondly keep some item to remind us of our yesterdays but we are always working for our tomorrows. For well over a century and a quarter, we Methodist here in downtown Midland have been tearing down something, remodeling something, so that we could build something new for the future benefit of God’s kingdom here on the edge of the Llano Estacado.

So why would we stop now? When Midland has grown far beyond the imagination of anyone who helped complete that 1940s sanctuary.  Even beyond the dreams of those who built the 1960s sanctuary. We’ve always worked to not just maintain our presence here, but to enlarge it. We need the worship space for some of those new Midlanders.

“Outstanding pledges and commitments are expected to retire the building fund indebtedness on time and should also provide additional funds to accelerate some repairs and maintenance work that is long overdue.”

There have always been costs, especially monetary ones, for this kind of work. Our amounts may be larger today but we have to remember those smaller numbers in earlier years were proportionally as significant as those with which we struggle. We pledge all we can and we work hard to retire whatever debt we incur but we continue to build and rebuild as God leads us to. It’s just our turn–yours and mine.

“Demolishing should get underway soon.”

I think we are ready once again.

(October 20, 2015)

Pioneer Christmases

From the beginning of Midland’s history, Christmas traditions have been part of the community. Those traditions included First Methodist and its members. Several early residents included memories of Christmas in their accounts in The Pioneer History of Midland County, Texas 1880-1926.


May Estes fondly recalled how, as the holidays approached, local merchants added gift items to their stock. The Midland Hardware and Windmill store had toys for sale. A jeweler named Linz came to town with a trunk of diamonds–brooches, bracelets, rings and other glittering items–and would come display them in people’s homes upon request.

Taylor’s Drug Store offered a wide variety of items and, according to May, Charlie Taylor “had marvelous taste.” The drug store would have Dresden china, Bisque, cut glass and, of course, toys.
Charlie Taylor was also a strong supporter of First Methodist, known then as Midland Methodist Episcopal Church, South. He pledged funds for construction of the 1907 brick church and served as a church steward for a number of years. 

The Methodist church, like all churches in town, added special Christmas events, including worship services. May especially remembered the Christmas trees.

Every church in town had Christmas trees–huge ones for the children. The Sunday School teachers would appoint a committee to decorate the tree and we were not allowed to see it until Christmas Eve. There would be dolls and toys hung on or placed around the tree with a child’s name on each one. Santa would call the names and members of the church would pass out the presents. It was a happy time for us.

In 1917 Beth Fasken, joined her husband Andrew in Midland. Andrew worked as manager of the vast Fasken ranch located west of Midland in country that Beth said, “God had forgotten.” She was glad when the family purchased a home in Midland, across from the Methodist Church.

Her second Christmas in town proved memorable. “The second Christmas in Midland, we had enough snow to have a snowman in all the gardens around town, but that night an overheated stove destroyed our residence by fire.” The family soon recovered however. They moved from town again, fifteen miles to South Camp, “a comfortable, convenient home in every way. Coal oil stove in summer. Wood stove for cold weather.” 

Times and traditions change.  Coal oil stoves are gone. Snowfalls still come at Christmas, though rarely. Often the weather is more balmy than bitter.

First Methodist no longer has a toy tree, but the Chrismon tree is a regular feature of the season, filled with hand-crafted ornaments, each containing Christian symbols and meaning. The culminating event each Christmas eve is a candlelight service, with the sanctuary lit by candles held aloft to the singing of “Silent Night,” providing a beautiful reminder of how each of us carries the light of Christmas and of Christ into the world. Methodists have been doing that in Midland since 1885.


December 2014

December 2014

50,000 Pancakes


 I recently asked long-time choir member and organizer of numerous Pancake Supper events Jim McCarley to give me an estimate as to approximately how many pancakes are served at the annual event sponsored by the Chancel Choir on Shrove Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. He
did a few mental calculations and replied, “Around 700.” As we talked about the earlier days, Jim said that the number would have been higher back then. He recalled some of the old-timers who worked in the beginning years of the Pancake Suppers telling him how the line would extend out of the old Fellowship Hall and down the sidewalk! So, based on that, we arrived at a conservative estimate of an average of some thousand pancakes served each year. The Supper scheduled for Tuesday, March 4 of this year marks the 53rd time for this annual event. Which means that Choir members, spouses, and friends have served over 50,000 pancakes since the event began. When you throw in estimates for the sausages, the butter and the syrup, you arrive at some pretty amazing numbers, all of which serve as testaments to a dedication that began over half a century ago.
Minister of Music George L. DeHart devoted some space in his regular column on “The Ministry of Music” for March 2, 1962
to an explanation of the upcoming event the choir was sponsoring. Choir members had determined they needed a fund-raising event to underwrite the travels of the Wesley Bell Ringers. This outstanding group had been invited to perform at the regional convention of the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers, scheduled to be held in Houston later that summer and additional funds were needed.
As the musicians discussed what sort of event to attempt, food arose as a natural choice. Choir member Bob Boothe proposed a chili
supper but
the ladies promptly shot that idea down. The group decided to try a Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper.

As DeHart explained in his column, “The day before Ash Wednesday is known as Shrove Tuesday.” The name Shrove Tuesday derived from the past tense of the English verb shrive, which means to obtain absolution for one’s sins by way of Confession and doing penance. The shrift, or confession, was made before Lent began.

DeHart continued his account with a passage from
Edward Horn’s book on The Christian Year. “In the Middle Ages, carnivals were popular all over Europe on Shrove Tuesday which was known as Fasten’s Eve in Scotland, Fastnacht in Germany, and Mardi Gras in France (mardi gras
is French for Fat Tuesday). In Italy masques were worn and folk comedies such as Harlequin and Columbine, Scaramouche, and Pantalon and Punchinello were presented. In Germany the Fastnachtsnarr Hans Wurst presided over the masquerade of gigantic sausages, pretzels and beer kegs. In France the principal attraction was a fatted ox led through the streets to a barbeque. The French influence is perpetuated in the United States in the annual Mardi Gras in New Orleans.”

Following this description of exotic customs involving fatted calves, giant pretzels and kegs of beer, DeHart turned to the customs that underwrote the event the choir had planned. The English had associated the pancake with Shrove Tuesday. For the Germans it became the doughnut. Both customs grew from the tradition of using up whatever grease might be on hand before Lent began, during which time its use was forbidden.   

In 1962, a Pancake Supper was a novel event in Midland. In fact, First United Methodist may have been the first to provide this repast locally. They gambled folks would give the event a try and they were not disappointed. A large crowd came, either to eat their fill or support the Bell Ringers or both. Chef Ellis Conner supervised the cooking crew while members of the choir helped serve and clear space in the Fellowship Hall for folks to dine.

Everyone had such a grand time and the fundraising was so successful, the choirs determined to try it a second time the following year. After another great round of cooking, serving and eating, a tradition was born. The Pancake Supper became an annual time of fun, food and 
comradery. Church member Ted Johnson was there to work the second event and has manned a cooking spot for every year since!
The dishwashing crew of Gil Ward, Jane Schulte, Sharon Heidelberg and Monta Jo Johnson clown around at the 26th Annual Pancake Supper. From the March 13, 1987 church newspaper.

The dishwashing crew of Gil Ward, Jane Schulte, Sharon Heidelberg and Monta Jo Johnson clown around at the 26th Annual Pancake Supper.
From the March 13, 1987 church newspaper.

The particular goals for the funds have varied over the years but they have always supported some special travel or event of the church choirs. A few years ago, the monies helped underwrite a choir trip to perform as part of the Christmas season events in the White House of former Midlander and First United Methodist Church member, George W. Bush.

On March 4, this venerable tradition will take place for the 53rd time. Traditions are wonderful treasures of a church like ours. However, traditions remain alive only if each new generation is willing to carry them forward. So the choir (or choir spouses like me) must band together to cook for hours, serve for hours and clean for hours and members of the church community must come and pay their money (and eat all they can!). Otherwise, this tradition becomes history.

I hope many of you make a special effort to be a part of the annual Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper on one side of the serving line or the other so that, together, we can continue working our way through the next 50,000 pancakes.

Capital Comments

In 1957, the Capital Campaign Team at First Methodist prepared a brochure to help members understand the need for and importance of a new construction project. The Midland economy was booming; the community was growing; times were changing. The leaders of the church, Pastor Timothy Guthrie, Music Director George DeHart, Steering Committee Chairman Ben Black and church members such as J. Holt Jowell and George Glass believed the church plant need to grow and change as well.

Pastor Guthrie wrote, “It will take big thinking, big vision and big giving. Anything less is sure to lose the victory we ought to have.”

The primary focus was on creating more space for worship and for the youth of the church and the community. The leaders reminded each reader of the brochure that the true goal was not the additional square footage and new facilities. The half-million dollar investment would be repaid many times “because of the Christian young men and women it will produce.”

Near the center of the brochure, the leadership team counseled each congregation member that “the answer lies within our hearts.” They quoted British writer John Ruskin from his book The Seven Lamps of Architecture, “Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it be such a work as our descendants will thank us for.”

On the pages where they described the pledges, they reminded readers that “A sacrificial pledge is one that has a spiritual impact upon the one making the pledge.”

Today, portions of our current plant exist because of the decisions made in the hearts of those who attended this church over a half-century ago and read and responded to a brochure now faded with age. We enjoy the continued blessings of the gifts they made. We inherited the legacy they left us. Without knowing us by name, they spoke of us when they said, “Our hope for the sane and peaceful Christian civilization of tomorrow rests in the hand of our children. . . and our children’s children.”

“Weeds, Boards, and Dust”

On Sunday, January 19, 2014 Senior Pastor Tim Walker’s sermon was on growing spiritually. He focused on three areas—growing faith, growing love, and growing the church. Isaiah 54:2 served as the scripture reference for the focus on growing the church. The scripture says, “Enlarge the site of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes.”

Tim used the analogy of a cruise ship, focusing on the feature that determined the quality of the cruise experience—the ratio of passengers to crew members. A higher ratio of crew to passengers greatly increases the likelihood of a memorable cruise rated highly by passengers. Tim asked the congregation to think of the church as a mighty cruise ship and posed the question, “Are you a passenger or a crew member?” With a slight smile, he pointed out that, to succeed, we need more crew members. His closing challenge question was, “What will your next ‘yes’ be?”

The challenge of more active service—becoming a member of the crew—is one that pastors continually issue to church members in a variety of formats. Church leaders offered such challenges from the beginnings of the church and have continued to do so down to Tim’s sermon last week.

In 1997, John Rech served as Associate Pastor here at First Methodist with Senior Pastor Lane Boyd. Long-time church members remember both leaders fondly. The church newspaper at that time had already taken the “Tower Times” as its banner and resembled an older style large format newspaper. Digital print was not even on the horizon. But service and growing the church certainly were.

Pastor Rech wrote a piece entitled “Weeds, Boards, and Dust” for the column usually reserved for Lane. Much of what John said nicely complements Tim’s words.

“Not long ago, a man greeted the pastor following the worship service with the words, ‘I’m new in town, and I’m looking for a new church home; but I want you to understand what kind of church I’m looking for.’ The pastor inquired as to the kind of church the man was interested in and the man said, “I don’t want a church that demands too much, one that is always asking me to do something, or one that expects me to sing. Also, I’m not interested in Sunday school or other church meetings and please don’t ask me to give.”

The pastor, after hearing the description of the church, said to the man, ‘I think I know a church where you will feel right at home,’ and he wrote down the address on a piece of paper and handed it to the man.

Several weeks later, the man decided to visit the church which the pastor recommended, and on Sunday morning he drove to the address which was written on the paper. But, as he drove up, he thought he must have been given the wrong address. There were weeds growing through the cracks in the sidewalk, the grass had not been cut, and as he looked at the building, there were boards nailed across the windows, and the doors were locked. As he sat in his car, suddenly he realized that it must have been the right address. He returned to the church he had visited earlier and following the service said to the pastor, ‘I found the kind of church I thought I wanted, the one you suggested, but that really is not what I want. Can I become a part of this church and will you help me find a place here to serve the Lord?’ He was obviously eagerly welcomed.”

I think if Pastor Rech had heard Tim’s sermon, he would have reminded us that there are always positions available on the crew.