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.

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