Church History

HISTORY OF FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH Meridian, Texas   In the words of Elder John Clabaugh’s book THEOLOGY on HORSEBACK, he writes that he had promised to preach in Meridian TX on a certain night and he would not break the promise.1 After establishing the Liberty Hill Baptist Church near Valley Mills 2 on the “Big Bosque”, he steadfastly set out for Meridian on horseback on June 28, 1854.3 “I started after dinner a distance supposed to be eighteen miles, but by actual measurement twenty-five—at right angles around wire fences, but my way was largely through the trackless prairies. And the worst part of it was that I was riding, for a certainty, one of the shortest gaited, roughest trotting, thirty dollar ponies I ever did see. But I made it. And that night I preached the first sermon ever preached by a Baptist minister in Meridian, in a little log house called the ‘Courthouse’. What a contrast in thirty-three years to see that cabin exchanged for a fifty-six thousand dollar Courthouse—a credit to any county.”4 The First Baptist Church of Meridian TX was then organized on March 13, 1859,5 by John Clabaugh –a pioneer Baptist preacher from Alabama, and W. A. Mason who were missionaries for the Texas Baptist Convention, along with ten founding members. Elder Clabaugh recalled when he returned over twenty years later (September 26, 1878)for the marriage of his nephew Frank Garrett to Miss Jesse Jordan, that Judge Childers—clerk for the Church—showed him the records of the organization of the church in his own handwriting.7 The First Baptist Church of Meridian was to become the oldest functioning Baptist Church in Bosque County TX when the Liberty Hill Church disbanded in the 1870s.We were first affiliated with the Leon River Association, the Alvarado Association in 1872, the Bosque River Association in 1875, the Meridian Baptist Association in 1884, and currently the Bosque Baptist Association. Much of the early history of the Church and those pioneer members is obscured by the fact that in 1917 the records were placed in the library of Baylor University of Waco, TX for safe keeping by the pastor, Rev. W. A. Bryan. The library burned in 1922, destroying everything within its walls. We now rely on historical remarks in periodical publications of the Church, various personal recollections of Bosque County citizens who contributed articles for inclusion in Bosque County–Its Land and People, Vol. 1, published in 1985 9, and to an entry in the Bible of Sarah Million George that she was baptized into the Church 11/3/1864.10 That Bible was in the possession of her daughter Ella George who was born in 1865. Sarah’s husband, Andrew Jackson George, also joined our Church in baptism when he returned from the Civil War. It is apparent that the Lord preserved this bit of our history for us and so appropriately in His WORD. While the identities of our founding members have been lost to us, historical documentation of the TEXAS ONLINE HANDBOOK11 and other papers of the Bosque County Collection12, along with Bosque County census records of 186013, enumerate the names of many of the families who were later members and instrumental to the Lord’s work in early Bosque County.   We shall look at the names of those known members of the early Church. To record their names is to call the roll of the immortals of the Church: Mr. and Mrs. William Barnett Baxter, Bertha Lee Baxter, Mr. and Mrs. B. A. Burdett, R. G. Childers, Jack Childers, Miss Effie Childers, Miss Fannie Childers, Judge Rufus G. Childress, Mr. and Mrs. John A. Cochran, Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Coleman, Mr. and Mrs. Dillard, A. R. Ellis, Gussie Fossett, Mr. and Mrs. A. J. George, Miss Ella George, Mr. and Mrs. Jefferson Davis Hanna, Sr., Rebecca Harvey, Judge and Mrs. J. K. Helton, William A. Hill, Rev. and Mrs. John Henry Johnson, W. T. Johnson, Miss Minnie Johnson, Miss Jane Johnson, Rev. Augustus Jordan, Mr. and Mrs. Homer Jordan, Rev. Johnnie Monroe Jordon, L. C. Kirkpatrick, L. S. Knight, George W. Lacy, Jane Lacy, Henry Lacy, Mr. and Mrs. H Newt Lester, Rev. Loyd Lester, Will Lockett, Judge O. L. Lockett, Mrs. Mattie Cochran Lomax, Mr. and Mrs. Sambo McCandless, Mr. and Mrs. Wyatt McFadden, Miss Essie McGill, Mr. and Mrs. R. B. Moorman, Mr. and Mrs. William Neely, Mrs. Mollie Odle, Mr. and Mrs. E. T. Percival, Mr. Sid Powell, G. W. Randall, Mrs. Ida Renmick, William P. Robertson, Tranquilla Rock, Eugene Rowland, Miss Effie Saddler, T. James Scott, Mr. and Mrs. William Ellis Sheppard, Miss Lizzie Shuford, Mr. and Mrs. W. Joseph Smith, Miss Carrie Smith, Mr. and Mrs. John Smith, Sam Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Standifer, Mr. and Mrs. William Stretch, Miss Sallie Vaughn, Mr. and Mrs. Rueben Warren, Rev. and Mrs. George W. Whisenaut, Judge B. J. Word, Judge and Mrs. W. A. York, W. Ash York. For a number of years, the pastors rode on horseback- coming for a week once a month, staying in the homes of the members, and preaching in the courthouse and the school house on Saturday night and Sunday. The school house was located where the J. A. Cochran house stands on Bosque Street, next door to the James Terrance Lomax house at 503 N. Bosque. The lower floor was used for school and church services, and the upper floor was the Masonic Hall. It was also during these years that the great evangelist, Sid Williams, held a revival under a brush arbor which was located at 512 N. Bosque on the John Crenshaw and Mrs. S. H. Cooper home sites, which were later owned by Minta Crain and Mr. and Mrs. Joe Howard. There was a young Negro girl by the name of Ella Robinson who lived with the McFadden family at that time. Her duties were to take care of the children Lumpkin and Mary, who were sitting in the straw until they became sleepy. In 1959 Miss Ella Robinson presented our Centennial Committee a book that was over 100 years old entitled “A Concise History of Foreign Baptists” by G. H. Orchard. It had been the property of Rev. John Henry Johnson.14 A. S. Lomax, father of former member J. T. Lomax, recalled that when he was about two years of age his mother, Mattie Cochran Lomax joined the church at the water’s edge at a baptizing around 1877, bringing her letter from Mississippi. The Lomax family had come to church that day in the wagon, taking dinner with the George family and going to the baptizing in the afternoon. Rev. V. G. Cunningham was the pastor at the time. Ann Campbell of Morgan, TX, a Lomax descendent, stated that Mattie’s father had been a Baptist minister in Mississippi, and while her husband stayed with his family at the Methodist Church, she was a faithful and inspiring Baptist member. In the early 1870’s, came the erection of the first building. What it lacked in ornate structure was made up in spiritual strength and courage given to those who needed it in those difficult early days of hardship and poverty. The lumber was hauled from Waco TX by ox wagon, and the building was built by Leroy Farabee. It was a one-room structure located across the street and near the Jeff Hanna Sr. home at 308 N. Hill, across the street from the present Roy Anderson home. The upper classes in school were also taught in this building. A. S. Lomax, Dr. Will Johnson, Mrs. Hamp Smith and many others went to school as well as to church there. Miss Fannie Childers, daughter of the first Church clerk, was one of the teachers.15 Many years later, following a joint revival by Presbyterian and Baptist Negro preachers, the Negro Baptist group bought the building for $25.00 and moved it onto the land they had purchased for their church home. It was used for the black school and church until the Meridian School Board acquired it many years later and sold it to W. H. Curtis. He later sold it to Maggie Higgins where it was built into her home. A piece of this building was enclosed in our Church cornerstone in 1947. Judges J. K. Helton and R. G. Childress signed the deed of purchase as deacons for the First Baptist Church in 187916, and the second building was erected in 1888 during the pastorate of Rev. W. H. Parks. A piece of lumber used in this building was also enclosed in the cornerstone in 1947. The dedication sermon was preached by Dr. J. R. Graves of Memphis, Tennessee, who held a Doctor of Divinity degree and was also an author. He dedicated one of these books, “The Seven Dispensations”, to Rev. John Henry Johnson who had been ordained in our church in 1874. The membership had reached a total of 92 by this time. The value of the building was $2,400. The pastor received $325 in cash for the year. In those days, the pastor often received gifts other than money. One incident records that Rev. Johnson received a bolt of domestic from a merchant and similar gifts from different members. It has been written of Bro. John Henry Johnson that he baptized more people, married more couples, and organized more churches than any other preacher in Bosque County. One of the first services conducted by our pastor and held in the new building was the funeral service for Aunt Dilcie Thomas, a Negro woman. One year later, in 1889, the Church went full time and received help from the State Board for a few years. In 1909, during the pastorate of Rev. R. E. Smith, brother of S. C. Smith, wings were added to the building which increased the value to $4,000. The membership at that time was 75 and the total gifts for all causes that year were $1,493.50–with $400 of this being the pastor’s salary. A picture from the Bosque County Collection c1912 shows the Church along with other historical buildings in the City of Meridian. 17 Mrs. Ann Gillaspie Mize also contributed an excellent picture of this Church building as she knew it from the 1930’s.18 By 1920 the membership had grown to 153 and ten years later to 200. In 1946 Bro. Cecil McBeth was called as pastor, and work was begun on a modern brick building with modern educational facilities at 207 N. Hill. This building was completed in 1947 and dedicated to the Lord on March 9, 1947. The building was built by Burney Warren, Sr., a descendent of the early member R. B. Warren family. His son Bill Warren, Sr. completed the baptistry and was the first one baptized in it. He later surrendered his life to the ministry. The membership had grown to 471 and the total gifts for the year were $13,906.53. Because of continued growth, additional classrooms were added in 1956 during the pastorate of Bro. Gordon Bays, and in 1957 the foyer, steeple, porch and columns were added to the front of the present church. The first parsonage for the Church was built in 1896 and was later sold to H. F. Burrow. It was moved to 606 A. Street across the street from the elementary school cafeteria. A lot was bought from C. E. Cockrell and a new parsonage was built at present address of 302 E B St. in 1953. Bro. Gordon Bays was the first pastor to live in the new parsonage. Records from the 1952-1953 periods indicate that we were members of the Meridian Association at that time with Rev. Gordon Bays our pastor. His salary was $3,900 per year. Mr. E. M. Cole was SS superintendent; Dr. R. D. Holt was Training Union Director; Mrs. Gordon Bays was the WMS president; Mr. O. W. Dutton was Brotherhood president; Mrs. W. N. Strother was treasurer, and Mr. W. N. Strother was the Church clerk. There were 391 resident members with 30 enrolled in SS. There was an average attendance of 198. There were 119 enrolled in VBS with an average attendance of 97. We had 37 baptismals and 44 other additions with 26 losses to death or movements to other locations or churches. Total receipts for that year was $17,400 and the total mission expenditures were $2,511. Roy Hill became the pastor in October of 1958, and on March 15, 1959, the First Baptist Church celebrated its origin centennial for 1859-1959 period. Huron A. Polnac, Jr. was pastor between 1965 and 1968. Other Church staff members of that time were Mrs. James Barker, secretary; Mr. E. M. Hegar, treasurer; Mr. Ray Gibbons, clerk; Mr. Dick Ross, music and youth director; Mr. Ted Heath, Sunday school superintendent; Mrs. T. I. Goodwin, WMU president; Mr. Jesse Davis, custodian; Mrs. G. L. Woolley, pianist; and Mrs. J. M. White, organist. Deacons were: Mr. H. F. Burrow, Mr. W. H. Dorman, Mr. J. M. Ferguson, Mr. D. O. Gibbons, Mr. Ray Gibbons, Mr. Gus Grimm, Mr. Ted Heath, Mr. A. S. Lomax, Mr. J. T. Lomax, Mr. A. L. McCurdy, Mr. N. C. McDowell, Mr. W. B. Parks, Jr., Mr. G. D. Railsback, Mr. Jack Railsback, Mr. Roy Ray, Mr. Charles Reeves, Mr. Bob Rhudy, Mr. C. E. Stewart, Mr. R. W. Terry, and Mr. Hugh Trotter. During this period the Church had nearly 600 members dedicated to the propagation of the gospel and the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. We were members of the Meridian Baptist Association, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and the Southern Baptist Convention through the Cooperative Program. Bro. Gene Grace came from 1968-1970. Out of this fine family, two sons have studied for the Baptist ministry. Randall Scott was pastor from 1970 to 1972. During his ministry he revised and reorganized the choirs as he had a fine musical talent himself. He also organized a large Community Choir which presented many programs. Richard Creech became pastor on August 12, 1973. Through his ministry the church has had many additional members. An extensive bus ministry and outstanding youth programs have been implemented. He and his wife Jane have greatly emphasized a ministry to the residents of the Geriatric Center. Due to the growing membership of the Church, he has overseen numerous remodeling projects. The auditorium and educational facilities were remodeled between November 10, 1975 and February 29, 1976. The project included new ceilings for the sanctuary and educational building along with new pews, additional air-conditioning and heat, lighting, sound system, wall to wall carpeting, paneling, and enlargement of restroom facilities. The total cost of this work was $50,000, and the project was paid for in three years and nine days. Church records between 1946 and 1975 indicate that our Church baptized 466 people during this time and gave over $133,607 to all mission causes. Glory to God! The Church called its second full-time staff member in 1979 when Mark Wright was called as minister of youth and music. Previously, Phil Hunter and Trent Hall had served as part-time ministers of music and youth. Jeff Lethco then followed Mark in 1981 and moved into the old parsonage located at present 309 B Street. This was to become the home for the second staff member. A new parsonage had been purchased in August of 1981 at 209 Brice Street from Dr. Scullion for $60,000. The Creech family was the first pastor’s family to live in it. The parsonage was paid for within ten years. The address was later changed to 1009 Brice St. Alan Wimberly, Randy Fair, Keith Owens, Charles Coe, Allen Smith, and Don Anderson served our Church family during the intervening years as ministers of youth and/or music. Trent Rose served as our Minister of Youth and Music from 2000 to 2003. Tommy Derrick served as Minister of Youth from 2004-2007. At that time, John Phillips was called as our Minister of Youth, and the Church called Eddie Hayworth who served as Minister of Music through June of 2008. Other staff members in 2007 were Kris Spradling, financial secretary; Jane Creech, organist; Mary Lou Wickman, pianist; and Jerry Bradley, custodian. Sandy Hidler became the Church secretary in 2008.   In 2008, John Phillips and Robert “Doc” Adams were ordained as deacons to join Alan Day, David Winkler, Payton Wallace, John Fulton, Gene Harville, Ron Bowlin, and James Pennington. There were further renovations to the auditorium in 2002 also during the pastorate of Bro. Richard Creech. After much prayer and consideration, another major project to add a large activity center with improved kitchen, restrooms, and office facilities was begun and completed in 2008. Each project for improvement has been a reflection of the growth and dedication of the members of First Baptist Church of Meridian. All has been accomplished by His power and grace and to the glory of God. By the words of a wonderful old hymn, “Praise the Lord, great things He has done”.  ENDNOTES 1. CLABAUGH, John, THEOLOGY ON HORSEBACK, 1888, Ross TX., pg 41 2. CENTENNIAL COMMITTEE: FUGUA, Mrs. Charles W.; DUTTON, Mrs. Clara, TIDWELL, Dr. D. D., NICHOLS, Joyce, CENTENNIAL BOOKLET 1859-1959, pg 5 3. CLABAUGH, pg 41 4. Ibid, pg 41 5. CENTENNIAL, pg 5 6. Marriage Records, September 26, 1878, Bosque County TX Courthouse 7. CLABAUGH, pg 75 8. CENTENNIAL, pg 5 9. BOSQUE COUNTY—ITS LAND AND PEOPLE, Vol 1, 1985 10. GEORGE FAMILY, HOLY BIBLE 11. TEXAS ONLINE HANDBOOK, online handbook of Texas State Historical Commission, Austin TX 12. BOSQUE COUNTY—ITS LAND AND PEOPLE, Vol 1, 1985 and archived documentation of the Bosque County Collection 13. Census records of 1860, 1870, 1880 for Bosque County, State of Texas 14. CENTENNIAL, pg 10 15. Ibid, pg 4 16. Deed Records, pg 574-575, Bosque County TX Courthouse 17. BOSQUE COUNTY COLLECTION, historical pictures, Meridian, TX 18. MIZE, Ann Gillaspie, Family collection of photographs, Meridian, TX ACKNOWLEDGMENTS   Ann Paulson, Mabel Kemp, and Joyce Nichols Swank have provided CENTENNIAL BOOKLETS from 1959 which detailed and preserved the historical work of Mrs. Charles W. Fugua from 1947 regarding the First Baptist Church, Meridian, TX and that of Mrs. Clara Dutton, along with historical dates and information of Dr. D. D. Tidwell from Howard Payne College. Joyce Heath McDowell and John Heath have provided a copy of THEOLOGY ON HORSEBACK by their ancestor missionary Elder John Clabaugh from 1888 with details of his early ministry in frontier Bosque, McLennan, Bell counties, etc. Their father Ted Heath was a longtime member and deacon of the Church. Ann Gillaspie Mize provided historical pictures from her family collection to include personal commentary. Ann was a longtime member of the First Baptist Church and the Lydia Sunday School class. She was born in 1934 to Jewel and Clarence Gillaspie and married Wayne Mize in the Church in 1953. Clarence served as deputy sheriff in the 1930’s, and his father Lester Lee “Tom” Gillaspie served as constable. She had one sister Berylyn Stephenson. Ann Paulson has provided the historical picture of a “dug-out”/cave school near Meridian TX c1900, possibly the Harmony area. The blond girl depicted was Alvin Paulson’s mother, Mary Hattie Paulson, a former member of First Baptist Church, Meridian. John and Jan Fulton provided invaluable documentation from various Church directories so that we could re-create this history of the Church with names of those who have served and loved our Lord. Bosque County Collection and manager Ruth Crawford have provided historical pictures and documentation to help with the preparation of this document. Various articles by local families in BOSQUE COUNTY—IT’S LAND AND PEOPLE, Vol 1, 1985 Various articles from the TEXAS ONLINE HANDBOOK, State of Texas Archives Bro. Bill Roe of the Bosque Baptist Association has documented much of the history of the church in its 125 Anniversary publication from 2008. Bro. Richard Creech has offered invaluable assistance with documentation and recollections for the preparation of this material. Sandy Hidler and John Philips have assisted greatly with design and formatting.