Jun 23, 2011

Local Church History

I have long believed that one can learn a lot about a community by knowing the history of the three primary institutions that first arrived in most small towns in Texas between 1850 and 1880. Our church, for example, will celebrate its 133 year in 2011, as it was founded in 1878.

Generally, and in no particular order, the first three primary organizations/establishments in most Texas towns were First Baptist, First Methodist, and the local newspaper. If one reads about how these institutions developed, one would get a thumbnail look at how that particular town developed too. It is hard to say why exactly, but nowadays the churches usually fare better than the journalists.

One of the former Deans at Perkins, James Kirby, wrote a charming and revealing book titled Brother Will. Kirby’s book is about Bishop William C. Martin, whose name is etched on the cornerstone of our sanctuary just in case you wanted to know (Go look if you do not believe me). He has his name on us! His story is, in part, the story of the Central Texas Annual Conference, written from the perspective of personality. In a sense, Brother Will is a version of church history via biography.

Remembering our heritage is a key to knowing our future. As George Santayana once famously wrote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905). It was one of Harry Truman’s favorite quotations.

Earlier last year, several members of our congregation compiled a pictorial history of the artwork both inside and out of our Church. They titled the book First United Methodist Church of Arlington Religious Art and Symbolism. It has 221 color images of textiles, glass, and carvings, along with detailed descriptions of the images’ meaning.

Adding to the aesthetic content of that illustrative book, our historical committee (which has on it too many wonderful people for me to mention) complied a book of profiles of our church’s pastors. In a sense, it is a version of church history via biography. Far too often local church history consists of dry lists of pastors, Sunday school superintendents, etc. What this book chronicles is the life of the church through the personalities and deeds of its chief-operating-officers, which the church calls shepherds or pastors.

The book’s title is Ministers: 1878-2010. It is the kind of name one might expect from a functional group of practical Methodists. But . . . it is a splendid book that narrates the story of our church through 13 ½ decades. When Ministers: 1878-2010 goes on sale again, sometime in the next few months, be sure to stop by in the main hallway and thank the historians. Sitting at the table will be a collection of folks who have given us a great gift - a well done piece of documentation about who we are and who we were. then take a look at Ministers: 1878-2010.

Ministers: 1878-2010 does for FUMC of Arlington \what the book of Acts does for us. It puts meat on the bones of the church’s early characters, whether they are Peter, Lydia, John, Pricilla, Barnabas, Mary, Paul, Bernice, Silas, Rhoda, or Timothy.

Be sure to check out the biographies of Don Pike or Virlis Bane or John Wesley Ford. If you have a historical bone in your body you will not be disappointed.

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