April 21, 2008 by

The Oldest Church in Texas


Categories: church, Meanderings (look it up)

I don’t know why this came to mind this morning…but I drifted back about 9 years to when I still lived in East Texas. As part of a project I was working on, I went to different towns to research some of the spiritual history of the area. One of the points of interest was a particular church near Palestine, TX that claimed to be the oldest Protestant church in Texas.

The oldest church in Texas was actually a bit difficult to find, because it was not in the usual place you expect to find a church, and wasn’t found on the maps. When I actually found it, its location was very interesting, and very telling.

It sat smack in the middle of a huge cemetery.

The church building was a little red building, not much larger than a shed. That’s not an exaggeration–I don’t think more than 30 people could have fit inside. The doors were padlocked. It was the custom years ago for churches to bury their dead in a cemetery adjacent to the building. And so since the 1830s, the church had been burying its dead, until it was surrounded by acres and acres of dead parishoners.

It is safe to say that the oldest church in Texas had more dead Christians than living ones.

The building itself was a reconstruction of the original 1833 building. The church was supposedly still in operation, but there was no phone number listed in the directory, no pastor to call. Guess they were happy with the amount of people they had–descendants of the people in the cemetery, by my guess. And there they sat, tucked away, nearly hidden in the East Texas woods, their only claim to fame being that they have been there the longest.

This makes lots of thoughts go through my head. What thoughts are going through yours?

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

9 Responses to The Oldest Church in Texas

  1. Doorman-Priest

    We have no cemetry, but we can only take 30 and most of them are descendants of the ones who came before.

    Also no-one else seems to know about us.


  2. samwrites2

    The doors are locked. And there seems to be no way to contact anyone.
    Glad you weren’t in any sort of crisis.
    Since I’m part of the church – are my doors open and unlocked for others? Metaphorically speaking.

    • Harlin

      As an actual parishioner of the old pilgrim church I just want to let you good folks know that since the church was commissioned as a historical landmark it has been used mostly as a figurehead and is only used as a gathering place for sunrise service on easter and special occasions. Services are held by the First United Methodist church of Elkhart and had anyone been in need for such a small town we have more than enough churches.

      • Wayward Son Post author

        I’m fascinated that someone from that church actually found this blog, and responded to a post that is nearly four years old.

        I want to clarify that I wasn’t intending to draw any specific conclusions about the church based on what I saw–only speculating, since during my visit to the town no one seemed to be able or willing to offer specific information. I did, in fact, look for someone to talk to about this. At the time, I was doing research for a project.

        If you read any further within my blog, you’ll understand that this blog is about a journey of faith, and the picture of the old padlocked church in a cemetery paints a picture–a metaphor of the deeper problem within the church, not a statement about your particular landmark. I do not know how many churches I’ve encountered over the years that might as well have had their doors padlocked–but believe me, it’s more than I can count. This is coming from someone who has spent his entire life deeply entrenched in the church community.

        It’s also worth mentioning that if the building is only a figurehead now, the real “church” (that is, the people) have moved on. That actually means that the building isn’t really the oldest “church” in Texas, after all. Just the oldest church building. Just saying.

        Thanks so much for chiming in. My response is intended with the utmost respect, but I say these things in the hope that while defending the landmark, you don’t miss the greater point. –WS

        • Harlin

          I understand where you’re comin from and I also meant no disrespect the last thing I wanna do is intrude on someones thoughts and beliefs and you are right the building is just that a buildin’ the old guard is laid beneath it and the new guard has moved on. The good news is we don’t use it cuz’ we can’t all fit in there any more. In fact at the sunrise service this mornin we didn’t even try to all squeeze inside.

  3. shaun

    What came to my mind was the way we shut people out as “christians”.
    How Christianity has become this exclusive club and the vast majority of people don’t get it because of the way we present ourselves..
    Our words, our actions and attitudes slam the door of real communication with the outside world..
    No wonder I have heard so many studies on the “Remnant”. Is that really what we want to be?
    Not me.

  4. Karenkool

    I was thinking about all those times my siblings and I, as kids, held our breath whenever we passed a cemetary so we would’t die (or whatever the reason was).

    That’s about all that came to mind–that and while taking a road trip to a friend’s wedding in Texas back in 1990, my husband and I were pulled over on the four lane highway. I got a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt–as a passenger. Dang Texans!

    Interesting story about the oldest church, though. Brings up lots of thoughts ;-).

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