Saturday, September 22, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History  September 23

St. John’s Nears Completion as Tallest Structure in Galveston  September 26, 1870      

As Texas recovered from the economic effects of the Civil War, Galveston was well-positioned to take advantage of increased commerce. Much of the Texas cotton crop passed through the port.  Merchant ships from all over the world streamed into Galveston with all sorts of manufactured goods.  The first bank in Texas to receive a national banking charter was organized there.   It continued its traditional role as a port of entry for immigrants. 

Galveston Methodists began to plan and build a church building that would reflect the prosperity of the city.  As the building neared completion, the Texas Christian Advocate (then published in Galveston) reported on an additional benefit of the structure.  It would help navigators steer their course into port.

Our new church in this city is fast approaching completion. The tower is all that remains of the brick work to be finished—the roof will be on in a few days and the material for the windows is at hand.  And the preparation of the interior for the reception of the congregation will be carried forward so rapidly, that it will be ready for the preacher whom Bishop Marvin will assign to the charge next year.   The building is one of the largest and most elegant in the state.  The audience room is in the second story, and with its numerous windows, will be delightfully ventilated—an item too often overlooked in the erection of church buildings in the South.

. . .We are informed that sea captains say that the church is now the first building they see as they approach the city, and when the tower is completed, it will become one of the land marks which will guide the mariner to our port.  We trust it will be instrumental in guiding many souls to the port of everlasting bliss. 

Just one year later, in 1871, Phillip P. Bliss (1838-1876) used similar imagery when he published his hymn, Let the Lower Lights Be Burning.  ‘Some poor fainting, struggling seaman you may rescue, you may save.”   Bliss got his inspiration from a Dwight L. Moody sermon illustration about a captain trying to reach the Cleveland, Ohio, harbor.  


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