Saturday, October 26, 2013

This Week in Texas Methodist History  October 27

First Methodist Fort Worth Breaks Ground for New Church Building, October 29, 1929

Fort Worth participated in the prosperity of the 1920s mainly because of its historic role as the processing center for the agricultural products of the western regions of Texas.  Its stockyards and meat packing houses were legendary and provided employment to thousands of men and women.  Its flour milling industry became world famous because several of the mills sponsored radio programs featuring Western Swing played by popular musicians.  The rail lines leading west from Fort Worth distributed manufactured goods to Texans living on the High Plains and Rolling Plains.

Fort Worth was a major player in Texas Methodism of the era.  Although it lost the major denominational university to Dallas, it converted Polytechnic College into a woman’s college and continued to provide Methodist higher education.  After the creation of the Central Texas Conference in 1910, Fort Worth became the premier city of that conference, and Central Texas Conference pulpits supplied leadership to the whole denomination.
First Methodist Fort Worth was one of the outstanding churches of Texas Methodism.  Several of its pastors went on to become bishops and presidents of Methodist colleges.  Hiram Boaz, Hoyt Dobbs, E. D. Mouzon, Horace Bishop, and J. W. Bergin were only a few of the distinguished pastors at First Methodist. 

Eugene B. Hawk was appointed to Fort Worth in 1925, On Sunday, October 27, 1929. Hawk preached a sermon A Changed World Through a Changed Vision.  The sermon on change was in preparation for the groundbreaking scheduled for the following Tuesday. Fort Worth Methodists were planning to build a magnificent sanctuary for the glory of God and enjoyment of worshipers. Few of the congregation, or even Rev. Hawk, had any idea of the changes that were to come.

The previous Thursday is known as “Black Thursday” as the New York Stock Market lost 11 per cent of its value at the opening bell.  The losses continued.  On Monday the NYSE lost another 13% and on Tuesday as Bishop John M. Moore was breaking ground for the new church, it lost another 12%.  The Great Depression was beginning.

It was not an auspicious time to begin an expensive building campaign, but First Methodist Fort Worth was already committed. Construction continued through the rest of 1929 and 1930.  Rev. Hawk laid the corner stone on Oct. 5, 1930, and formal opening service was conducted on Sunday, June 14, 1931.  The Methodists of Fort Worth had pulled it off.  Not only had they built one of the finest churches in Texas, they were also able to secure a new parsonage. 

Eugene B. Hawk (b. 1881) did not stay long to enjoy the new facilities.  In 1931 he moved Louisville to pastor Fourth Street Methodist Church. In 1933  President Charles C. Selecman invited Hawk to become Dean of the School of Theology at SMU. He continued to have justifiable pride in First Methodist Fort Worth.  As Dean, at least once he  loaded SMU theology students onto a bus and took them on a tour of the Fort Worth church. 

 He held the deanship  until 1951 and served as interim president of SMU during the transition from the Selecman’s presidency to that of Umphrey Lee.  It was during Hawk’s deanship that the School of Theology became Perkins School of Theology and the Quadrangle was constructed.  He died in 1963 after a lifetime of distinguished service to Methodism. 

The Great Depression and World War II severely hampered new church construction for the next decade and one-half.  First Methodist Fort Worth stood as the most recent example of an era of heroic church construction for years.  It continues to provide a home for a vibrant, caring congregation to this day.


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