Saturday, July 09, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History   July 10

Church Dedication at Coleman,  July 1891

The process today is called “new church starts” or “church planting,” but the process is not new and it has been called different names throughout Texas Methodist history.   At one time it was called “church extension,” and was directed mainly from Nashville rather than by the annual conferences of the MECS.  As one would expect, the planting of new churches has occurred in fits and starts as different parts of Texas during different eras.  Today new church starts occur mainly in the suburbs of the major cities---a process that his been going on in the Houston area since about 1900.   Houston’s growth as a city can be plotted by where Methodists have started new churches from the 1900’s when it boomed with the oil industry (St. Paul’s, Grace, ) to today when the metropolis has spilled into Fort Bend, Brazoria,  and Montgomery Counties.  

During the closing years of the 19th century new church starts were occurring in the Rolling Plains and High Plains as rail transportation enabled the farming frontier to move westward.  Increased population meant that many circuits could become stations.  The erection of a new church building to accommodate the increased membership was common.  Many churches in the Central Texas and Northwest Texas Conferences date their origin to this period of settlement in the wake of railroad expansion. 

Coleman is one such example.  The town was designated as the county seat of Coleman County, and after a court house was erected, that building was used for church gatherings. 

In 1888 the Northwest Texas Conference appointed Charles V. Oswalt (1857-1933) to Coleman.  Oswalt, a native of Mississippi, attend university in his home state, moved to Texas and almost immediately lost his wife, Eliza—buried in Killeen.   He continued to serve churches and when appointed to Coleman, was determined to build a church.  Although he faced discouragement, he plunged into the task—to the point of doing some of the carpentry work on the building himself.  
In July 1891 Oswalt was the pastor of the church in  Comanche, but was invited back to Coleman to give the dedicatory sermon the new building was ready for occupance.  News reports tell us that the building had a seating capacity of 600, a 70 foot spire, and stained glass windows.  The cost was about $5000.   Methodists in Coleman had a new church!

Oswalt remarried and stayed in the Northwest Texas Conference.  He became a leader in the faction arguing for a division of the conference.  When that happened in 1910, Oswalt became part of the Central Texas Conference.  He spent his last days in Fort Worth and is buried in Shannnon Rose Hill Memorial Park there. 


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