HALLSVILLE — After surviving a string of fires since its origin, First United Methodist Hallsville remains strong and will be celebrating its 180th anniversary as the oldest church in the Hallsville community on Sunday, March 24.

“We just want them to come and worship with us and remember that we’ve had this presence all this time,” Donna Dean Hutcherson, chair of the celebratory event, said.

“And we’re still here,” Pastor Brian Brooks added.

The church’s historic legacy dates back as far as 1839, starting with worship service at nearby Fort Crawford, which was built a mile outside of present-day Hallsville.

“It was Fort Crawford before it was a Hallsville,” said Hutcherson, describing how Methodist ministers would come on horseback to service the parishioners.

“It was not always a Methodist ministry, at that stage,” said Hutcherson. “It was whoever came through (to minister); but the Methodist ones were generally the circuit riders.”

The church is particularly excited about this year’s anniversary because it happens the same year as the City of Hallsville’s 150th birthday.

“We’re so thankful to be able to celebrate this with the entire community – anybody that’s interested in coming,” said Brooks. “But most of all, we’re excited to celebrate it before Hallsville celebrates its 150th in October, because that’s going to be a big deal, too, and it’s neat that they’re in the same year.”

The church’s March 24 celebration will begin at 10 a.m. with a combined worship service. The public is invited to attend.

“We normally have two services a Sunday, but this Sunday we’re combining our contemporary and our traditional services,” said Brooks. “It’s going to be dual music, and all sorts of stuff like that.”

The service will feature special guest preacher, Rev. Dr. Elijah Stansell, UMC’s Texas Annual Conference treasurer and director of the Center for Connectional Resources.

Following the service, the celebration will spill onto the lawn for the commemorative luncheon.

“We’re going to have a tent erected on the grounds and give away certificates for long-term membership,” said Brooks.

Lunch will be $10 per person. Attendees are asked to RSVP by March 18. All are invited to attend.

“First Methodist is building on its strong past as it prepares for mission and ministry in the future,” church officials said.

TRIAL BY FIRE

During its Fort Crawford days, the congregation met in a two-story building, boasting a meeting room.

“And then when they began to move into Hallsville, they had a building and it burned,” Hutcherson said, noting that particular building was destroyed by storm.

According to the church’s history, the congregation met in several locations as fires and storms swept through the community, destroying church buildings.

“In 1870, the congregation had great revival, spurred by a fire which blackened most of the city of Hallsville,” an April 5, 1990 News Messenger article on a third fire reported. “In 1905, the church was leveled by fire, again, with most of the city of Hallsville. On both occasions, the church saw growth and improved facilities.”

A third fire struck the church’s other site, a red brick building, built in 1923 on FM 450, across from present-day First Baptist Church in downtown Hallsville.

“A number of additions and renovations, including Gold Hall, were added to that site,” the church history states.

The landmark site stood for 67 years until fire struck the church again, gutting the sanctuary on Wednesday, April 4, 1990, days before Palm Sunday.

According to the April 5, 1990, News Messenger article, Hallsville volunteer firemen spent more than three hours fighting the flames on the historic building. The building was a total loss with a collapsed roof, shattered glass windows, ruined pews and charred new hymnals. It was the third recorded time the congregation was “tried by fire.” And while devastating to lose the “heart and soul of Methodist worshippers in Hallsville,” then-pastor, the Rev. Curtis Grissett, vowed that there would still be a place for local Methodists to continue to worship.

“They will come together. We are not going to disperse or separate. We are too tenacious a people for that. There is going to be a Methodist Church in Hallsville longer than all of us sitting in this room will live,” he told the News Messenger at the time.

“My intention is to go right on with Sunday, not as though nothing has happened, because something has happened. But a witness of our belief would be for us to go on with our programs and the programs of the church just like we had planned,” Grissett said.

That’s just what the church did. Sunday worship carried on in Gold Hall, which was the fellowship hall across the street. And the congregation came out of the fire unscathed, growing stronger in its commitment to the church’s mission and ministry in Hallsville and abroad.

“We completed the new sanctuary in 1992 on its present site east of Hallsville,” church officials said.

The present site is located at 1256 W. Main and U.S. 80 West.

“This site continued the transformation of the church from a rural congregation to a dynamic, growing, suburban congregation,” the history notes.

Church officials said within a year the sanctuary was paid for and work began on a second phase. That second phase was completed in 1994 and added a fellowship hall and kitchen, children’s classrooms, parlor and office area.

“Groundbreaking ceremonies were held June 23, 2002 for a third phase, which was completed April 27, 2003,” the church history states. “The second phase parlor, children’s classrooms and office area were renovated into much-needed adult classrooms and a special area for our quilters while the new square footage provides a wonderful ‘gathering area’ called Wesley Hall, a Children’s Wing for our growing First Friends Preschool and Children’s Sunday school, a larger parlor for special functions, a Youth Wing for our active Junior High and High School youth and an office wing for our staff.”

Hutcherson said the 21-year-old pre-school has been a great addition to the church.

“That was started after we moved out there,” she said. “It’s a wonderful little school. I’m on the board and I sing with the kids. It’s really good.”

Hutcherson said they are proud of the church’s longevity in the community, growing from a congregation of about 50 in its beginning to its current 430.

“It’s been a good presence,” she said, sharing how they enjoy being a part and supporting other entities.

“At different times, we have had what we call bracelets that we wore at the start of school that says we’re praying for students and the teachers,” said Hutcherson. “We participate in the Martin Luther King celebration walk and National Day of Prayer.”

The church has also presented the Christmas live nativity, Bethlehem Alive; and has participated in mission trips for several years. The congregation is also a regular in the Christmas parade.

“We participate in a lot of things,” said Hutcherson.

HONORING MEMBERS

For the 180th anniversary celebration, the congregation’s parishioners will be recognized for their years of membership.

“The oldest membership, she’s been a member 70 years,” said Hutcherson. “That was her home church when she was a girl.”

“She’s still there every Sunday,” Hutcherson said.

Another member, of 67 years, attends faithfully, too, Hutcherson said. Others to be recognized include memberships of 50 years, 25 years and more.

“Many of these are people that grew up in the church, and so it’s important to them,” said Hutcherson, who noted she has been a member for 51 years.

“And I remember some of the older ladies when I moved there 51 years ago, talking about they would raise chickens and bring them in and sell them,” she recalled. “That was their offering at church; and the meals, they all cooked and sold.”

“That’s how they paid the preacher back then,” noted Brooks.

A LASTING PRESENCE

Looking forward, Brooks, pastor of four years, said the church plans to continue to make an impact in the Hallsville community, with its mission statement — “Connect; Grow; Serve” — by transforming lives through Jesus Christ.

“We’re going to continue to invest more in the community and more community outreach,” the pastor said. “We’re looking at other ways to do Easter egg hunts; we’ve done Vacation Bible School in the City Park the last three years or so; and we’re going to continue to look at more ways to expand our presence in the community and let people know we’re there to love them and walk alongside them in life.”

To make reservations for the anniversary luncheon, call (903) 660-3216. For more information on the church, visit fumchallsville.org.