Matagorda County Historical Markers

Matagorda County Historical Marker

Bay City

First Christian Church of Bay City

3920 Doris Street           28°59'15.85"N        95°56'33.83"W



First Christian Church 

Compiled by Nancy Ruth Lane 

On April 4, 1904, the board of trustees, composed of W. T. Goode, J. E. May, and William Cash, purchased lots 9 through 12, Block 108, original Townsite of Bay City on the corner of Avenue G and Fifth Street, for the First Christian Church.

Mr. William Cash, of the board of trustees, was a member of the church and moved to Bay City from Missouri in 1899, having a degree from Culver Stockton University. He established an abstract business, a real estate business, and a law office in Bay City about the time the original townsite was mapped and Bay City had been designated as county seat of Matagorda County.

The land for the church was purchased from N. King, J. C. Woode, and G. M. Magill and the deed was filed November 1, 1907 and entered in the deed records of Matagorda County, volume 20, pages 93-94. A building was erected which served as a sanctuary, church school, and baptistry, and was used for social gatherings. Beside Mr. William Cash, some of the early members of the church were W. T. Goode, J. F. Fry, Mrs. W. H. Gillette, Mrs. P. A. McLendon, Sr., Mrs. Fannie Baker, and Mrs. William Belcher.

In 1909, a storm hurled its fury against the coast and the church was destroyed. The church was rebuilt, and on April 7, 1912 the church began a series of revival meetings with Walter B. Zimmerman from Paris, Ill., and his Evangelistic Party of five persons in the lead. Quoting from a church report written by L. H. Williams-clerk dated May 20, 1912:

. . . a Tabernacle was erected that would seat all of the people and Brother George Brown had the supervision of the building in which he showed a great deal of enthusiasm. . . . Prof. Williams and his trained choir, and many other good singers which Bay City is blessed with were on the job all through the meetings, making a chorus of seventy-five voices. Prof. J. Q. Brown of Chicago was thorough in his training of the singers. . . . Mrs. Libbie Ingels did good service and personal work. . . . I presume her life and work are known best in Illinois as her husband when alive was a minister of the Word with the Disciples of Christ. Our meetings closed May 7, and the immediate visible results are as follows: By confession--eighteen, six of these are to be baptized. By statement there were eleven making twenty-nine in all to the Christian Church.

Mr. William goes on to say that the Baptists received five new members, the Presbyterians-six, and the Methodists received two. Also from these records we find some of the other members of the church at that time were as follows: C. A. Pasino, pastor; W. W. Grimmer; Jim Brown; E. N. Gustafson; F. B. Williford; J. M. Leppard; Mrs. H. E. McLemore and W. S. Edwards. Mr. Cash was still very active in leadership at this time.

Another storm came and damaged the church, so it had to be rebuilt again. By the year 1916 work was more organized-regular resident ministers were employed and the church began to grow. Later, a building was erected immediately south of the church, which was used for church school rooms, social rooms, and a kitchen.

In the latter part of 1939, church members felt the need to expand the church plant. At the time the mining of sulphur had been discontinued in the town of Old Gulf and operations moved to New Gulf, near Wharton. Many of the buildings in Old Gulf were being sold and moved. Texas Gulf Sulphur had built a combination sanctuary and community house in Old Gulf that was not being used. The idea of buying the property and moving it to Bay City to serve the first Christian Church grew out of a visit to Old Gulf by Mr. and Mrs. Burnet Yancey and Mr. and Mrs. F. O. Montague on a Sunday afternoon. Upon returning home a committee was formed to return and visit the president of Texas Gulf Sulphur concerning the purchase of the building. This committee included Mr. Joe Birkner, Sr., F. O. Montague and Rev. Ernest Deutsch of the First Presbyterian Church. Rev. Deutsch was asked to accompany the men because he was an unselfish minister, a man of real ability, an eloquent preacher, and a tower of spiritual strength in the life of the town. He was very instrumental in helping the committee acquire the building. Mr. Joe Birkner, an elder in the church, consulted contractors concerning moving the church to insure it could be done. And so it was!

Quoting from church historian Edith Armstrong's The Book of Remembrance: "Moving this church was a spiritual experience, as well as a physical fact, for our people. We remembered how the faithful Hebrews carried the Ark of the Covenant with them, this church moving down the highway was our Temple. When the evening came, people came to see how far the church had traveled that day."

While the building was being moved to Bay City, Joe A. Birkner and his three sons, Joe A., Jr., Otha, and Ottis, poured a concrete foundation. When the building was set on the foundation, the alignment was perfect. Mr. Birkner and his three sons also bricked the church and the Sunday School Annex. The educational building directly south of the old church was enlarged and converted into a nice five-room parsonage.

The formal opening ceremonies were held on March 28, 1940, with Dr. Harry G. Knowles of the First Christian Church of Houston leading the services. Members from sister churches in Corpus Christi, Houston, and El Campo attended. The building committee included Mr. Frank Montague, chairman; Mr. William Cash, Mrs. O. C. Ball, and Mr. Joe Birkner. Rev. Rollo L. Rilling was the minister at the time. Hirman Salisbury was the architect, with A. F. Wicks the advisory architect and J. C. Hites was the contractor in charge of construction.

It took many years to pay the indebtedness, but on November 16, 1947, following an inspirational message by Rev. Luke Bolin, the mortgage was burned with William Cash and Hattie Belcher doing the honors. This was a time of growth for First Christian Church of Bay City. Don Rimmer, chairman of the board in 1950, saw that the church had more than reached the capacity of its facilities for Christian education. A committee was appointed to study the advantages and disadvantages of possibly relocating to a larger facility. On this fact finding committee was: H. H. Ray, chairman, Joe Birkner, Sr., and Earl Ward. Ten acres of land in the Rex Harris Addition, which became known as the "Birkner Addition” were purchased as a possible new site on June 10, 1954. Mr. H. H. Ray was instrumental in substantially donating toward this endeavor. The land was situated north of Mrs. Uher's property on the West Columbia Highway. There were no improvements on the property at the time, but Mayor Harris stated that water and gas would be available soon. So the church also purchased Lot 6 on the east one-half of Lot 5, Block 1 of the Birkner Addition for a parsonage. The trustees serving the church at the time were: J. A. Birkner, Sr., J. D. Yancey, and H. S. Mosley.

The new parsonage was built at 3516 Doris Street and dedication was on April 24, 1955. Members who contributed time and labor were as follows: H. H. Ray, Guy Garner, Cliff Wood, Don Wertz, Henry Carrington, A. E. Elliott, Mr. & Mrs. Marvin Dennard, Floyd Young, Paul Mielsch, Dennis Watkins, Carl Oates, Tony Mulligan, George Brown, Sam Quinn, and Jim Webb. The dedication and open house was under the direction of the membership development committee whose chairman was Mrs. Charles Etgen. Mrs. Frank Montague, Jr. served as chairman of the open house committee. Those assisting her were Mrs. Raymond Stridde, Mrs. Earl Ward, and Mrs. Preston Cook. Approximately 125 people attended the open house and dedication of the new parsonage.

On March 3, 1960, the contract for the new First Christian Church was let to Alvin Construction Company of Alvin, Texas. The building committee members were Don Wertz, Edith Armstrong, Dale Withrow, Mr. and Mrs. Jim Webb, and Rev. Thomas A. Plumbley. Ground-breaking ceremonies were held on March 13, 1960 on the ten acres of land in Birkner Addition. At this time, the church buildings on Avenue G were sold to the First Methodist Church and the money was added to the building fund to help pay for the new church buildings being constructed. There is a report in the church history book, The Book of Remembrance, that includes all expenses incurred, written by Edith Armstrong and take from notes of the President of the Board at that time, Mr. Otha Birkner.

The building was finished and there was a dedication ceremony on November 6, 1960 at 3:00 p.m. at the new location, 3920 Doris Street. Rev. Karl Parker, minister of the First Christian Church of Pasadena, and President of the Texas Convention of Christian Churches, delivered the dedicatory address. Various leaders of the congregation, local and district ministers and the mayor of Bay City participated in the program.

In September, 1961, hurricane Carla and its 104 mile an hour winds blew the east roof of the church 100 yards. There was sufficient insurance to cover damages to the Fellowship Hall Sanctuary.

In 1973, the original parsonage on Doris Street was sold, and new parsonage at 2428 Oak Drive was purchased. This house served as church parsonage until August 30, 1995, and then was sold. The last pastor to live in that house was David Kleinfeldt.

There have been many outstanding people from the First Christian Church of Bay City. One of the most influential and endearing was Miss Edith Armstrong. She was a very good and thorough church historian and librarian until sometime in 1967. Miss Armstrong was an organizer in the field of special education and was a charter member and treasurer of the Matagorda County Council for Retarded Children. In 1965, she retired as a special education teacher. In 1968 she was awarded Outstanding Lady Citizen for 1967, and the Bay City School Board named a building in Miss Armstrong's honor, located on Hilliard Campus-the Edith Armstrong Center for Trainable Mentally Retarded Children. Her faith in God kept her active in the First Christian Church as Sunday school teacher, chairperson of World Outreach, Diaconate, member of the Official Board, and member of the Cabinet. She was in an automobile accident on February 4, 1970 and sustained extensive head injuries. She became incapacitated and moved to Matagorda House where she spent the rest of her life. She died in early January of 1974 at the age of 76.

Two young men who were members of the church as youths became ministers in their adult lives. They were Jerry Mallory and William "Bill" Montague. Mr. Mallory was a Chaplain in the Air Force and served the country in Vietnam in 1966 and worked with the Worldwide Evangelization Crusade to help an orphanage there. Mr. Montague received his B. D. degree from Brite College of the Bible in 1954 and has served as a minister in many areas from Mississippi to Texas. He is the son of Mr. and Mr. F. O. Montague who became members of First Christian Church in 1932.

The music department has had a variety of very talented people, some of whom were: Hill Winfrey, choir director; Charles Mosley, organist; Mr. and Mrs. Don Wertz, choir directors; Mrs. Jess Fallis, organist; Jess Fallis, soloist; Mrs. Linda Strickland, pianist/organist/director; Mr. and Mrs. Ladell Sump, soloists; and many, many more.

Mrs. Alide Webb served as church secretary for fifteen years and during that time she taught Sunday school classes for all ages and served as a deaconate.

Many other members have performed outstanding services on the city, county, state, and national level. Mr. Glenn Sedam was named "Layman of the Year" for this region of the Disciples of Christ. Mrs. Dorothy Birkner, Pam Stanley and Dorothy Sedam were also named "Woman of the Year" for their services to the community of Bay City. Don Wertz, Fred Stanley and Dorothy Birkner have all served on the school board. Otha Birkner served in the Texas State Legislature in 1962. Georgia Herreth was the first woman City Council member in 1979, President of the Chamber of Commerce, and President of the Matagorda County Genealogical Society in 1985. Mrs. Vi Sullivan served on the State Legislative Committee for Vocational Home Economics from 1972 - 1975. In 1973 she was president of the Texas Association, and was appointed by the Commissioner of Education to serve on the State Text Book Committee. Mrs. Sullivan was also on the board of the National Vocational Association of Teachers in 1974.

At a congregational meeting in the spring of 1985, the Weekday Children's Program was born. Glynna Joines proposed the idea and stated that her father would put up five hundred dollars if someone in the congregation would put up the other five hundred to begin the school. A. N. Sullivan immediately responded and offered to donate the balance. A small two-day-a-week program began, and "The Learning Tree," as it is called, has grown to five days a week with capacity enrollment of pre-school children. An outgrowth of this program was the Halloween Carnival, with Glynna Joines and Gale Denn as co-directors. In 1985 over one thousand dollars in proceeds were given to the Pediatric Cardiology Clinic at Texas Childrens Hospital. In 1986, two thousand dollars were raised for Kids in Distress Services, a newly formed service in Bay City for abused children.

In 1985 the north wing of the church, as well as the narthex and office were destroyed by fire. Undaunted, the faithful church members cleaned and restored it all. Some records were lost at the time, but many were recovered later.

At the time of this writing, the elders of the church are as follows: Ladell and Sue Sump, Arden and Vicki Aldridge, Carol Franklin, Della White, Jerry and Diane Tallas, Ed Miller, Vi Sullivan, Jim and Georgiann Spoonemore, and Elders Emeritus: Jess Fallis and Glenn Sedam.

The following ministers have served the First Christian Church of Bay City: 1912, C. A. Pasino, 1913; J. H. Bristor, 1913; W. W. Harris, 1914; D. D. Doyle, 1917-1919; B. Golightly, 1919-1921; S. M. Brown, 1921-1923; W. D. Stephens, 1923-1926; G. W. Morgan, 1927-1930; A. L. Haley, 1930-1932; W. S. Deatherage, 1935; J. Willett, 1936; Rollo Rolling, 1938-1946; Luke Bolin, 1946-1949; Claude Snowden, 1949-1950; Ellis Veale, 1950-52; Louis Saunders, 1953-1957; Bob Yelderman (ad interim), 1957; Don Larick, 1964-1972; Dean Brigham (ad interim), 1972; William Parkey, 1973-1974; Tom Gabrielson (ad interim), 1975; Ernie Williams (ad interim), 1975-1976; Robert Matheny, 1976-1980; Dr. D. Ray Lindley (ad interim), 1980-1981; John D. Jolley, 1981-1984; Dr. Harold Glen Brown (ad interim), 1985; John Richardson, 1985-1989; David Kleinfeldt, 1989-1994; Bill Stevens (ad interim), 1995-1997; and Kevin Flannery, 1997-2000.

Since it first started in 1904, the church has changed many times over, but through growth, hurricanes, wind and fire, the faith of its members has withstood all. Many members have moved away or gone to be with their Father in heaven. Many who were youth growing up in the church, have become the leaders of today and tomorrow in other cities, towns, and countries. The church congregation is much smaller now--about the size it was in the beginning back in 1904, and their faith in God above is just as strong as it ever was.

Typed for this page by Shirley L. Brown


Copyright 2011 - Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
All rights reserved

Sep. 13, 2011
May 5, 2013