When worshipers gather in the sanctuary of Jefferson’s First United Methodist Church Sunday, they will join in a tradition stretching back 175 years.
“The building – I love it,” The Rev. Brenda Lucas, FUMC pastor, said. “I love the fact they kept the structure as original as it can be.”
The interior of the sanctuary is rich in New Testament symbolism. In the center of the ceiling is a large diamond motif that is divided into four triangles.
This design is repeated four times on the side walls and twice on the front and back walls. The triangles represent the Trinity. The four sides of the diamonds symbolize the Gospels.
The total of the 12 diamond motifs celebrate the Twelve Apostles. An empty cross at the front of the sanctuary asserts Christ has risen.
“The Jefferson congregation has kept up their heritage and preserved the building,” Rev. Lucas said. “A lot of people would want to build a new one and they haven’t done that. The church is so right with history, which fits well with Jefferson.”
The history of First United Methodist is interwoven with the City of Jefferson.
When Jefferson was founded in 1840, Methodist Circuit Rider William Stevenson was thought to be preaching here.
“In 1844, Reverend James Baldridge was appointed first permanent pastor of the new Methodist Episcopal Church, which was housed in a log cabin at the church’s present location on Henderson Street,” Rev. Lucas explained. In 1848, the church was financially able to build its first parsonage.
The town and church prospered because of timber, agriculture and river traffic. In 1860 the congregation built a church reputed to be “the most imposing brick structure west of the Mississippi.”
“That sanctuary seated several hundred worshipers,” Lucas related. A bell peeled from a steeple extending sixty feet above the roof crest. To add a silvery tone to the bell, 1,500 Mexican silver dollars were added to the alloy.
A couple of decades later, however, subpar construction caused the building to be condemned and demolished.
Due to the Civil War, Reconstruction and the dynamiting of the Caddo Lake log jam, which had made Big Cypress Bayou navigable, Jefferson citizens and Methodist parishioners suffered significant financial setbacks.
In 1883, a not-as-prosperous, but dedicated congregation, built this present wooden sanctuary. The silvery bell from the previous church was included in this sanctuary and still invites residents and visitors to “come to church.”
July 1 will mark the beginning of Rev. Lucas’ third year in Jefferson.
“I have really enjoyed it,” Rev. Lucas said. “It is the best appointment I have ever had. The people are so loving and so eager to serve Christ in the community.”
A celebration of the church’s 175 years will be held Saturday, and on Sunday, Bishop Scott Jones from the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church will bring the message at the 11 a.m. service.
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