By the time Mason became a Texas county in 1858, there was a body of committed Methodists who were meeting in homes and under trees and waiting expectantly for the circuit preachers to come when they could. Those serving the congregations numbered many local or supply pastors at first. The various conferences moved their preachers every year or two and sent them far and wide. The first congregations which were served with some consistency in Mason County were those of the German language.
Meanwhile, the tiny village of Mason, which had grown up in the shadow of Fort Mason, was in need of mission work. In fact, everything in Mason County was considered a mission field. The area was far from being considered settled, though people did live in the area. A man named Thomas Myers was the first English-speaking appointment to be sent there by the Rio Grande Mission Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South in 1859. There is no mention of a church building in Mason. The members surely met in the homes of those who were already Methodists or those who were just hungry for religious services.
Records are sparse for some of the early English-speaking preachers, but two left distinguishable tracks reflecting the ministry in the area. One was P. W. Gravis, who served Mason from 1860 until 1862. At Conference time in 1860, he was sent to the Llano mission, which included Mason on its circuit, on the remote outside territory of the Northwest Texas Conference. There was little pay and the frontier conditions and dangers made the assignment extremely difficult. In 1873, he was again appointed to a huge circuit in the area, about one-third of the churches including Gillespie, Llano, Fort Mason, San Saba, Brown and Coleman.
Another, C. W. Carpenter, was assigned to the area from 1865 to 1866. There is a long note from him about organizing a three-point circuit at Mason in 1881, meaning he was assigned more than once. In 1881, he organized the Mason circuit into a three weeks’ circuit. The circuit extended from Loyal Valley to Waldrip’s Bend on the Colorado and included Loyal Valley, Mason, Camp San Saba, Voca, Brady City, Waldrip’s Bend and Beasley’s Bend, besides wayside places. The early circuit ministers were indeed stretched thin, and obviously did not get to Mason County very often.
There were no English-speaking Methodist pastors in Mason County from 1866 until 1873. The Methodist Episcopal Church (North) had not yet come into the area, and the ranks of the pastors in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, had been thinned by death and by the upheaval and chaos of the Civil War and Reconstruction. In 1873 and 1874, English-speaking men of both conferences were again appointed to Mason County. However, the circuits seem to have done little to establish a solid English-speaking Methodist congregation.
The majority of our information about the early Methodist Church in Mason comes from the diary of Lucia Holmes. Lucia’s first mention of worship services was in February of 1875, when Mr. Ranck enlisted her to play and sing for the Sunday School. The Sunday School was established in a small school building out on the Austin Highway, approximately where the Bible Baptist Church now stands. Appropriate offices were filled, and Lucia writes that Mr. Ranck and Mr. Lockhart brought home her organ later in the day (Evidently they transported her organ to the school building every Sunday).
Sunday School meetings continued, even when there was no available preacher. John Graham, a preacher in the English-speaking Methodist Episcopal Church, South, was there occasionally in 1874 and 1875 serving the Fort Mason and Llano mission circuit. Finally, in April of 1875, the church had its first confirmation class.
A pattern began to emerge of preaching services on Sunday morning: if a pastor was there, Sunday School in the afternoons and preaching at night. Sometimes English-speaking members went to the German Church—probably in that same school building on the road to Austin, there being a sharing between congregations. On another occasion, the English-speaking preacher did not arrive, so the German pastor preached.
There were several weeks with no report of services. But those were trying, frightening times. Factions and armed groups, and diverse cultures and populations, set into motion a conflict known as the Hoo Doo War. There were several men who became casualties and on September 29th, 1875, Daniel Hoerster was killed. On the following Sunday, the church was full for a sermon by Mr. Gibson, who often preached. There was a large class in Sunday School that afternoon.
Mr. Lyons, a Methodist Episcopal (North) preacher, held services Friday, Saturday, and Sunday one weekend. Mostly though, Mr. Peterson was doing the Methodist preaching. Then after all of this time, on July 2nd, 1876, Lucia made a significant entry in her diary. She went early on that Sunday to a children’s meeting. Mr. Gibson preached that morning. That evening, Mr. Peterson preached. Lucia played organ. Her next words were, “Organized a Methodist church.” The next week, she went to Sunday School at 9:30. A good many were there and the new Methodist Sunday School was organized. Gradually, many others began to join the church, including Lucia. There were several baptisms. Soon the Methodists went up to the schoolhouse where they had been worshiping, put up curtains and got a new pulpit and seats. More joined the church.
Finally, on Sunday the 10th of December, 1876, the congregation laid the cornerstone for the new Methodist church building near the school building on the road to Austin. Brother Peterson, Methodist Episcopal (North), preached in English. Brother Hartz/Hardt, German Methodist Episcopal, South, preached in German. Further, they placed a note with their signatures in the cornerstone with the scripture, “Thou art Peter, and upon this stone, I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Into that same corner-stone went a Bible, a church newspaper article about the event, and a Book of Disciplines.
Methodism continued to flourish in Mason and by the 1880’s, the four conferences- German M.E. and M.E., South, and English-speaking M.E. and M.E. South- needed more space. Newspaper articles from June of 1886 show that once in a while the M.E., South, used the courthouse. That same year, the M.E., South, transacted for a piece of property on Comanche Creek, to the north and west of the area of Spring Street. For some reason, the church chose not to build there or to build at that time. Then in January of 1888, the English M.E. (North) was meeting on an on-going basis in the courthouse on Sundays. Reverend I.K. Waller would hold services in the courthouse every first and third Sunday, morning and evening. Waller was simply a supply, but a Reverend W.J. Rutledge of the Illinois Conference filled in in 1889 as pastor.
In December of 1888, Reverend Broad of the M.E. (North) preached at the courthouse both morning and evening on “The Church as a Witness for Christ.” Reverend H. Pape, German M.E. (North) also preached at the courthouse. They were planning morning and evening services, Sunday School, and prayer meetings around each other. It seems that the congregations left at the Austin Road location were the two Southern conferences.
The next year, the decision was made to combine the two Conferences of the English-speaking congregations in the town of Mason. With this, the two Mason congregations of the English-speaking churches- M.E. (North) and M.E., South- merged into one congregation.
A little over three years later, the Methodist Episcopal Church (North) of the German Conference was the first to build a separate meeting place. On June 9th, 1892, W.P. Lockhart sold the land for the new church. The church was dedicated on Sunday, January 29th, with Rev. D. Mathaei, presiding elder, preaching the dedicatory sermon. Rev. Cunningham (of the English-speaking church) preached in the afternoon. There was a strong congregation there and they continued to grow and to improve their facilities.
The German Methodist Episcopal Church, South, was at that point meeting in the courthouse. They had been granted permission by the Commissioner’s Court to meet at the courthouse on the first and third Sunday of every month for devotional services. The new Epworth League for youth would meet each Sunday night. The courthouse had been planned with an eye to its use for public gatherings; however, the situation could not go on forever. It was time to construct a building for worship. Finally, on September 11th, 1895, they found the right piece of property for their new church. They paid $300 for the eastern half of the block on Broad Street, bounded by 1st and 2nd Streets (now Fulton and Olmos Streets).
By early 1897, both the now-merged English-speaking body and the German-speaking congregation, South, moved into their new church buildings on Broad Street. The German-speaking congregation ceased to exist separately, but they would continue to have their Sunday School classes in both languages. This small white church, affiliated with the Methodist Episcopal, South, was on the northeast corner of the lot on which First United Methodist Church now stands. At the time, it was called the Central Methodist Church. On August 13th, 1897, the Mason County News reported that the new church bell had been put in place and used the past Sunday for the first time.
For the next 43 years, the two churches- German M.E. (North) and M.E., South- stood in view of each other. There were occasionally bits of news about joint services, such as Christmas programs for the children, or a pre-Easter service in 1939. Then, at Methodism’s General Conference in 1939, after 95 years of division at the national level, the three main branches of American Methodism united. This laid the foundation for the union of the two Methodist churches in the town of Mason.
There was a called Church Conference for the Central Methodist Church on Broad Street, the purpose being to vote on a merger with the Spring Street Church. There had already been talks between the two during the past months. According to the secretary’s report, “a vote was taken by ballot, the result being 99 votes for merger and 4 against.”
With the merger, soon the small church on the northeast corner of the block on Broad Street became insufficient. However, World War II intervened and delayed any plans for the expansion of the worship space. Many of the materials that were needed for building were going to the war effort. Furthermore, an impassioned appeal was made to take the money that they had saved and put it into war bonds instead. The building could wait until finally, with the ending of the world conflict, they could begin to plan again. The new building was completed, and the opening worship service was held on July 30, 1950. That evening, there was an ecumenical service, with pastors from other denominations participating. Then, on October 15th, there was the real celebration- the service of dedication.
There was jubilant music, including adult and youth choirs and Marie Carter at the organ, and the sermon by Bishop A. Frank Smith. After a large crowd was fed dinner, spearheaded by the Women’s Society of Christian Service, there were more dedications. Offered to the glory of God were the Schulmerich carillonic bells, which still waft their hymns over the town of Mason. Also, the new organ, the Rose Window, and the stained glass windows of the sanctuary were dedicated. Ten years later in 1960, an educational wing was added.
In 1968, in Dallas, Texas, the General Conference of the Methodist Church merged with Evangelical United Brethren (a product that arose from early 19th century Wesleyan-oriented German-speaking churches). At the merger, the Methodist churches became the present United Methodist Church, and our church was renamed The First United Methodist Church of Mason.
Edited August 2019
The above text is adapted from the book 150 Years of Methodism in Mason County, Texas 1852-1952, written by Fran Hoerster and published by the church on the occasion of our 150th Anniversary. The book contains more detailed information about the church’s history, as well as footnotes and sources for the historical documents and texts used. Copies can be obtained through the church office for $15.