First Christian Church Of Rowlett
By Carolyn Sue Chenault
Rowlett was a tiny farming community of less than 1,000 people when a church of the Disciples of Christ was founded there in 1893. It was the first church to be organized in this area of cotton, corn and onions. Thirteen church pioneers led by Aunt Ebb Coyle, who donated part of her farmland for the church home in the downtown area of the rural village, are credited with establishing this early church. The others were Margaret Kirby, Peachie McFarland, Mrs. McMasters, Lizzie Page, Jake Chenault, Mrs. Whatley Joe Pea, Mr. and Mrs. John Beicher, Hatton Knox, Bill Tucker, and West Tucker. Less than twenty members gathered in the Big A School House when they first began meeting.
Construction of the first building began in 1894, with Tom Mills as the head carpenter, assisted by other members of the church. Completed in 1895, the building served the church until a larger one was built in 1923.
Although detailed records are not available from 1893 until 1906, the church met regularly. No records exist for the six years from 1906 to 1912. Winter weather wiped out attendance in some years; as did heavy rains, muddy roads and community-wide illnesses. Contributions were frequently affected by the price of cotton and success of the crops; so there were good years and lean years. However, the generosity of the members supporting the work of the church never waned.
Most members were gained in summer revivals, sometimes called “protracted meetings,” which would last two or three weeks. The revivals were usually held in late July or August, at the height of the summer heat, and before school opened in September. The largest effort each year was not focused on either Christmas or Easter events, but on those outdoor summer revivals. Much emphasis was put on music, fervent sermons, large attendance, and baptism. Baptisms took place in the nearby tanks or creeks, since the church had no baptistry. Planning for the summer revivals began in January with great effort and much time being expended to locate and reserve the time of an appropriate evangelist.
One of the church’s most successful efforts was in August 1914, when 106 new members were added to the church in a three-week revival. John Gorton and his wife were the evangelists for that marvelous experience. Also, during the summer of 1916, Rev. Holsapple of Sherman was paid $100 to conduct a revival, which netted six new members. Another surge in growth came in the summer revivals of 1921 and 1922. Nineteen new members were added to the church with M.A. Buhler serving as the evangelist during the first of these years and thirty-four in the latter. Then in 1924, thirty-nine new members were added and fifty-one in 1925 in the summer revivals.
The records of the church refer to the church being reorganized several times in the twenty years from 1900 to 1920. The records do not reveal precisely why these reorganizations occurred other than membership turnover.
In May 1906, W. Lander of New Hope Community and Henderson Coyle of Garland came to Rowlett to help the church organize a Sunday school. This organization included naming a slate of officers separate from the church’s officers as well as a separate budget. Officers associated with this effort were members of the Buhler family, M.A., Mae and Irma, who were prominent members of the Rowlett community and the church for more than fifty years. Those officers, along with Ella Collins and Mrs. J.H. Maupin, were teachers for forty-five students.
During the first eighteen years of the church’s existence, there was no piano or organ included in the church’s music. In 1912, an organ was added and Mrs. Willie Richards was named organist. In 1915, one hundred new songbooks were purchased for $22.50.
Many ministers served this church through the early years. It was rare for any minister to remain even for three years, since the salary was very low. There was no parsonage to offer him for housing, and many ministers preferred a more stable life and income that urban churches could offer. In 1915, B.F. Higgins from TCU in Fort Worth was serving as minister. He was paid $15 to make the trip to preach. By December of that year, the church experienced a financial crisis when it was unable to continue to pay for his services. In 1916 Rev. W.O. Dallas was engaged to preach on the first Sunday afternoon of each month for $5 per service. He also agreed to do pastoral work for the church, including visiting the sick, newcomers and ministering to any family with special needs.
The church suffered in the Depression years of the 1930s, with crop prices falling and morale dropping throughout the nation. However, it continued to sustain itself and to grow, especially through the summer revivals. This church has been mercifully free of the divisive issues that frequently plague some churches.
During the war years of the 1940s, fewer students from TCU came to preach in the church. Although the financial strain of the 1930s had eased and attendance stabilized, the church still depended greatly on the success of summer revivals to add new members. Then, in 1949, the church took a leap of faith and built its first parsonage, a two-bedroom, one bath home costing $3,944.56. Salary for the pastor was raised to $140 per month.
In the latter half of the century, revivals continued, but television, road improvements in the community, larger incomes, etc., led the church away from depending on them for growth. The Christian Women’s Fellowship was organized in 1953, and the church honored Miss Irma Buhler for her fifty years of service to the church as a teacher, Church Clerk, Sunday School Secretary and Treasurer. In 1955, the church lost J.H. Buhler, who had served as the church’s Chairman of the Board for thirty-five years. The church continued to be active in mission and community affairs and support. Air-conditioning was installed in the building in 1961, although installation of telephones was voted down, cited as a waste of money.
In 1986, the church celebrated a homecoming, recognizing the church’s ninety-three years of existence. It is the oldest church in Rowlett. It currently meets in a new building, which was opened in 1997 at 7301 Miller Road. The building built in 1923 is considered a Rowlett treasure and has been converted into Rowlett Chamber of Commerce offices.
As of August 2001, the church has 250 members and a very bright future!