The history of our church begins with the history of a settlement that would become a town and now a city. Settlers began farming west of Dallas along the Trinity River and it’s water sheds in the 1850’s. Cotton was the major crop.
In 1902, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad employed Otis Brown and J. O. Schulze to conduct a survey for a route to connect Dallas to Fort Worth. In December 1903, these surveyors purchased 80 acres of land for themselves from the Britain family and laid out a town that they named Irving. So it was in 1914, with a post office and the official designation from the State of Texas, Irving the town was on its way to becoming Irving the city.
Six years before Irving received its official designation as a Texas city, our church was born. The year was 1908. In a letter published in 1952, Mrs. W.L. Noah wrote the following account of the beginnings of what would become First United Methodist Irving.
I am sure the beginning of our church could be the beginning of many other little churches, but I do wish I could make you see Irving as it was then, such a little village. No streets or sidewalks, just stumps everywhere.
Our church began in a brush arbor. The Reverend M.H. Read, pastor of the Grand Prairie Methodist church held a revival, and at the close of this revival 14 of us joined the church. We had no place to hold services, but the school board very graciously gave us permission to use the school building.
Now the hard work started – our first money we made was with a box supper: we made $75, not much to build a church. This $75 has a special significance; this was the first bank account our church had.
Mrs. W.L. Noah
The church building was underway before the end of the year 1908 on a lot donated by one of the original 14 members, Mr. A. J. Clark. The property was on the corner of what is now Ohio Street and Third Street. The building was described as “a modest little white frame building.” There were now 19 names in the Church Register.
Finishing touches: pews, pulpit and a piano were added in early 1909. Barely a year after the Brush Arbor revival, membership had grown to 48 with five baptisms on August 4, 1909.
In December 1909, Bishop Candler appointed Reverend Thomas Moore to Irving Methodist Episcopal Church. Services were being held every Sunday in the white frame church building. 1910 brought the first real crisis to Irving and our church as well as all of North Texas when Small Pox infected many and brought death to a number not fully counted except for one of our own, Reverend Moore. His death came on August 18, 1910.
Five pastors served for a few months or a year each, after the passing of Reverend Moore, leading up to the day in 1914 that Irving would officially be recognized as a Texas town. As the town grew, so did the church. By May 1, 1914, membership had reached 97.
Irving was still a very small town, but it was surrounded by other small communities and with the railroad depot, new cotton gin, lumber yard and other stores and businesses all within a few blocks of Irving Methodist Episcopal Church, the church grew with the town.
‘A Psalm of Solomon. Unless the LORD builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted. Unless the LORD protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good’
Psalm 127:1 NLT
By 1920, the Irving population was 357. The church membership was 257. Many believed that part of the church growth was because of the church bell. Just after World War 1, Mrs Noah challenged the Sunday School class she was leading to raise funds for a bell to place in the church bell tower. In a few short months the money was raised and the church bell was commissioned. Once installed, it was rung every Sunday morning and could be heard throughout the town of Irving. Children took turns pulling the bell rope to signal 15 minutes before Sunday School, ringing again to announce the start of Sunday School. After Sunday School, the bell was rung still again calling all to worship. This is the bell located today on the bell stand on the colonnade leading into the Sanctuary. Children still flock to the bell for a chance to pull the rope announcing worship. This same bell has been ringing for almost 100 years.
Throughout the next decade our church continued to grow. Another building had been acquired and was usually referred to as the “brown building.” It was used for some Sunday School classes and many social events. By the early 1930’s, despite The Great Depression, the growing church felt the call to build a larger and more permanent building. The white frame church had served well. It had been build quickly and economically. It was loved by all, but it was agreed to go forward with a new building. In 1937, the new Sanctuary was opened. It was built of stone on the northeast corner of Ohio and Third streets with large double doors facing south and a very large stained glass window above. The sun, especially in winter, streams through this window shining the colors of the glass upon walls, pew and worshippers. Along the south, east and west sides of the stone church are a total of sixteen smaller windows of stained glass marked with the names of donors or honorees. The morning and afternoon sunlight shining through these windows illuminates the Sanctuary with warm color. Reverend Tom Sterck was the pastor when the new Sanctuary opened and soon the first wedding was celebrated. Dugan Andrews and Marjorie Robinson exchanged vows with Reverend Sterck presiding.
With the new Sanctuary, the brown building and the white building, the church was able to serve its membership with room for growth. The war years were difficult times for all. Many members served in the armed forces as was the case everywhere. Some did not return. We are blessed to have some of those who did return as well as those who served at home still with us today.
‘Praise Him with sounding cymbals; praise Him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!’
It was in the 1950’s that the time when Irving would be called a small town, ended. From a census population of 2,615 in 1950, growth was unprecedented. By 1960, the population of Irving had reached 45,895. The city was no longer the original 80 acres that Mr. Brown and Mr. Schulze surveyed and developed. It stretched almost seven miles east and west and over 15 miles north to south. In the early 1950’s, plans were made to build a new building dedicated to Christian education. The building campaign was laid by Louis Blaylock and Herman Dearing with Reverend J.W. Lindsey. The plan was to raise $150,000 and build a two-story building adjacent to the Sanctuary.
The plans also announced an enlargement to the stone Sanctuary that would connect the new Education building with the Sanctuary so that utilities, heat and cooling could be provided from one system.
The Victory dinner for all the church was held on March 27, 1952. Work began almost immediately on the new Education Building as well as the enlargement of the Sanctuary. Many Sunday School classes are still today using these rooms that provided a growing church space for Christian Education as well as added space in the Sanctuary. The expansion can be seen today as there are now a total of fourteen stained glass windows on the east and west sides of the chapel. (instead of the original 10 of 1937).
With Reverend Lindsey having been Senior Pastor since 1949, the growth in membership and building for that growth was most apparent. In 1948, there had been a crisis in the public school district which had an effect on educators who were members as well as elected school trustees. Many of the community leaders called First Methodist Irving their church home. That crisis passed, but for some it was not forgotten. In late February, 1955, the Irving ISD Trustees decided to fire the Superintendent of Irving schools. The superintendent was a member of our church. Three of the trustees were members. Several school principals and may teachers were members. When word got out on the last day of February, most teachers did not report to work March 1. This became a very traumatic time for all of Irving and was a disruption to church growth. The school crisis was not resolved until August. Some members left First Methodist and were instrumental in starting Kirkwood Methodist. More members left and joined other congregations. It was a difficult time as people lost jobs, lost friends, lost neighbors and felt lost to their church.
Reverend Lindsey left First Methodist in 1956 after serving seven years; the longest of any pastor to that date. It would be 15 years before First Methodist had another minister stay more than three years.
As the decade of the 60’s began, First Methodist constructed its largest building to date. It was dedicated to serving the growing population of children in our church. The three story building included classrooms and nursery facilities not only for Sundays, but as a day school for young children during the week.
Irving continued to grow in the 1960’s and reached a population of 97,958 by 1970. With population more than doubling in a decade, Irving was one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. Smaller building projects added church offices and finished out the basement of the Education Building as a Fellowship Hall.
The pastoral staff now included Homer Caldwell as Associate Minister of Visitation and Joel Green as Associate Minister of Youth. There were directors for Music, and for Childcare and Education.
In 1972, Reverend Earl Harvey was appointed to pastor First Methodist as more growth was anticipated. Although growth in the city population was much slower during the 1970’s, church membership continued to grow with the children of the 1940’s having children of their own.
The crisis of 1966 was one of division. The crisis that came in 1975 exemplified unity. In January following multiple services during Advent with the Sanctuary decorated in greens throughout, a fire in the night destroyed or damaged much of our building interiors. The Sanctuary was spared most of the fire damage, but the smell of smoke and charred wood lasted for days. Under Pastor Harvey’s leadership, repair and rebuilding began in 1976. On April 27, 1977, Consecration Services were held for the newly improved spaces. As part of the repairs, a one story flat stone vestibule was added to the west of the Sanctuary and reconfigured the entrance to the Education Builing. Additionally, a similar structure was added to the south side of the Education Building that enclosed the stairwells to the Fellowship Hall and the first floor of the Education Building. This provided space for the existing Parlor and Bride’s Room. Instead of reducing our facilities, the fire of 1975 spurred more growth.
“You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a Holy Priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 2:5
The project for the 1980’s was a Family Life Center. Reverend Ed Blythe led our vision for a place large enough to seat the whole church for social events, be used as a gym for youth and adults, have a kitchen and add more Sunday School rooms for youth and adults. When built, the Family Life Center included all that was envisioned.
In 1994, church leaders began the plan to complete the vision from 1952 that called for an even larger Sanctuary than the 1937 stone building. The 1937 Sanctuary had served the church well and each addition to the overall campus was tied to this beautiful building. A new and larger Sanctuary would entail additional property to replace parking that would be covered by the new building. A five phase plan was developed and the first fund-raising began in 1995. Phase one was devoted to additions and safety features for the 1961 Children’s Building. Phase two was property acquisition to the west of Ohio Street for additional parking. Phase three was the paving and striping of the new lot to the west and the older lot south of Third Street. Phase four would be the new Sanctuary. Phase five, after completion of a new Sanctuary, included a complete renovation of the 1937 Sanctuary.
“For we are fellow workers for God; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the commission of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he build upon it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 3: 9-11
By the end of 1998, Phases one, two and three were complete. In June of 1999, a large tent was erected on the north parking lot and we celebrated worship all together with the “Event in the Tent.” It was the first time in many years that the entire congregation could worship as one body. This began the campaign to raise funds and build the new Sanctuary on the parking lot where we were worshiping that Sunday in a tent.
Ground breaking took place on October 28, 2001. Construction proceeded quickly and many special gifts, including all the stained glass windows were received. Dedication (Consecration) Sunday was December 15, 2002 under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Rusty Hedges. Bishop Oden preached the message. A total of 1,291 people were in attendance to worship at two services.
“So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the cornerstone.”
Ephesians 2: 19-20
The Irving population in the year 2000 had climbed to 191,037. There were 82,000 more residents than 1980. The 2010 census showed Irving population as 216,290. The city is still growing, but for a time it seemed that our church was not. The youth of the 70’s and 80’s had mostly started families and moved to other suburbs. The city was left with many “empty nesters.” But the life of the church continued.
The church’s day school closed, but in 2002, when the new Sanctuary opened the children’s school facilities were put back into use as Parents Day Out (PDO) two day per week school. In 2018, the PDO school reached record enrollment. Vacation Bible School has continued to grow as an outreach to the surrounding community. The church stepped up volunteer hours and food collection for Irving Cares. For almost 4 years we were the site of a once per week evening meal for needy and homeless persons (along with 14 partner churches) and the church continues to be one of the serving churches for the Thursday feed. Additionally we participate as part of Family Promise, serving homeless families in our community.
Our children’s program is now growing and is a vibrant and important part of our church. The number of youth participating in Wednesday Night “Refuge” and Refuge choir is growing. Even though long-term members are aging, those still able are active in volunteer roles of service to the church and to the community.
Mission Outreach has been a very important part of the service of First United Methodist Irving through the support of missionaries, mission projects and international mission teams. In the past 10 years, the mission teams have served in Mexico, the Bahamas, Peru and Guatemala. Since, 2014 the Guatemala mission team completed construction of a pastor’s training center and led VBS for children in Santa Maria de Jesus.
Finally, the 1937 Sanctuary is being used now more than ever. Immanuel Korean United Methodist Church held a Sunday morning and a Sunday afternoon service for their congregation in the structure now known as the “Chapel” for 6 years. They moved into their own facility in December 2017. Beginning in 2018, a new church, Spirit of Unity, joined us and worships in the Chapel, keeping this building alive with worship and praise. The 1937 Sanctuary is more than 80 years old and still a vital part of Christian worship in Irving. In 2015 our church became free of outside debt for the first time in over 40 years, thanks to the grace of God and the God given generosity of many past and present members and non-members.
Our city continues to change and First UMC Irving will continue to change along with it. As a congregation, we continue on our mission “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” through our vision “to be a bright beacon of God’s love to Irving and beyond.”
We have come to recognize the relevance of the words of John Wesley:
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, for as long as you ever can.”
The COVID-19 Pandemic – 2020 and beyond
On Friday, March 13, 2020, our world came to a halt. The pandemic was here, and everything was cancelled. The world was told to stay home; don’t go out. Schools, churches, restaurants, businesses; all shut down.
Grocery store shelves were soon bare as factories, delivery trucks and suppliers of almost everything came to a halt. Families couldn’t see each other. Flights were cancelled. COVID19 became the word that took over the news of the world.
We didn’t know how long it would last but we knew as a church that we couldn’t stop worshipping and we couldn’t stop praying. In fact, we needed to pray more than ever and our caring and loving for each other had to find a new way.
Thankfully, God was prepared for this. And God showed us the way to worship in a new way, Facebook Live. We had our regular worship service on Sunday, March 8 and now our ministry and leaders were faced with the challenge to provide worship that could no longer be in-person.
Within a week, we were broadcasting our worship service live through Facebook. Those first few weeks involved a simple tripod with an IPHONE streaming the service with only a few people in the sanctuary. A few weeks later, we had a more sophisticated system with monitors, sound boards and now YouTube streaming as well. We began to reach dozens, then hundreds of our members and their families. We began to see family members from other states and then from other countries as well. God was at work throughout this time, showing us new ways to reach others.
Next came Drive-in Worship. You could stay in your car and Doug Fox and staff lead the worship and preached the Gospel to anyone who showed up or listened in from the neighborhood. Eventually, the world began to open again, and some things slowly returned to normal. Vaccines were developed and treatments were created. Some in our church became ill and sadly passed away. In-person worship resumed with distancing and masks. We continue to wear masks and keep our distance and the world around us has changed. Another new word emerged; Zoom. This new software allowed us to share Sunday School and Bible study with each other. A way to stay in touch and see the faces of those we loved but couldn’t be with face to face.
But through it all, God remained on HIS throne and blessed us richly. He showed us new ways and reminded us to continue HIS work despite the world around us. This chapter in FUMC history is still being written.