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A Short History of the Forney Presbyterian Church

by Rev. Howard L. Holland
Forney Messenger
19 October 1962

Special thanks to Cheree Cargill for transcribing this article.

Presbyterian Church

One day in the early fall of 1872, in a little community known as Brooklyn, there took place a meeting that marked the beginning of organized Presbyterianism in Forney, Texas. A group of eleven people that day elected two men to be set apart by ordination to the office of Elder and organized themselves into a Church to be known as the Brooklyn Church of the Presbytery of Bacon of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. They did not have a house of worship or a full-time Pastor, but with the help of the Rev. Ed Hudson they were organized "believing it to be for the glory of God." The first few years were difficult. It was not easy for the church to conduct itself with dignity and to the glory of God in the rough and tumble days of frontier life. The session had to be severe and harsh in their judgments and discipline on the members; and it was not uncommon to find noted in the minutes of their meetings that three members were guilty of repeated drunkenness and profanity and were dismissed from the church. But there were moments of joy and blessing as well, like the revival meeting held in August of 1879 by the vigorous young preacher from Tehuacana Presbytery, the Rev. J. A. Hornbeak, when a number of new members were added to the rolls of the church. Under the leadership of such early pioneer Presbyterian pastors as the Rev. R. W. Malloy, Rev. S. M. Templeton, and the Rev. D. G. Malloy the church continued to grow and such family names as Adams, Chapman, Daugherty, Dozier, Miller, Rhea, Shands and Sowell began to appear on the rolls of the church.

In the first twenty-five years the membership grew from that first eleven to the point that it was decided a house of worship should be built for the thriving congregation. In October, 1896, the Rev. W. B. Miller … was called to be pastor. Under his leadership a building committee was selected, a site purchased and the first manse and house of worship for the Forney Presbyterian Church of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church was erected on Church Street – immediately back of the present M. Spellman house. One of the members of the "Subscription Committee" to raise funds for that project was ... O. D. Dozier who was later to serve the church as the Clerk of Session from 1924 to 1951, in the longest tenure of that office in the history of the Church. During these active years of … Rev. Mr. Miller’s pastorate and under the leadership of Dr. J. H. Herring as Chairman of the Committee, a Sunday School was formed.

On February 11, 1900 the formal dedication of the church was made and another family name added to the rolls of the church that year was the name of Tune. These years from 1900 to the time of the first World War were difficult in many ways. In 1901, the Rev. Mr. Miller left his pastorate here, and in the years to come the pastor’s salary was steadily increasing from $250 a year to $500 per year until in November 1916 the Rev. Julius Caesar Byars had to resign his post as pastor because the high cost of living and the pastor’s salary were too far apart.

In 1906 the church dropped its name of Cumberland Presbyterian as the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America combined into one assembly again after a period of 100 years of being separated. In 1910, the decision was made to change the name of the Church to the Central Presbyterian Church of Forney of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S.

Under the leadership of such men as the Rev. C. L. Dickey and the Rev. James L. Cleveland the church weathered through the war years until on January 2, 1919, a new vision of witness for the Presbyterian Church in Forney was seen in the consummated merger of the two existing Presbyterian Churches in Forney. The Central Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. and the First Presbyterian Church, U.S. became one to be known as the First Presbyterian Church and affiliated with the Presbytery of Dallas and the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Central Church sold its old building and the manse and moved into the manse and house of worship which were the property of the U.S. Presbyterian group on this particular site. It was the desire of this group to unite in building a strong Presbyterian witness. The membership was at an all time peak of 140, with eleven elders and nine deacons. But dark days followed. The foundations for such a union had not been securely laid and the bulk of the membership of the U.S. Presbyterian Church withdrew their membership and their support. Despite this critical blow at a time when united witness was desperately needed the church envisioned a better day ahead and in September 1924, just forty-two years after their organization, a second house of worship was planned. Miss Nell Dietz, who was a member of the building committee, later became the first woman elder to serve our Church and has been our Clerk of Session for the past two years [n.b. as of October 1962].

This building would be a large red brick building on the corner of Bois d’Arc and Brooks Street on the site that was gained through merger with the U.S. Presbyterian Church. On the second Sunday in October in 1925 the first service of worship was held in this building. To be sure it was in the basement and there were no pews as yet, but the church had a new pastor, the Rev. John H. Woodard, and a new building and a new vision.

In the ensuing years the women of the church worked diligently to pay off the church indebtedness. Everybody took a hand, but with the market crash in 1929 and the resulting depression, it was a difficult task to repay all the money borrowed from various sources. It was not until 1944 that the final debt against the building was paid off through the generosity of Mr. Will Chapman.

In those years the Rev. John E. Kerr, the Rev. D. H. Templeton, and a product of our own congregation, the Rev. Dozier Tune, and the Rev. E. M. Clardy gave their leadership to the church as did a long succession of student pastors including Mr. John Shell, Carl Hatfield, Leland Spurrier, J. L. Aldridge, Paul Markham, and Rush Linder. Several of these students, who now have now completed long years of service in the ministry, owe much to the opportunities they had in Forney church to practice their beginning skills. During a portion of this time the Rev. Joe M. Russell, who was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Terrell, gave his helping hand in guiding these students and moderating the session on their behalf.

Just after this period when the building was declared free of debt, the Rev. C. E. Alexander came as preaching pastor for a period of some seven years. His ministry was concluded by yet another student pastor, Mr. William Caldwell. At the conclusion of his ministry in the summer of 1952, an earnest effort to secure a full-time pastor was made. It was not an easy task. Cost of living had risen and was still soaring and just because you are eighty years old does not make you wealthy. The Board of National Missions was asked to help in the search and to assist in the cost of maintaining a pastor. Still it was not until late 1954 that a full time Pastor was secured in the person of the Rev. Gayle Spann. His ministry was a brief one but was soon followed by your present pastor [Rev. Howard L. Holland] who came to you on November 15, 1955. The following year after a complete remodeling and refurnishing job was completed, a service of dedication was held in October 1956. With the merger of the United Presbyterian Church of North America and the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A, in 1958, we became a part of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Two years later, in 1960, our Presbytery was enlarged and the name was changed for the third time in the 115 years of history of the Presbytery to the Presbytery of Trinity.

Where does the history of a church begin? We could say that it begins when a congregation is organized into a particular church. Yet we have roots which go far beyond this single act. When and where and how did that first handful of members come to believe and fell a need for a church in this place? Undoubtedly we could trace our history to the Rev. Sumner Bacon who, in the early days of the Republic of Texas, distributed Bibles and later preached to the first settlers in the state. The Presbytery which was formed just four years after his death became the Presbytery of Bacon to which this church was associated for 34 years. We could trace these ties with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church back to Cumberland Presbytery in Tennessee which in 1806 left the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. because of differences over ordination requirements of young candidates to the ministry. Or back to 1706 when the first Presbytery was established in the colonies. The planting of an old faith in the New world was accomplished with that act.

For, indeed, it was an old faith in 1706 having survived the centuries since the founding of the church on the day of Pentecost in the City of Jerusalem some fifty days after the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The history of any church must begin there in that faith, and it will continue as long as the glory of God is proclaimed.

[Transcribed by Cheree Townsend Cargill with very minor edits.]




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