First United Methodist Church History
First United Methodist Church Sanctuary: 1905 – 2005
If we are to understand the building of our current sanctuary, 1888 is a good starting point. In that year Rev. J.A. Wyatt was the pastor. The church was growing rapidly, so they started construction of a new building (this building, pictured on the left, was completed in 1889). One factor in that growth was the special evangelistic meetings held from time to time. At such a meeting in the late summer of 1888, not only were there many conversions, but a young man, D.H. Abernathy, was “reclaimed.”
The Abernathy family, connected with the Pitts family for which the town is named, had been connected with the church for many years. After being “reclaimed” for the faith, D.H. Abernathy became a leader in the church, most importantly as the leader of the Sunday school movement, Conference delegate, and because he was a prominent businessman, a respected lay leader, and a friend of Rev. E.L. Shettles, played a key role in the building of the current sanctuary.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Pittsburg church was rising in prominence. Two men who were to play a role in the new sanctuary also played a role when the East Texas Annual Conference was held in Pittsburg in November 1900. Rev. E.E. Hoss, then editor of the Nashville Christian Advocate, soon to be elected to the episcopacy, was the preacher for the Sunday night service. He was later to come and preach the first service in the new sanctuary. In the course of his sermon, Rev. Hoss stated that the Conference “lacked only $135 of paying all of Home and Foreign Missions” apportionments for the year. R.A. “Lon” Morris then announced that he himself would cover the deficit. This style of giving was to be repeated 5 years later.
At the end of 1903, Rev. E.L. Shettles was appointed pastor in Pittsburg. Shettles, a native of Mississippi, had come into the ministry after a life as an itinerant gambler and businessman. He had just build a new sanctuary in Bryan, and on his first Sunday in Pittsburg went for a stroll with his friend D.H. Abernathy. The two of them recognized that the church would soon outgrow the 1889 sanctuary and both wanted the growth to continue. A building committee was quickly organized, with D.H. Abernathy, R.F. Lewis, J.M. Holman, G.C. Hopkins, J.B. & E.R. Greer, J.C. Bailey, A.J. Askew, F.A. Lockhart, J.M. Clark, L.R. Hall, W.P. Grammer, W.L. Garrett, T.E. Russell, C.F. Swayze, W.R. Heath, J.A. Coppedge and S.S. Morris (father of Lon) as members. As he had in Bryan, Rev. Shettles called on the services of Dallas Architect J.E. Flanders to design the building. They broke ground in June 1904, and finished in time to dedicate the building April 2, 1905. They used 175,000 feet of lumber, 175,000 rough brick and 85,000 pressed brick in the construction, the whole building costing $25,500. Since the lot cost $4,000, and the organ cost $2,000, the total came to $31,500. The stained glass was made by Kansas City Stain Glass Works, and the furniture by A.H. Andrews Co. of Chicago.
Upon completion, Rev. Shettles invited Bishop E.E. Hoss to come and dedicate the church building on April 2, 1905. Bishop Hoss came, but the congregation quickly learned of a complication. The building could not be dedicated because the construction debt lacked $16,500 of being paid off. The record of the event is a bit hazy, but it appears that in the evening service that night, Lon Morris, as he had five years previously, stood up. He announced that he would give $8,000 if the rest of the church could raise the balance. The other leaders stepped up, and Bishop Hoss dedicated the church in the midst of great rejoicing.
In the past century, this sanctuary has seen a long line of pastors and leaders, numerous people come to Christ, many baptisms, weddings and funerals. Renovated several times, the latest being under the guidance of Pastor Ricky Ricks, the sanctuary stands ready for many more years of housing worship for the people of God. Though it is unlikely we’ll again host the Annual Conference as we did in 1900 and 1905, we expect many to be blessed, not only here in Pittsburg, but throughout the Conference and to the ends of the earth.