Churches in downtown Longview have a history of faith

In Longview, the railway that gave birth to a town also gave an important boost to one of the most important pillars in the city’s history — the churches that formed in the city’s early years and continue to call downtown Longview home.

In 1870, O.H. Methvin deeded 100 acres of land to the Southern Pacific Railway, which was soon acquired by the Texas and Pacific Railway. Between 1873 and 1875, Texas and Pacific donated land to the early forms of what today are First United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church, First Presbyterian Church and First Christian Church. Two other churches also organized downtown in Longview’s early years: Trinity Episcopal Church and St. Anthony Catholic Church.

Those congregations’ effect on Longview ripples far outside the city’s heart, though, through the formation of other churches, by serving as church-home to many of Longview’s leaders and through the creation and support of schools and a variety of social service organizations. As those churches take part in Longview’s sesquicentennial celebrations, they’re planning their own anniversary celebrations and looking forward to a future that leaders at all six churches said will see them continue to serve from their homes in downtown Longview.

The pastors of the six churches responded to questions from View magazine about their churches’ place in Longview:

The Rev. Collin Bullard, Senior Pastor First Baptist Church

Q: How important was the railroad’s land gift to the formation and duration of your church?

A: Since the church remains in the same location on the same land (with considerable expansion) given 150 years ago, I’d say the land grant was extremely important.

Q: Describe the importance of the church in Longview’s first 150 years and the importance it will play in the next 150 years.

A: The railroad’s decision to give land to start churches was based on the idea that churches were vital to the stability, welfare and unity of a growing city. Central to our faith and mission as the body of Christ is the mandate to care for the poor and to lift up those who are downtrodden. Individually, our members volunteer countless hours of time in the service of others. Collectively, the church has invested millions of dollars to support the community. Our church has been a central hub of support for many local nonprofit agencies: Hiway 80 Rescue Mission, Salvation Army, House of Disciples, Buckner, Texas Men Disaster Relief Teams. We serve the entire spectrum of ages from children to senior adults through programs and ministries geared toward specific needs. We are also proud to serve the Hispanic population of Longview through our Spanish-speaking congregation, Puertas Abiertas...

In addition to this, over the last 100 years, FBC Longview has planted five other churches in Longview: Oakland Heights, Valley View, Mobberly, Northside, Northwood. These churches have gone on to plant other churches, as well. If the impact of those churches is added to the legacy of First Baptist, the combined influence that our church has had on the city of Longview is immeasurable.

I expect that in the next 150 years we will have new opportunities and face new challenges, but our mandate to serve others and share the love of Christ in this community will remain unchanged until our Lord’s return.

Q: So much of Longview has moved north, including some churches. What are your church’s plans?

A: We have made a long-term commitment to remain in downtown Longview and to seek the revitalization of the area around our church campus.

The Rev. Kendal Land, Pastor First presbyterian Church

Q: How important was the railroad’s land gift to the formation and duration of your church?

A: First Presbyterian is still located on the original land which was gifted by the railroad. Over the years the congregation has built three different churches on this spot as well as added to and remodeled the current building.

Q: Describe the importance of the church in Longview’s first 150 years and the importance it will play in the next 150 years.

A: Once upon a time, the bell of FPC was rung to notify the folks in downtown of the evening curfew. We hope that our presence and ministry in downtown over the years has and will continue to ring in the ears of the people of Longview, calling them to lives of service toward God and one another. In the future FPC will do what we have done for the past almost 150 years — we will worship the Lord and serve one another.

Q: So much of Longview has moved north, including some churches. What are your church’s plans?

A: We are a downtown church and we believe this is where the Spirit has called us to be and to minister.

Q: What are some of your church’s most important projects or contributions to Longview?

A: FPC was instrumental in helping form Longview Community Ministries and Buckner Westminster Place. Members of this congregation founded both Alpine and St. Andrew Presbyterian churches and part of the formation of the Community Loan Center operated by East Texas Council of Governments. We offer child care in a Christian environment for children ages 6 weeks to kindergarten with weekly chapel services; Theology on Tap, which may be the most consistently ecumenical undertaking in Longview; support of the various ministries in Longview offering food and services to those who need them; annual Christmas on the Square concerts and lunch; working alongside Longview Symphony to provide Bach’s Lunch for the community; hosting support groups; and other similar projects. But most importantly, we continue to worship God!

The Rev. Jay Jackson, Senior Pastor First united methodist church

Q: How important was the railroad’s land gift to the formation and duration of your church?

A: Prior to the land gift, the church was located in Earpville (now between Eighth and Ninth streets) on the stagecoach road between Marshall and Tyler. This move to the new hub of the city assured church growth for years to come. It remains part of the expanded site for our church today. The relocation of the church to this gifted property has provided a strategic location for the church’s long, historic ministry that is intertwined with the movements and growth of Longview.

Q: Describe the importance of the church in Longview’s first 150 years and the importance it will play in the next 150 years.

A: I believe First United Methodist Church has had numerous impacts on Longview. Not only has it offered spiritual nurture and growth to a significant segment of Longview, including some of Longview’s most influential figures over the years, it has also offered impactful ministries and provided important services to the Longview community. To name just a few … FUMC has housed one of the most important child development ministries for the past 60 years in the School for Little Children. Today, more than 200 children each year are served and grown through this amazing ministry. Just 10 years later, Asbury House was born out of FUMC. Asbury House offers quality child development to families that otherwise could not afford this kind of start for their children. The SFLC and Asbury House have been foundational in shaping lives for several generations in Longview. Newgate Mission was also birthed out of FUMC three decades ago. As Newgate Mission is now supported by an expanding group of United Methodist churches and other mission partners, the dedicated hearts of members of FUMC continue to share impactfully in its ongoing mission to inspire hope and impact the lives of those in need. The 40-year television ministry reaches thousands of households and impacts countless lives with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Most recently, our diverse and high-quality Music and Fine Arts ministry was a contributor to the efforts to gain a Cultural Arts District designation to downtown Longview...

Our vision for FUMC is to be “A Beacon of Hope for All.” As we have embraced that in missionary outreach through the SFLC, Asbury House and Newgate in the past and have continued our commitment to these ministries in the present, we seek to grow discipleship in our members and explore new ways to allow our discipleship in Jesus Christ to guide us to new ways to be part of God’s transformative work in Longview and beyond. We believe there are continued ways in which we can reflect the light of Christ to bring hope to all.”

Q: So much of Longview has moved north, including some churches. What are your church’s plans?

A: We are committed to remain downtown and minister to all of Longview as A Beacon of Hope for All.

Q: What do y’all like about being located downtown? What are some of the challenges?

A: We believe we have a mission to connect strategically with other entities in Longview to build partnerships and effect positive transformation of lives and the community as a whole. We have volunteers who go to Wesley-McCabe UMC to read to children at Terrific Tuesdays. We have countless volunteers who offer devotions and feed folks at Newgate. We are deeply committed to support of Asbury House. We host families in transition through Family Promise, formerly (Longview Interfaith Hospitality Network). We are deeply engaged in the spiritual nurture and transformation of Longview through the grace of Jesus Christ.

The Rev. Dr. Richard Emerson, Senior Minister First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ

Q: Describe the importance of the church in Longview’s first 150 years and the importance it will play in the next 150 years.

A: “Anytime you have a railroad, they have to have a stop,” Emerson said, explaining that towns would build up around the stop. The church at that time was an essential component to any town, and the railroad gave land to the representative denominations.

Q: So much of Longview has moved north, including some churches. What are your church’s plans?

A: We don’t want to move, for several reasons. We’re in downtown Longview. We are a strong church that we believe meets the needs of not only downtown but the whole community. One of the more unique things about our buildings downtown is that we have facilities you just don’t build anymore. ... All our downtown churches are beautiful, unique historical buildings and we don’t want to lose them.

First Christian’s building, which is located on Sixth Street and no longer on the land provided by the railroad, is a sacred, spiritual facility that was built in the Mediterranean style, with a clay tile roof. It has a pipe organ and operates Prep School, which the church believes is one of the premier schools for preparing kids for school.

That said, First Christian has been hit by the same bug as other churches struggling with declining church participation, and that is really the challenge of Longview’s downtown churches for the next 150 years.

We’re taking care of our campus so that it will be here long into the future, so that it won’t be a major expense 10 years from now.

Q: What are some of your church’s most important projects or contributions to Longview?

A: We like to consider ourselves to be an outreach church. Ten percent of our operating budget goes to outreach needs, including organizations such as the Rainbow Room — a resource center for abused or neglected children who are removed from their home, and Court Appointed Special Advocates.

The original local Meals on Wheels program started out of First Christian Church’s kitchen and was later joined by other churches. This church was a founder of and still supports Longview Community Ministries.

One of the unique things we have here at this church is called the Bethany Home. It is a house the church owns that is available to people from out of town to use while visiting loved ones in local hospitals. This church helped found Refuge International, an organization that works locally and internationally to provide health care, nutrition, clean water and education, and it is housed in a church-owned facility.

The Rev. Jay Lucas, Pastor St. Anthony Catholic Church

Q: Describe your church’s place and future in downtown Longview.

A: St. Anthony was the original Catholic parish church in Longview, with the other Catholic churches in Longview and Hallsville tracing their roots back to St. Anthony.

We always have a mother parish and then from there, the community grows bigger, with more churches then built closer to the people they serve.

The St. Anthony Parish built St. Mary’s Catholic School and church.

Of course, then Longview started developing in that area towards the north, and St. Matthew was established on Pine Tree Road.

St. Anthony has changed over the years.

Most of the Catholics of the time when St. Anthony was founded lived here. This whole street — still we have families that kind of feel that it is their home, and most of them worked in the railway. Right now, most of the downtown residential area — the Hispanic population is there, so it’s more applicable for them to keep the church here. ... The present community is completely different from the community we had.

People from Lake Cherokee and Hallsville attend the downtown church, too.

St. Anthony’s Parish consists of almost 900 families, and about 600 of them are Hispanic families. Three of the church’s five services are in English, and the other two are in Spanish.

That’s why we have five services. We need to start one more, also, because there are a couple of services that are overcrowded.

And yes, St. Anthony’s future is in downtown Longview. The church recently remodeled the building that once housed a school next to the sanctuary and plans are in the works to update the Monsignor Edward J. Shopka Catholic Center and Parish Hall.

The Rev. Dr. Bill Carroll, Rector Trinity Episcopal Church

Q: So much of Longview has moved north, including some churches. What are your church’s plans? What do y’all like about being located downtown?

A: We see our beautiful church building as a gathering place and base for mission of the Gospel to the entire city of Longview and beyond. We do this in partnership with our sister congregation, St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church (north of the loop and west of Gilmer Road on Reel Road, where our priest’s spouse, the Rev. Tracey Carroll recently began to serve as priest-in-charge) and other Christian churches in Longview, where we have several historic and emerging partnerships in ministry. In practice, this means building face-to-face relationships centered on Jesus and his love, so that we can grow spiritually, share one another’s burdens, collaborate with others, and seek and serve Christ in all people, without exception.

We have been committed to our present location since 1935 and have rebuilt here multiple times after various disasters. We enjoy our proximity to the Trinity School of Texas, Christus-Good Shepherd and several other churches. We are also close to several important partners directly involved with ministry with the “least of these,” including Longview Community Ministries, Newgate Mission and Family Promise (formerly Longview Interfaith Hospitality Network). In many cases, we joined with other churches to help found such ministries, and our members and clergy continue to play important roles. Our veterans’ fellowship is looking to begin a ministry with veterans and their families, as well as others who bear the scars of war. We think that our proximity to Teague Park is an ideal opportunity to get on some great things God is already doing in our community through the initiative of the Veterans’ Recognition Foundation, Gregg County and the city of Longview. As Episcopalians, civic engagement and ministries of service are intrinsic to our understanding of what it means to be followers of Jesus. Here, we are building on our historic strengths at Trinity.

Our membership comes from many different residential neighborhoods in Longview and in several surrounding communities. We believe that the challenges that come with Longview’s growth from a small town to a small city (as well as those posed by such systemic problems as isolation, injustice and poverty) are opportunities to be more faithful to the call of Jesus Christ for our lives. This can be done anywhere. We believe God is calling us to do it from the corner of Sixth and Padon.