Photo: Historic Markers at 903 North Street
Westminster Celebrates 125 Years
NACOGDOCHES – Westminster Presbyterian Church is a designated Texas Historic Landmark that traces its roots to the first Protestant minister to be ordained on Texas soil. This year marks Westminster’s 125th year of worship in Nacogdoches, Texas. Westminster welcomes the Nacogdoches community to join in celebrations marking outreach efforts, fellowship and worship across the past 125 years.
Community members and out of town guests are invited for a desserts and fellowship event from 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. in Westminster Hall, Saturday, October 13. The 125th anniversary worship service will be held Sunday, October 14 at 11 a.m. in the sanctuary at 903 North Street. Celebration of the heritage and history of the church will continue following worship as guests enjoy lunch, storytelling, historic videos and displays in Westminster Hall.
Presbyterian influence in Nacogdoches has been recorded since the 1830s. Cumberland Presbyterian Church Pastor Sumner Bacon moved to Texas in 1829 bringing Bibles and religious tracts, which were considered illegal at the time. Shortly after the Battle of San Jacinto, Bacon started a Sunday School in the Old Stone Fort. In 1838, Rev. Richard Overton Watkins took over the responsibility for the Sunday School. In 1840, Watkins became the first Protestant minister to be ordained on Texas soil.
Nacogdoches hosted the establishment of the Cumberland Presbyterian Synod of Texas in 1843. In 1849 the Old Stone Fort Sunday School disbanded. The current church was organized in 1893 as Main Street Presbyterian Church by Rev. B.A. Hodges and 12 charter members: A.J. Murphy, Martha V. Murphy, Mary Ida Murphy, Oscar F. Murphy, F.H. Burk, Ellen J. Burk, Mary Ann Wade, Nancy Vaught, Mary Ann Weaver, Dr. H.G. Long, Mrs. E.E. Long and Alice C. Hodges. The church became part of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America in 1907 when the Cumberland Church merged with PC(USA).
The congregation moved to the current location on 903 North Street in 1930. The new location designed by Architect Shirley Simons and built on a site recognized as the former homestead of Juan Antonio Padilla, created need for a new name and the congregation chose Westminster Presbyterian Church.
Following Hodges, J.M. Cooke, A.B. Blackwood, J.M Robinson, J.T. Hoffmeister, Rev. Rimer, J.C. Boyles, M.C. Johnson, King M. Phillips, O.A. Brown, A.J. Crawford, William F. Rogan, David Rees-Jones, Leon Wilder, James H. Fenner Jr., Wayne L. Bryan, Charles W. Schwenke Jr., William H. Bos, Charles L. Pullen, David Goodall, James H. Sparks Jr., R. Jefferson Coker, and Jennifer Z. Marshall can be counted as church pastors. In 2003, Rev. Stephen E. Newton, a 1977 graduate of Stephen F. Austin, returned to Nacogdoches to serve as Westminster’s current pastor.
“My earliest recognition of Westminster was of Pastor David Rees-Jones. His teachings started me on the path of knowing just how important God was to trust and obey, teachings that I still, to this day, have respected and passed on to my children,” Member Sue Atkins said.
Westminster members give generously and the church dedicates an average of 10% of the annual budget ($20,000-$30,000 a year) to support non-profit organizations. Beneficiaries of Westminster gifts include Community Rx, Love in the Name of Christ, Nacogdoches County United Way, Women’s Shelter of East Texas, Nacogdoches HOPE, Nacogdoches Senior Center, The Salvation Army, Project Belize, Christian Women’s Job Corps, Christian Men’s Job Corps, Bags of Love and Presbyterian Children’s Homes. During World War I the church led Nacogdoches County's war savings stamps campaign.
“It is incredible how much love, joy, and caring that Westminster Presbyterian Church of Nacogdoches, Texas has,” Member Mary Crocker said. “I will always be grateful for the support and kindness that its members have shown me and my family.”
Westminster members also donate time and talents, and serve on boards and lead mission and volunteer work throughout our community. In 2012, Westminster was named Nonprofit of the Year with a Community Impact Award from KSWP/KAVX. Volunteer efforts include reading with students at Raguet Elementary School, serving in the auxiliary group of Nacogdoches Memorial Hospital, delivering summer meals to Nacogdoches ISD students, participating in fundraising walks/runs for area non-profits, and partnering with other churches for community wide food service and worship events.
Westminster members travel beyond Nacogdoches to give back. Mission trips have taken members to Belize and Romania and an annual fair trade shopping event benefits artisans in developing countries. Members also travel to help in other areas of the US. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, in the spring of 2006, several members went on a Presbyterian Disaster Assistance mission trip to Gulfport, Miss.
“The extent of the devastation was hard to believe, especially when we took a trip to the beachfront that got the brunt from the storm surge,” Pastor Steve Newton said. “All that remained of many of the stores and restaurants were the poles that once held their signs.’
In 2007, members traveled to Beaumont/Port Author to help rebuild homes in the wake of Hurricane Ike. Youth are currently collecting donations to create and ship disaster buckets for victims of Hurricane Florence.
Westminster has emphasized using church buildings for the benefit of the community. Westminster was the original location of Nacogdoches’ Head Start Program (1968-2005), the Senior Citizens’ Nutrition Center (now the Nacogdoches Senior Center), Meals on Wheels, the Telephone Reassurance Program, a speech therapy program (in cooperation with SFA), and Compassionate Friends. Westminster was also home to Samaritan Counseling Center of Nacogdoches (1979-2014). Today, Nacogdoches Retired Teachers meet monthly in Westminster Hall.
“Westminster is like a home away from home where I can see my friends and second family,” Member Adam Vega said. “It’s a safe place where we can be together and talk about the many glories of God and Jesus’ many steps they took to accomplish a world of love and care.”
Fellowship, study, small groups for adults, university students, youth and children exemplify Westminister’s mission to declare God’s love for all through Jesus Christ, to nurture and encourage spiritual growth, and to share the love and joy in Christ by giving to the Nacogdoches community and to the world.
“I remember the fun times: Easter egg hunts at the park, the Christmas Eve candlelight services followed by the hayrides at the Walkers and Sandersons and Christmas caroling at the nursing homes, the Vacation Bible School days, the trips to Mo-Ranch,” Member June Livesay said. “And I remember people who inspired me, taught me and loved me.”
Westminister promotes making “joyful noise” with a rich and enthusiastic music ministry led by a talented staff of musicians. The program includes adult, youth and children’s choir, organ, a hand bell choir, and special music presentations throughout the year.
“At my first choir rehearsal as director (January 1993), I was very nervous.” Dr. Debbie Dalton said. “The traditional title for the choir director at WPC was Choirmaster. The late Howard Castle raised his hand and asked me, ‘Should we call you choirmaster, choir mistress, or choir director?’ I replied, ‘Your Majesty will be just fine!’ Everything was roses after that!”
For 125 years, Westminster has sought to be an expression of God’s love to the Nacogdoches community and to the rest of the world. In worship Westminster places emphasis on the proclamation of the Word, classical and traditional music, and the celebration of the sacraments. All are welcomed. For more information about Westminster’s history, visit westpreschurch.com/125.