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Church History


A Member of the Trinity Conference of Global Methodist Churches

A Brief History of

Buna Methodist Church

Among the early settlers in the piney woods of Jasper Co. Texas, came the Methodists. Of special interest to us is the pioneer beginnings of the Methodist Church in Buna. How did it get started? Research among some of our older members and friends has given us this brief historical picture.

It was in the Spring of 1906 that the founders of First Methodist Church met in the auditorium of the “old” Buna School. The congregation had Mr. Jim Hancock ask the “Presiding Elder” (District Superintendent) for a preacher. The first preacher to come was an old circuit rider, Rev. P. I. Milton, who preached once a month. Mts. Ethel Hargrove of Kountze remembers well how “we sat at school desks in the brand new two-room schoolhouse. We sang out of shaped note song books and we had an organ. Brother Milton would preach. He wasn’t what you would call a shouting Methodist. He was the kind who took a text and preached.” Since Euna was on the Silsbee Circuit in those days, the preacher would usually ride the train in from Silsbee on Saturday, spend the weekend and leave on Monday. He would usually alter­nate his stays between the Hancock home and the J. I. Mixson home. After Rev. Milton came the Rev. J. B. Gregory, Rev. W. H. Summy and Rev. I. B. Manley. The Rev. 0. W. Hooper was appointed and during his ministry, a white frame Church was built in 1914. A new parsonage was built next to the Church in 1919 for the first full­time pastor, Rev. R. R. Smith, who arrived with his family in 1920. Buna was in the Silsbee-Buna Circuit; the Newton-Buna Circuit until 1912 and the Buna-Dewey­ville Circuit until 1926. The Church building was dedicated in 1922 by Bishop John M. Moore, during the pastorate of Rev. C. L. Williams. The Church was built on land donated for that purpose by the Kirby Lumber Company.

The Town in which it was located was a logging camp which supplied the Bessmay Saw Mill. At first, the church met once a month and then twice a month; then full time. It was Mrs. R. R. Smith who organized the first W.S.C.S. or The Woman’s Missionary Society, as it was then known.
In 1922, a Community Hall was erected on the Church property. It was a joint project between the Missionary Society of Buna Methodist Church and the Masonic Lodge. Old timers smile as they recall how they held chili and chicken suppers and domino parties to defray the expense. Their children went out to sell peanuts and popcorn. Among these were children from pioneer Buna families­ the Mixsons, the Hancocks, and the Gunters. The Metho­dist Church School met in the Community Hall mornings and the Baptists met there in the evenings. This hall was removed in the 1950’s and in 1957 the present Youth Building was erected.

In February of 1960, Mrs. B. A. Mitchael gifted the church additional property next to the existing parsonage which will aid the church in its future expansion program. About this time the church chimes were given by Mr. and Mrs. H. W. Mattox.

Many fine pastors came with the years-all making their contribution to the church and the community. Slow­ly and steadily the church advanced to a present member­ship of 329. Less than three years ago under the leadership of the pastor James Tunnell, a building committee was set up and an architect secured to design and prepare the plans for a new sanctuary. At the end of this same year Reverend Tunnell moved to another pastorate and the Reverend Robert Koch came as the new pastor. Under his leadership the plans presented by the architect, Mr. Rex Goode, were accepted by the building committee, and a financial plan was set up to secure and build the build­ing. Before this could be completed, another Annual Conference came, and with it came a new pastor, Reverend Robert 0. Dean. In July of 1964 a dream of all the mem­bership of the church came true when ground was broken for the new sanctuary. The following month the building was started, and the construction was watched by all in eager anticipation. Finally the day came to open and be in for the first service. It was quite a day as the con­gregation walked in and in awe saw a building that expressed all of our feelings to God in its glory and beauty.

This new building could not have all of its grace and beauty unless a little of the past could be remembered. The bell which graced the old church has been placed in a tower of the new church sign. This will help us to remember that all this was not done by us, but by those of the past as well. This bell was brought to Texas in 1889 from Louisiana and put to use on the “Dinky Train”. Then “Uncle Billy” Richardson secured the bell and in turn placed the bell at the church. “Uncle Billy” rang this bell for some 45 years.

Many gifts have been given. as memorials to the church in memory of loved ones, and those names have been placed in the Book of Memorials that is kept in the Registry in the church narthex.

This is just a brief peek into the past and present, and its splendid future is yet to be written. You will help write the next exciting chapter. 

A Note From the Church Architect

A church building should be designed in terms of the function of the church and the particular congregation. The building should take on the nature of a symbol say­ing to the world something of what the church believes. Churches built today are for tomorrow, and the form of expression must fit the tomorrow.

The Church has a greater purpose than just to provide a place in which to hold services. Every day it must speak; even when there is no sermon to be heard or anthem to be listened to, it must speak itself-it must turn a visitor into a worshipper.

Space is our most valid symbol of God. The Christian faith must become manifest in brick, concrete, glass, wood and steel. The building must suggest that the Church is a people with a history whose work is in the present ­the now that will be the history of tomorrow-and whose destiny is beyond history and this life.

Buildings for the use of the Church are not ends in themselves; they are tools in the hands of a congregation for the work of the Lord. Their plan and design must be reasoned in terms of the congregation and the task they are to accomplish.

The interior must express a churchliness, a mood for worship, a quality which induces reverence-there must be something distinctive about it. It is not just another auditorium; It is a sanctuary, a holy place. It is the House of God.

In the Methodist Church, definite emphasis is placed on the mean of grace: the Word and two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Hence, prominence is given to the pulpit as well as altar and font.

The Communion Table is the chief focal point in this church. It is given a place of commanding interest. All lines converge toward this. Nothing obstructs the view, neither pulpit, lectern, organ console, nor choir. The reredos is simple so as not to detract from the altar, but to accent it-curved to reflect the spoken word. The lighting has been designed to provide pleasant and sufficient lighting to read and worship by. Both accent lighting and indirect lighting have been provided, with dimmer switches to control the level of brightness for all phases of the worship service.

Surfaces are as acoustically reflective as possible to achieve optimum distribution of reflected sound and good natural reinforcement of speech and music. The balcony facing is treated so as to absorb sound-thus preventing “feed-back” and providing good hearing conditions and a satisfactory acoustical environment.

There is no ideal religious building for our time, either for a faith or a given region. But there is an ideal build­ing for every congregation, to meet its particular needs. The congregation alone can decide what the building should do. It is the architect’s task to create that quality of space which inspires reverence and ·makes the building a valid symbol of our faith. 

We sincerely hope that this has been accomplished here.

Rex Goode, A.I.A. Architect

Celebrating the Past


According to a 1904 Texas Conference Membership book, Buna Methodist documented charter membership for James J. Hancock, John A. Hancock, Ethel Hancock (married Hargrove), Minnie Hancock (married Felder), and Tex Rogers. These were verified by a Jasper Mission circuit preacher, M. W. James, on January 10, 1904.1 The next entries were made on June 10, 1904, by S. H. Allison, circuit preacher from the Jasper Mission. Taken into membership were Lee Woody, Alma Hancock (married Hargrove), Sallie Edgar (married Rylander), Prentice Landrum, S. S. Fairley, and M. Mattox. These were the first eleven charter members of the Buna Methodist Church.2 A record of marriage was written on February 19, 1905, by the same circuit preacher, S. H. Allison, for Robert Wingate and Mary Scott. On September 21, 1905, the Presiding Elder, O. T. Hotchkiss, performed the first baptism recorded: Helen Doris Fairley, daughter of the D. W. Fairleys. In the spring of 1906, the Presiding Elder, now called the District Superintendent, assigned Rev. P. I. Milton, a circuit rider, to come once a month. Later, services were held twice a month, then weekly. Buna was part of the Silsbee Circuit at that time. The preacher would ride the train to Buna on Saturday, stay the weekend with local members, usually the J. I. Mixsons or the Jim Hancocks, then leave on Monday. Members who later recalled the worship services said they met in the old school house and sat at the desks and sang from shaped-note hymnals. The music was played on an organ.3 The Buna Methodist register of January 17, 1909 states: “Epworth League was opened by Pastor W. H. Summy by reading scriptures from Ecclesiastes 7th Chapter. J. I. Mixson was nominated and elected permanent secretary. Prof. A. D. Rawlinson made a brief talk on the constitution and by laws of Epworth League. Bro. Summy made a talk setting forth the object of the League. [The] following give their names becoming [charter] members: A. D. Rawlinson, President; Mattie Lee Justice, 4th VP; Dora Pedigo, 1st VP; Ethel Hancock, Alma Hancock, Ellen Hancock, Liela Hancock, Mrs. Ima Rawlinson, Mrs. Lori Mixson, Treasurer; Lorine Rawlinson, Kathleen Mixson, R. C. Withers, selected Junior League Supt.; J. J. Hancock, Agent for Epworth Area; Froner Hancock, 2nd VP, R. Middleton, Chas McKeiml, Rev. H. T. Sizemore, 3rd VP; Saide Puckice, and Mrs. Annie Grimes.” During the ministry of Rev. O. W. Hooper in 1914, construction was begun on a white frame church on land donated for that purpose. One legal document in the files of the church, included the following information: “…The deed from J. R. Chapman to the Trustees of the Methodist Church of Buna, dated September 6, 1914, provided for reversion to Mr. Chapman, his heirs or assigns in event the property ceased to be used for church purposes.4 Kirby Lumber Company subsequently purchased all of J. R. Chapman’s interest, and, after the townsite of Buna was laid out by Mr. J. O. Banks, in July of 1916, our company (Kirby Lumber Corporation) was approached by the Trustees of the Church to remove the reversion clause as certain financing for church expansion was under consideration.” “Our files contain copy of a deed, dated September 9, 1916, to W. H. Hargrove, J. I. Mixson, A. D. Rawlinson, and M. E. Richardson, Trustees of the Methodist Church of Buna, signed by Mr. John H. Kirby, President of Kirby Lumber Company, which released any interest Kirby Lumber Company may have had in this property…”5 Construction was not initially completed on this structure begun in 1914, but as tie and funds permitted, the congregation finished and occupied one portion at a time. The two-story white wood frame church, located on Main Street, was dedicated in 1922 by Bishop John M. Moore, during the pastorate of Rev. C. L. Williams. During this time, a community hall was also erected on the church property. It was a joint project of the Missionary Society of the church and the Masonic Lodge. The Methodists held Sunday School on the first floor of the building on Sunday mornings while the entire community utilized it for social functions during the week. The upper floor was used only by the Masonic Lodge. That wooden structure was moved across the street in the middle Fifties to the site of the present Masonic Lodge.6 When the church at Buna was built, Kirby built a community church at Bessmay for the sawmill workers. Methodists and Baptists held their services on alternate Sundays and some members were not sure which denomination they had joined, because almost everyone attended regularly, regardless of which Sunday it was. Bessmay was a part of the Buna Circuit and when the mill burned in 1950, the town of Bessmay began to decline as the workers moved away. All the buildings were being sold and moved, and the Methodists sold their share of the church building to the Baptists. The Baptists moved the building to a site on Highway 96, donated by Mr. and Mrs. M. E. Richardson. The congregation expanded and is now known as Central Baptist Church. The Buna Methodist built a parsonage next to the church in 1919 for the first full-time pastor, Rev. R. R. Smith.7 His wife organized the first Woman’s Missionary Society, later named the Women’s Society of Christian Service, now the United Methodist Women. The Missionary Society’s work expanded and in a report by Rev. Laurence Murchison of Buna on October 11, 1936 to the Presiding Elder and Members of the Fourth Quarterly Conference of the Beaumont District he stated: “We have had revivals in all of the churches on the charge and the spiritual state of the church as a whole is good. We have had forty-three addition s to the church this year…have two Missionary Societies, one at Buna and one at Bessmay.” Thought was also given to quality of mission as a later report indicated…” At Bessmay we are carrying on a work with the Mexicans who reside there. Services are held twice a month at 2:30 on Sunday afternoon with preaching in Spanish. The Mexican population at Bessmay is about 24. Of these 18 were present at the services last Sunday.” Rev. Garland Reeves was pastor at the time of this later report and is known to have spoken five languages fluently.8 In a 1939 report to the First Quarterly Conference, mention was made of “two Epworth Leagues…now functioning. These are at Bessmay and at Buna. We hope to have one soon at Watson’s Chapel…[where they] have just completed the addition of four Sunday School rooms to the church and have purchased a good supply of Cokesbury Hymnals.”9 Rev. Reeves was pastor and, as in times past, the parsonage was sometimes used for Sunday School classes due to shortage of space. Being unmarried and an avid photographer, Rev. Reeves decided the kitchen would be more useful to him as a darkroom and made the necessary changes, to the chagrin of the ladies concerned with the upkeep of the parsonage. There was also a carefully maintained Victory Garden behind the parsonage and church. It was tended primarily by the youth. The church membership increased by forty-five in 1939; Buna, 19, Bessmay, 25, and Call, 1.10 With a membership of seventy-six in 1949 and the leadership of Rev. J. C. Marshall from then until 1955, the Buna Methodists increased in “wisdom and stature” and were soon building again. In the Beaumont Journal of December 7, 1955, the building program of the Methodist congregation was described as “the largest church construction program ever announced here; it calls for a $100,000 church plant to be completed in about 15 years.”11 Chimes were installed in the old church tower, a gift of Hamp Mattox, owner of Buna Auto Company and a member of the Methodist Church for thirty-five years. “If you think it will serve as a reminder to the people in the community that it’s time to stop for worship, I want to donate them to the church,” Mr. Mattox said. A resident commented at the time that “the oldest house of worship in the community should be the first to have chimes.” The chimes added to the enjoyment of the 1954 holiday season as programs of Christmas carols were presented at regular intervals during the season. In 1956, while Rev. Jeff Campbell occupied the parsonage, a multipurpose brick structure was built to satisfy the need for additional classrooms and social events. This new Educational Building/Fellowship Hall was built adjacent to the original church on the property vacated by the old community hall. The Methodists had a homecoming to celebrate their growth that year with Rev. Campbell bringing the message. The youth choir was directed by Mrs. Fred Evans and accompanied by Mrs. M. E. Brown. Four former preachers were present: the Rev. S. A. Weimer, who was pastor in 1919-20; his son, Rev. Charles Weimer, 1943-44; Rev. Karl O. Bayer, 1933-34; and Rev. J. C. Marshall, 1949-1955.12 After the homecoming in 1956, the building program progressed steadily and during the pastorate of Rev. James Tunnell in 1962, the plans called for a new sanctuary to be built on the original site, now designated Hwy. 62 but still Main Street. The program continued with Rev. Robert Koch and came to completion during the pastorate of Rev. Robert Dean. The church building committee chairman was Robert Hargrove; members were Ward Mixson, Dr. M. E. Brown, Ralph Jenkins, Dan Lay, Glenn Roberts, Oscar DeLord, Wilfred Yeates, Crawford Bowen, Mrs. Roy Jenkins, Mrs. Verlon Walters, Mrs. Vincent Wright, Mrs. W. H. Smith, Mrs. A. C. Ratcliff, and Rev. Dean. The old wooden church, which had served well for fifty years, was dismantled in 1964 by a group of volunteers including R. C. Laramore, Fred Evans, Jake Wheeler, and Wilfred Yeates. Construction of the present sanctuary and educational wing was begun. The new building, completed in 1965, retained a cherished part of the past: the bell, which had graced the old church, was placed in a tower of the new church sign. The bell had been brought to Texas in 1889 from Louisiana and used on the “Shay Dinky Train” that hauled logs to Weiss Bluff near Evadale. “Uncle Billy” Richardson had obtained the bell from J. A. Carroll, manager of the Yellow Bluff Tram Co. logging camp, who first named the townsite, Carrolla, in 1892. Due to postal authority disapproval, it was soon renamed Buna, after his niece, Bunah Corley. “Uncle Billy” rang this bell on Sundays for almost half a century. In 1967 during the pastorate of Rev. Rawleigh Hooper, a new brick parsonage was completed across town on Bond Loop. The old parsonage was sold and moved to make room for a parking area on the church property. After serving since 1919 as a home for Methodist ministers and their families, the house is now located near the intersection of Hwy. 1004 and Lewis Road where it has been renovated and still serves as a family residence. The church grew from seventy-six members in 1949 to over two hundred in the middle ‘80s. During this period of time, pastors were: J. C. Marshall, Jeff Campbell, Mark Lewis, James Tunnell, R. W. Koch, R. O. Dean, Rawleigh Hooper, Eric Williams, George Swanson, Roy O. Biser, Roy Williamson, Don A. Story, Sr., and Byron Jarratt. The year 1984 marked the 200th anniversary of Methodism in America, and the Buna congregation observed Heritage Day on Pentecost Sunday, recognized as the birthday of the Church, as recorded in the book of Acts. The Bicentennial celebration of Methodism during 1984 was followed by the Sesquicentennial celebration of the State of Texas, when Buna Methodist began making plans to meet the final mortgage payment on its sanctuary. The service of consecration had already been held, declaring it open for the worship of God and the service to men. Once it became free of debt, it could then be fully dedicated. The service of dedication was held on Sunday, July 26, 1987, at the 11:00 a.m. worship service. Bishop Ben Oliphint delivered the sermon. Also dedicated on that day was the new church organ, given in memory of Mr. Perry Nix Mixson, seventy years a member of the church, by his wife, family, and friends. Rev. John Byron Jarratt, minister, Robert Webb, music director, and Beverly Saunders, Karen Wheeler, and Pat Whittaker, musicians, were in charge of the services. Mike Evans, organist, presented a dedicatory recital. The church began a renewal in the middle ‘90s, and the Easter attendance of two hundred fifteen in 1996 was the largest Buna UMC had witnessed since 1984. The official approval to construct a family activity center was given in 1997. A ground breaking ceremony was held on a rainy November 5, 1997, with Rev. Sharon Watt, District Superintendent, and Rev. Ferel Little, Pastor, presiding. The building was soon completed and a service of consecration of the Methodist Activity Center (MAC) was held on Sunday, April 18, 1999. The building committee was composed of Norman Knight, chairman, JoNell Knight, Alden Spell, Robert and LaVee Hargrove, Pam Hudson, Carolyn Rauwerda, Tommy and Beverly Saunders, and Rev. Ferel Little. By the year 2000, the testimony of the church’s growth was seen in the financial budget, which represented the largest ever for Buna UMC. Nearly every area had increased due to its ministry, outreach, and new services. Attendance was at an all-time high. The celebration of the centennial anniversary began on Sunday, January 11, 2004, recognizing those first Buna Methodists whose names were documented in the Texas Conference Membership book on January 10, one hundred years before. Also honored were current members whose records show them to be the earliest of the 2004 congregation. Records certify the baptism for Doris Hargrove (Kirkpatrick) on October 15, 1925, and Robert Edwni Hargrove, March 31, 1929, and membership of Ruth Mitchael (Wright) and Jim Mattox (Cook) on July 17, 1931, and Florence Mitchael (Flowers) on April 14, 1940. A dinner was served in the MAC building for the congregation of one hundred seventy eight. Rev. David Foster, pastor, introduced past ministers, Byron Jarratt and Roy Biser, who reminisced about the times and people that explained their records of longevity here. Mrs. Eric “Pinky” Williams, widow of pastor Dr. Eric Williams, and Dr. Jim Killen, retired pastor, also spoke of their time in Buna. Julia Burton, church historian, was in charge of the celebration.13 The celebration will continue as the Buna Methodists honor the past by dedicating their presence, gifts, prayers, and service to the future. (This history of the First United Methodist Church of Buna was compiled and edited by church members, Jo Nell Knight and Carolyn Rauwerda. Information was obtained by researching original church registers, the official membership records, and previously published accounts of the church history. The Buna Remembered Series offers additional information and pictures and is on file at the Buna Public Library.) FOOTNOTES 1Commission on Archives and History, Texas Annual Conference, May 9, 2006. 2Church Registry. 3Buna Remembered (Jasper, Texas: Jasper Printing Company, 1997,), Vol. 1, p. 91. 4Copy of Deed: J. R. Chapman to Methodist Church of Buna. 5copy of Deed: Kirby Lumber to Trustees of Methodist Church of Buna, Jasper County, Texas. 6Buna Remembered, loc. cit. 7Church Records. 8Pastor’s Report at Quarterly Conference, October 11, 1936. 9Pastor’s Report at Quarterly Conference, 1939. 10Ibid. 11Beaumont Journal, December 7, 1955. 12Church Records. 13Church Directory, 2004.