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One of the oldest churches in Orange celebrates anniversary


Last updated 10/13/2015 at Noon

The first church building for the First Christian Church of Orange in 1895 at the corner of Main and Ninth Streets in Orange. The church is celebrating its 130th anniversary this month.

David Ball - For The Record

Dr. Andrew Pate has been senior pastor of First Christian Church of Orange since 1985.

In that time one word stand out to him, the church's resiliency. Due to that resiliency the church is celebrating 130 years and counting this month.

"A biblical word come immediately to mind--steadfastness, the capacity to remain firm in the faith through all the uncertainties or rapid change and unexpected challenges: specifically in recent years, standing firm amid the consequences of two major hurricanes and a Great Recession, not to mention having to deal with the sometimes unpredictable daily variances in behavior among the persons involved," Pate wrote.

Pate wrote in his 30 years members of the church have faithfully supported--spiritually and materially--four senior pastors, two associate pastors, and three youth directors. In addition, they supported several interim pastors in transition between pastors, plus other staff persons who served specialized ministries.

The church has a long and illustrious history:

When the Rev. D. A. Leak got together with 10 residents of Orange in 1885 to found the church, he was ministering to a small, but obviously dedicate group. They had to be committed, otherwise, why would several of them have been baptized in the Sabine River, and possibly on a breezy Sunday in November or December?

Properly baptized, in the Disciples manner, these founding members became city migrants for worship and bible study, moving from place to place, including the county court house, for almost a decade before their church was formally organized in 1894 under the leadership of the Rev. J.C. Mason. So fortified, they benefited greatly from a revival led by the Rev. J.C. and Mrs. A.J. Bush that same year. (The Rev. Bush was the first superintendent of the Juliet Fowler Home in Dallas.)

by 1895 the church had grown and was prospering enough to erect a modest frame building on the corner of Main and Ninth. The church gathered steam and then added a parsonage in 1919 at the rear of the main building. Three years later, the main building was renovated and its front entrance altered so as to open to the north. Shortly thereafter, a bell and the first organ were donated.

The Main and Ninth location was the church's site for 59 years until 1954 when a new sanctuary was erected on its present site at Ninth and Cypress. An adjoining two-story educational wing was added in 1960, and the Keown Fellowship Hall in 1974. Destroyed by fire in 1981, Keown Hall was rebuilt and rededicated that same year.

In 2006 Pate stated the beautiful murals, featuring biblical scenes from the Old and New Testaments, were painted on the second floor of the educational wing. This remarkable project was completed under the leadership of local artist and church members, Tom Windham, Jeanette Evans, and Ginger Tubbleville.

"The several building programs mentioned above are themselves testimony to the ongoing commitments of the members of First Christian," Pate wrote. "But it has been the people, not the buildings, that have made those commitments so real and so important for so many."

Another impressive quality hat has magnified the congregation's characteristic steadfastness has been the good humor frequently shared among the members, Pate believes.

"It was with great delight that members who've been around a while talk of the uplifting spirits of their fellow Disciples--like when they make fond comments about the affirming spirit of one associate pastor or about the never-fail ability of long-tme member Pleas Evans to come up with a good story for every occasion," he wrote. "And what a delight was Etta Mae Craft, the centenarian (104) we joyfully memorialized in 2010.

"Those who know the story have to smile when they enter the sanctuary and behold the impressive Jesus picture. George Craft was evidently caught by surprise over the gift as anyone in the church other than his wife, who announced the gift to the congregation without having told him."

He added the first call to the church following both Hurricanes Rita and Ike was from Etta Mae Craft to know if the picture was damaged.

Pate wrote of Hortense Lucas, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 102, brought her good humor and presence to her 100th birthday party celebrated by the church in 2009, a party delayed due to the damages the church suffered from Hurricane Ike.

Similar comments can be made about other church members:

"Take as two prime examples: the husband and wife who gave the bell and first organ to the church--Captain and Rs. I.H. Betis--they had to be exceptionally interesting people. For when you read that a steamboat captain purchased a church bell on one of his last trips to St. Louis, you can pretty well assume that his wife was involved and that his boat trip had both a commercial and a church purpose," he wrote.

Pate stated that locally, the church continues to support, among other community service organizations: Habitat for Humanity, the Gideons, Friends Helping Friends, and Orange Christian Services.

"By far the most memorable event in my brief ministry has been the surging of Hurricane Ike through downtown Orange and the ground floors of the church early on the morning of September 13, 2008," Pate wrote. "The congregation's response was magnificent. Although in some areas 16-18 inches of onrushing sea water had surged through the ground floors damaging everything on, beside, and beneath them, not a Sunday service was missed. Keown Fellowship Hall became the place for Sunday morning worship."

Pate stated it was those six months he saw first-hand the steadfast strength of a Christ-empowered church manifesting itself most boldly. It was also those six months he caught a glimpse of the church's vision of the future.

He shared five key driving forces in that vision as he has perceived them now in October 2015:

1. A strong and viable youth ministry

2. A strong pulpit voice

3. An outstanding musical program

4. Extending service to the needy in the community and throughout the world

5. The church aims to be a congregation in which everyone who enters into its sanctuary, rooms, and hallways, feels warmly welcomed and eternally embraced by our One Lord Jesus Christ


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