METHODISM ALONG THE BAYOU
by Timothy Hebert
Copyright 1994 Timothy Hebert
First United Methodist Church of Houma
THE RED BRICK CHURCH
As of April 28, 1921, the Houma church had received sixteen members for the conference year. They received the second bids on the new church, the lowest being $17,500, in April. This is still higher than they could afford. Rev. McCoy wrote to the Advocate and stated that if the crops were good, they would be able to build that fall. The membership was at ninety-three. The Houma church, however, was still a mission church. Rev. McCoy said that if they had a good building, they could be a self-supporting church in ten years.
Rev. McCoy's car was destroyed in a fire that spring. The members of the congregation bought him a Ford. They also spent $100 on the parsonage. The women in the church would raise money to keep up the parsonage. For example, they saved Octagon soap coupons and bought a set of wicker furniture for the parsonage.
Eventually they took the plunge and started building. The contract was signed in October. Rev. McCoy had secured a donation of $5000 and a loan of $5000 from the General Board of Church Extension in 1919. The church members pledged $2000 over the next five years towards the building. The extra money that they needed was obtained when they sold the bulk of the property on High Street. They kept the parsonage at 814 High Street.
The building cost $15,400; the lighting fixtures and seats were extra. The entire church and lot eventually cost about $20,000. The "Little Green Church" was torn down to build the Red Brick Church. During the construction, the Methodists accepted Rev. Blackburn's invitation to worship with the Presbyterians. The cornerstone of the new church was laid sometime between Christmas and Epiphany. Inside the cornerstone was placed a Bible. It is not known if anything else was put inside.
The Red Brick Church was built in two levels. Downstairs were the rooms used for Sunday School and a small kitchen. To get to the sanctuary, you had to climb one of the two flights of stairs in front of the church. A small room was located at the top between the two sets of stairs. Two aisles divided the wooden pews into three sections. The pews weren't installed until 1924. The piano was located on the left side of the church. In the front of the church was a raised platform. There was a semicircular altar rail with cushions to kneel on. The altar was behind this. Behind the altar stood the pulpit. The choir was located behind the pulpit.
The opening service was held at 11 a.m. on the first Sunday in April. Dr. R.L. Russell, of the Mission Board, preached two sermons that day to a packed house. The offering for the day was$70. Six new members joined the church. There were 107 in Sunday School.
With all of this happening, they still were reaching out to the rest of the parish. Rev. McCoy travelled to Labadieville on Saturday and Point aux Chien on Sunday afternoon.
At the end of the year, Rev. Martin Hebert, who was the presiding elder, was appointed to serve Lockport, Raceland, and Bayou Blue. R.E. Martin and J.A. Knight were local preachers working out of Bourg. Edgar Dufrene was a local preacher based in Houma. He assisted Rev. McCoy with the congregation of 100 members. K.F. Martin was also serving as a local preacher, holding services along the bayou from Labadieville to Point aux Chene.
Through the years, pastors had been preaching at private homes at the community of Point aux Chene. A church was organized in 1918 with a membership of 21. A vacant home, arranged as a church, was used for two services a day. There was even a choir with 20 young people who sang in both French and English.
Ernest and Augustine Levron donated a piece of land on Bayou Point aux Chene to the Bayou Blue Methodist Church. The president at that time was Rev. Robert E. Martin of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. A small church was built in 1922. The Point aux Chene church was a small building with a steeple. There was a door in the front and a door by the pulpit. There was also a small piano in the corner. It was served by Miss Hooper and Rev. A.D. Martin in the early days. In the 1940's, it was torn down and the lumber used in the construction of a church at Bayou Blue.
The district lines were changed in 1922 and Houma was now in the New Orleans District. At the end of the year, G.A. LaGrange was appointed to serve the Bayou Blue charge. He had been staying at the MacDonell School. Within a few months, he had opened up two or three new preaching points. He was ready for a church at one point, where the membership of 75 was meeting in a house. Later on, Rev. LaGrange's second wife gave his church $800 and a communion set. In return, they named the church after LaGrange. The LaGrange church building later became the Bayou Blue church.
Before the Houma District was absorbed into the New Orleans District, a district meeting was held. Held in August of 1922, it was led by Rev. Martin Hebert, the presiding elder. The pastors in attendance were F.J. McCoy (Houma), George LaGrange (Bayou Blue), C.W. Lahey (Melville), E.V. Duplantis (Ville Platte), A.D. Martin (Lydia), J.A. Knight (Lockport), A.J. Martin (St. Martinville), Edgar Dufrene (assistant pastor at Lydia), A.M. Serex (assistant pastor at Houma), Gilbert Bergeron (assistant pastor at Bayou Blue), and local preachers P.E. Martin (Bourg) and K.F. Martin (Bourg). Four young men were licensed to preach at the meeting: Luke Henry Richard, Clerville J.Thibodeaux, Adrien M. Serex, and Leslie North. Also, James A. Knight and C.W. Lahey were recommended for admission to the Louisiana Conference.
Though the others were from Louisiana, Rev. A.M. Serex was from Switzerland. He was attending school at Emory University and was assigned to the Louisiana Conference. He was preparing for the ministry that he would practice when he returned to Belgium.
Dr. Guy Wilson, an evangelist from Boston, and several other visiting pastors preached sermons during the meeting. Even Rev. J.N. Blackburn of the Houma Presbyterian Church and Dr. G.L. Tucker of the Houma Episcopal Church were present. Much was said about the encouraging work being done by the Methodists in the area.
The new church building in Houma was now serving 126 members. By the end of 1922, the membership was over 150. The Houma church had one Sunday School with 117 members. It also had a Mothers' class, in which were enrolled the mothers of children on the Cradle Roll. The Mothers' class had a motto, "Family prayer in every home."
Evangelism meetings were still very popular. A two week meeting was held in January of 1923. Services were conducted by Rev. D.L. Patterson, a conference evangelist, and Rev. A.J. Notestine, the song leader. Rev. McCoy reported twenty-five new applications for membership by the middle of the second week.
A couple of months later, on Easter Sunday, eighteen new members were added. Since the Red Brick Church was built, seventy-five members joined the church rolls. It was written that the Houma church reported the largest per capita contribution of any church in the Conference. They even voluntarily raised Rev. McCoy's salary.
Rev. A.D. Martin was returned to the Lafourche area in 1923. He found that "a great work is to be done on Bayou Lafourche." Within the first year, he had opened up six new preaching places. He was still trying to reach the Catholic natives. He said it was hard work, but little by little he was having success. By 1924, plans for churches at Labadieville and Griffin were being made.
A 1926 newspaper article states that the ladies of the Methodist Church will give their Annual Thanksgiving Bazaar on November 24 at the church. Supper will be served, and there will be a sale of cakes, candies, pies, and other desserts.
Rev. Benjamin Harris Andrews: 1927-1932
Rev. Benjamin Harris Andrews was appointed to fill Rev. McCoy's shoes in Houma. Rev. McCoy moved to the other end of the state to West Monroe. Rev. Andrews was to serve here for five years. He had a wife and one child while here in Houma.
Rev. Andrews was born in Greenville, Illinois on June 10, 1887. He came to Louisiana as a student at Centenary College. At his first charge in Gonzales, he met and married Josephine Gonzales. She was an attractive woman and a devoted wife and helpmate during his ministry. They had two sons.
It was known that Rev. Andrews was very interested in bringing the Gospel to the French Mission field. He spent five years of his ministry doing so. He was a strong preacher and a good administrator. Though his sermons may not have been humorous, they went straight to the point.
Rev. Andrews always smoked a pipe. Perhaps this is what led to the heart attack that eventually did him in on December 23, 1948. Every time Rev. Andrews would go to the MacDonell School, he could be seen emptying his pipe when he got to the gate. Miss Hooper, you see, didn't allow smoking.
To organize the Methodists in the area, Rev. Andrews was asked to be the unofficial leader of the churches of the area. It is said that he wanted this position so that the reports would be impressive. He had thoughts of being a presiding elder one day. He told the French preachers to make all of their reports through him. Some of the local pastors, however, took umbrage with this.
Rev. Andrews was very effective in working with the young people. He could often be found taking a group of boys fishing. He also got them to help him work on the church, the parsonage, or the MacDonell School. It is remembered, however, that Rev. Andrews refused to allow the boys to read the comic papers. It was during Rev. Andrews tenure that the downstairs of the church was departmentalized. The parsonage was also enlarged.
A March 24, 1928 issue of the Houma Times describes a St. Patrick's Day Party by the Houma Epworth League held at MacDonell. They played games. Everything was decorated in green ... even the food. There was green punch, green iced cakes, and green candy. Boys wore green caps made by the girls. Girls wore green aprons made by the boys.
There was a bad hurricane in August of 1926 that flooded most of the parish. An extensive flood covered the parish soon after. It was the intensive aid that the Methodists gave theDulac Indians, especially in times of trouble, that helped in their conversion to Methodism. Within twenty years, one out of every five Indians would be a Methodist. This incident would also lead to a school formed there in 1932.
A number of churches have been built in Terrebonne and Lafourche by the early 1930's. They were usually small in size, the only large church in the area being the one in Houma. The circuit was known as the Houma-French Mission Charge. The pastors working in these areas were supported by the Home Dept. of the Board of Missions. The salary was less than $100 a month. Converting the people in remote places had been successful because the Catholic influence was not as strong there. Later, when these rural folk moved closer to town, they helped to build up the church in Houma. Periodic camp meetings are held in the rural communities. The attendance at these tent meetings was usually good. Many of those that wouldn't enter a Protestant church had no problems with going to a meeting under a tent.
The presiding elder was at the Bayou Blue church for a Quarterly Conference (which was held in a home) at this time. He was asked if he'd rather the heat or the mosquitoes, because they hadn't any screens. He chose the heat and all of the windows and doors were shut. One article Rev. Andrews wrote in 1930 was entitled, "Listening to the Gospel Amid Mud and Mosquitoes."
Assisting Rev. Andrews as junior preachers were Rev. A.D. Martin and Rev. A.M. Martin. They would take care of the congregations "down the bayous."
Rev. Alban Mitchell Martin was born on September 10, 1896 at Bayou Blue. As a youth he would play the piano in the Bayou Blue church. He was the son of Robert and Octavia Martin. He met his wife Eva while at Cincinnati Bible College. He returned to Louisiana and became a Methodist minister in 1924 and served the Acadiana area for forty-two years. He would often bring his folding organ with him when he held services in people's homes. He also liked to beautify churches and church grounds. He loved nature and gardening. Rev. Martin was compassionate and ever cheerful. He was not a great orator, but he loved to preach the Gospel. He was never without his Methodist Book of Worship and Hymnal. He passed away on June 9, 1967.
Rev. J.W. Booth: 1932-1936
In 1932, Rev. Andrews was replaced by Rev. J.W. Booth. Rev. Booth served the Houma area for four years. He was remembered as a slow speaker who would sometimes shed tears when delivering his sermons. He was short of stature, but tall on kindness. It was said that he was often heard telling tales about his wife that she might not have taken so lightly. It was noted that the Boy Scouts would meet at the church at this time. Rev. Booth used to visit the congregation regularly.
Rev. J.W. Booth was born on February 2, 1874 in Mississippi. He married Miss Mamie Lott on June 8, 1904. She was a quiet but supportive minister's wife who was fond of travel. Her tranquility contributed to the success of his ministry. They had three children. One of the sons, Luther, became a Methodist minister.
Rev. Booth led a deeply spiritual life. His sermons were not the most eloquent ever spoken; but they showed his sincerity and love of Christ. He spoke to your heart. It was said that after one of his services, you "felt" like you had been to church. He was well loved by the people. Most of his forty-three years of ministry were spent in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Rev. Booth passed away unexpectedly on March 25, 1947 in Baton Rouge.
Rev. Clerville J. Thibodeaux was appointed as the French preacher to the area, a post he would serve for several years.
Rev. Thibodeaux was born in Labadieville in 1894. He and his wife Avelie were converted from Catholicism to Methodism through the efforts of Rev. Eugene Barrios. His wife was known to fill in for him in the pulpit when C.J. was ill. Later, when his first wife died, Rev. Thibodeaux remarried Edna Barrios, Eugene's daughter. Licensed as a local preacher in 1922, he was appointed to serve as a supply to the French Mission. Most of his thirty-seven year ministry was spent in the French Mission area. Rev. Thibodeaux lived a righteous life. It was said that he was an ideal pastor, especially in personal evangelistic work. He even got along with the Roman Catholics, who were willing to help him. He passed away in Labadieville on June 29, 1967.
Spurred on by a big revival in Golden Meadow in March, 1933, a church was built there that summer. Pastored by Rev. A.M. Martin, there were 60 members by the end of the year. Rev. Booth wrote to the Advocate to ask if someone would donate a piano to the Golden Meadow church.
One special Sunday in 1934 was "Houma Day," when money was raised throughout the Conference for the French Mission of Houma.
Starting at the corner of Main and Church Streets, Houma finally got paved streets in 1936. For many years before that, crushed oyster shells were used to cover the streets. It would still be many years before the outlying roads of the parish were paved.
In 1935, as previously mentioned, Clanton's Chapel was built at Dulac. The Methodist Church was in Dulac to stay, despite a reward from someone who offered "$500 to run the Methodists out of Dulac!"
Let's take a moment to look at the history of the Methodist Church among the Indians of Dulac.
DULAC INDIAN MISSION
As previously mentioned, Miss Ella Hooper left the MacDonell School for a while to work in Dulac with the Indians. Mr. George DeForest and his wife, from Akron, Ohio, had been sent by the Missionary Council to work with the Dulac Indians. Miss Hooper went to help them out. They would travel by boat to Dulac, teach the remainder of the day, stay overnight, teach the next morning, and then return to their home. They did this because it took quite a while to row the boat the necessary four miles each way. The community of Dulac was two miles below the end of the road. They had been having Methodist preaching services since 1912 whenever a preacher, usually A.D. Martin, could make it. In addition, Miss Ella Hooper had been visiting them for years to hold Bible classes and distribute clothes and other goods. So many of the Indians were already familiar with the Methodists. Mrs. DeForest discovered that Miss Hooper had a sister, Wilhelmina, who taught school in Rosedale. She sent her an invitation to come for two weeks "to teach until the trapping season started." She came for a two week visit and ended up staying 33 years, until her retirement in 1965. She didn't even receive a salary until 1953. She later said, "I was not a missionary or a radical; I was a trained teacher, and there was a need for a trained teacher. So I stayed." With her sister in charge, Ella went back to MacDonell.
Miss Wilhelmina was known as "Miss Hoppy" to the children. She was thin and wore glasses, just like her sister Ella. Over the years, her skin bacame tanned from her many walks along the bayou and her English had a tint of a French accent.
The first class began on October 1, 1932. There were 75 students, ages six through twenty. Everyone was in the first grade, since none of them had ever been to school before. Classes were held in an old-fashioned, high ceiling overseer's home that Miss Hooper taught and lived in. Sometimes, classes were held out on the porch or in the yard under an oak tree. Besides teaching school, the Methodist workers would teach religious classes twice a week. The school was for all Indians, regardless of their religious beliefs. Miss Wilhelmina Hooper was assisted in the early days by a Miss Hoffpauir.
Miss Ella Hooper went to the school board to get their help. Indians weren't allowed in public school at that time. They asked Miss Hooper to survey the area to see how many Indians were involved. She found 300 possible students, only 75 of which were attending the Methodist school. The school board suggested that Miss Wilhelmina Hooper continue her operation of the Methodist school, which she did for twenty-two years.
Deaconess Mary Beth Littlejohn was appointed by the Council to replace Mrs. DeForest at Dulac in 1936. With Miss Wilhelmina,they were reaching 65 families, a total of 50 people. The work was divided into three areas: the church, the school, and the social service and rural extension work. The church membership was 50 in 1936. Worship services, given in French, were conducted once a month by a local French preacher.
After holding services in private homes and outdoors for years, Dulac finally received a church, named Clanton Chapel. Mr. T.G. Clanton, of Shreveport, provided the funds to build it. Bishop Dobbs and others were on hand for the dedication in May. An Indian feast was served afterwards. Most members of Clanton's Chapel in Dulac would go to church by boat. Services were held at 2:30 on Sunday afternoon. They had to wait for the arrival of the pastor from Houma. For the next few decades, the Dulac church would be served by the pastor stationed at Houma Heights in Houma. Kirby Verret, a local pastor, is now the pastor of Clanton Chapel.
The school program is the same as that of public schools. The day school for children had an enrollment of 40, and the night school for adults had an enrollment of 15. The enrollment was low this year because the bridge across Bayou Dulac had been out for a year, and the students couldn't get to the school. Afternoons were devoted to "extension" type schools for smaller communities down the bayous.
The social work extends to the 360 Indians within a three mile radius. They also made occasional visits to families further down the bayous. They brought clothes, medical help, and other items.
By 1938, the day school enrollment at the Dulac Indian Mission was up to 60. Day school was held from 7:30 A.M. to 12:30 P.M. The night school enrollment was 30. It was held from 6:30 to 8:30 at night. The church held worship services twice a month, Sunday school on Sunday mornings, Bible school on Sunday evenings, and a community sing once a month. The social activities included a Boys' and Girls' Industrial Club, a Young Folk Club, house-to-house visiting, a community library, and a game room.
In 1942, property (a piece of "Goat Island") was purchased for the Dulac Mission to enlarge the work in the area.
In 1950, a school building was finally constructed in Dulac for the Indians. Miss Wilhelmina Hooper now had a school to teach in. It has already been mentioned how Miss Ella Hooper came down to Dulac to help her sister. Miss Ione Gandy, of the MacDonell School, also came down to Dulac to help with the new school.
The Terrebonne Parish school board had finally agreed to build a school for the Indians. It was built in the summer of 1953 in front of the Methodist school. It had five classrooms and a kitchen. Later, in 1954, four more classrooms were added. The Methodist school at Dulac was converted into a communitycenter. It provided a kindergarten, adult literacy classes, religious instruction, dances, motion pictures, visitation, teenage and craft programs.
In 1960, a new Community Center was completed at Dulac. The open house was held on September 18, 1960. The director of the Community Center at that time was Mr. H. Carl Brunson. A dedication service was held. Rev. Rickey gave the invocation. Rev. Ira Robinson, pastor of Houma Heights and Dulac, rendered the benediction. The sermon was presented by Bishop Aubrey Walton. As Bishop Walton said, the Center was designed for "the development of Christian character ... to the broadening of mental horizons and the deepening of knowledge, that young and old may be awakened and informed."
Though the Center was damaged by Hurricane Juan in 1985, it has since been rebuilt.
After thirty-three years, Miss Wilhelmina Hooper retired from the Dulac Indian Mission in 1965. The Woman's Society of Christian Service presented her with an honorary life membership.
Rev. A.D. George: 1936-1938
Rev. A.D. George was appointed to the Houma charge in 1936. He served Houma for two years. The membership of the Houma charge was almost 600. There were eight churches in the charge and two parsonages. C.J. Thibodeaux was assigned as the supply French preacher to the area for the third year.
During Rev. George's tenure, the rolls were purged. Of the 656 members, 266 were removed in just one year. The number of churches on the Houma circuit decreased to four.
Rev. George was born at Montpelier, Louisiana on September 20, 1887. After he was licensed to preach in 1908, he went to Centenary College. After college, he married Susan Ruth Hoffpauir. She was remembered as a good Bible teacher. The Georges worked together as a team. She always contributed her talents to his ministry. They had one son, one daughter, and one foster daughter.
It was said that his congregations never wanted to give him up. Rev. George lived a life filled with good works. He died in Hattiesburg, Mississippi on July 12, 1974.
Evangelism meetings were still popular, but their length was getting shorter. April of 1937, however, brought an old time revival to Houma. It lasted from April 11 to 25. Rev. George said that he felt led to have a series of meetings. One of the most fruitful parts was the sessions held after each night's meetings. The pastor and his helpers would meet with those seeking counsel and prayer. In addition to a number of adults, twenty-five young people and children accepted Christ during the two weeks.
Now, let us look at a typical Sunday in the old Red Brick Church at this time. The Sunday schedule at this time consisted of: Sunday School at 9:30 a.m.; Morning Service at 10:45 a.m.; Epworth League at 6:30 p.m.; Evening Service at 7:15 p.m. Prayer meeting was held on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
The Sunday School started off the morning. Mr. J.H. Thatcher or Judge Robert Butler would teach the men's class. When things got crowded, they would hold class in the Thatcher Hotel across the street. Inside the sanctuary, Kleibert F. Martin would conduct a class in French. Rev. Martin, who always wore a hat, was also the church janitor and a local pastor.
One of the early classes that originated in the 1930's was taught by Mrs. Esther Kelly. Raised in Texas, she wanted a Sunday School class where you didn't need to understand French. After discussing it with Rev. Andrews, the class began meeting in the area between the two front steps of the church. Later, as the class grew, they met at Wurzlow's Florist behind the church. Although the name of the class has changed over the years, itstill exists as the Wesley Friendship class.
The children would hold a Sunday School assembly in the central area downstairs. It would consist of a pledge, a prayer, and announcements. Then they would go to their individual rooms located along the sides of the downstairs level. The central area was used for other meetings (such as the Boy Scouts).
It was noisy with the windows open, as they often were. Remember, they had no air conditioning. You could hear the cars passing by on the shell roads. The streets weren't paved until 1936. The pulpit was on a raised platform behind the altar and altar rail. There would often be flowers on the altar, arranged by Mrs. Esther Kelly. Mrs. Thatcher sat behind the piano on the left side of the sanctuary. The choir sang from behind the pulpit.
Old Mr. Babin would sit in the last pew of the old Red Brick Church. When it got 12 o'clock, he would always take out his pocket watch and wind it. Everyone in the church could hear it. They knew that the service would be (or should be) ending soon. Then, when he would leave, he would always say "tres bien" on his way out.
And Kliebert F. Martin would sit up front. He would always shout "Amen" in response to important points in the service.
One of the fixtures in the days of the Red Brick Church was the Thatchers ... Joseph Hunter and Dora. Mr. J.H. Thatcher came to the area in 1917 and was instrumental in developing the natural gas industry. He was the first member added to the roll by Rev. F.J. McCoy. He soon became one of the most involved, dedicated, and beloved members of the church. He served as Sunday school superintendent, chairman of the board of stewards, and was instrumental in the building of the Red Brick Church. It was said that he lived a "most beautiful life" and that he represented "everything that is clean and virtuous." The Terrebonne Press said that he was "as near perfection as mortal man could ever expect to be." Clearly, it was unfortunate for our church and our community that he was taken from us so early. He passed away in 1943. An indication of his character was expressed in a poem he wrote, entitled "My Creed."
by J.H. Thatcher
I thank God I am a Christian,
Let me live and die that way.
There is no place like heaven,
That gives me peace for which I pray.
It keeps my heart filled with love,
Burning bright to lead the way;
Holds me steadfast to my Saviour,
From which path don't let me stray.
I thank God I'm a Christian,
Let me live and die that way.
Mrs. Dora Thatcher played the piano and organ and directed the choir from 1920 to 1950. She was a long-time member of the Women's Society of Christian Service. She also served as president of the Mission School Board for many years.
Mrs. Thatcher always wore a hat and directed the choir by moving her hat to and fro. The choir wore black robes. The female choir members had to remove their jewelry before going into the sanctuary. They left the jewelry and their pocket books in a locked chest in a Sunday School room downstairs.
Besides the choir at church, Mrs. Thatcher founded and directed the one hundred voice Houma Community Chorus from 1923 to 1928. She also loved to travel. The social column of the newspaper was filled with tales of her travels.
Before coming to Houma, Mrs. Thatcher was director of music at Mansfield College. The Thatchers came to Houma in 1917 when her husband Joseph Hunter Thatcher bought the Lirette Gas Field. Mr. Thatcher helped to put in the gas distribution system in the town of Houma. He also build a hotel on the site of Houma's first Methodist church. Mr. Thatcher used to teach the men's Sunday School class in the area between the stairs. He passed away in 1943.
In 1972, Mrs. Dora Thatcher moved to New York to live with her daughter. Three years later she passed away. She is buried here in Terrebonne Parish with her husband.
Mrs. Thatcher is not the only woman to distinguish herself in serving the Houma Methodist Church. Other prominent women in the first half of the 20th century included Nettie Brunette, Thelma Ellender, and Ruth Patterson.
Miss Brunette was born a Roman Catholic six miles below Houma. As a youth, she would attend Catholic Mass and then go to Sunday School at the Methodist Church. After three years, she and two of her sisters joined the Methodist Church after hearing Rev. Breithaupt at a tent meeting. She lived two doors away from the parsonage on the property the church had sold in 1921. She worked as a cashier for Mr. Thatcher's gas company and as the manager of the Thatcher Hotel. Her jobs at church included church treasurer (for twenty years), lay delegate to Annual Conference, Sunday School teacher, and many more. A charter member of the Women's Society, she served as its treasurer for many years. Miss Brunette passed away in 1963.
Thelma Ellender came to Houma from St. Francisville in 1925. She married Claude Ellender, a prominent Houma attorney and the brother of Senator Allen Ellender, in 1928. Mr. Ellender, originally from Bourg, passed away in 1958. Mrs. Ellender has been a prominent member of the woman's societies of the Houma church over the years, serving in various capacities for over fifty years. She has also worked with children for many years. The large oak tree in the church's playground was named after her.
Ruth Carlson Patterson was from Fort Worth, Texas. She met and married Charles Ray Patterson in the Dallas area. They moved to Houma in 1939. Mrs. Patterson was known for her enthusiastic piano playing in church and for her work with the youth. Since 1952, the entire community would look forward to the Christmas displays in her yard. Mrs. Patterson passed away in 1982.
Rev. David F. Tarver: 1938-1941
Rev. David F. Tarver replaced Rev. George in 1938. He served Houma until 1941. Rev. Tarver, though a large man, was very soft-spoken. He gained weight while here because he loved the French cooking. He wore a frock-tailed coat when he preached. He was a sensitive, spiritual man who often used poetry in his sermons. He spoke in a down-to-earth language that everyone could understand. He also loved nature and used to talk about it in his sermons. It seems that he almost always shed tears while giving his sermons.
His wife, Velma, was the speaker of the family. She was a very supportive wife who tirelessly helped with the church. She is best remembered as a youth counselor. She would sometimes sing solos in church. The Tarvers had no children.
Rev. Tarver was ordered to report to Washington on December 29, 1941 for an examination to become a military chaplain. After the war, they moved to San Diego. Rev. Tarver went through a rough time of it when Mrs. Tarver passed away prematurely.
The budget for Rev. Tarver's first year was $2355. The pastor's salary was about $100 a month. The church's caretaker, Rev. Martin, was paid about $10 a month. Money was also allocated to pay for heaters and song books bought in 1938.
It may be that Rev. Tarver was the first Houma preacher to ask the members to make a pledge. He sent a very frank letter to members not long after he arrived in 1938. The letter described how ministers often pay for many church operating expenses out of their own pocket. These expenses included an automobile ($50/month), traveling to conferences ($120/year), adding books to his library ($10/month), and appropriate clothing. He noted that the pastor in Bogalusa, a town smaller than Houma, made $2400 annually (much more than the Houma pastor's salary). The Conference was still sending money ($50/month) to help the Houma church. This meant that the members needed to come up with $60 a month to balance the budget. Rev. Tarver suggested that members give $3 a week to the church; less than two dozen such donations would provide the necessary funds.
Evidently, the congregation responded to Rev. Tarver. The budget and contributions to the conference were paid in full. They were also able to fix up and refurbish the parsonage.
The weekly budget for 1938-1939 of $60.50 included: payment on the old debt ($875) on the parsonage - $16.83; the pastor's salary (paid each Sunday night at the church by the treasurer) - $30; the janitor - $2.50; insurance - $1.00; office supplies, bulletins - $1.27; benevolences and district work - $3.00; the presiding elder - $3.90; utilities - $2.00.
In 1939, the Methodist Protestant, the Methodist Episcopal, and the Methodist Episcopal, South Churches merged to form the Methodist Church. The Houma church had been a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Because of the merger and the formation of the Houma Heights church, the original Methodist church would now be known as the First Methodist Church of Houma.
The Houma Heights Methodist Church held its official opening on Sunday, May 21, 1939. The first pastor, who had already been there for a year, was Oakley Lee. Rev. W.G. Cram, D.D. delivered the sermon. The area east of the Intracoastal Canal was increasing in population. So the Houma Heights Church was built on the southern end of the MacDonell campus. Much of the mission work down the bayous of Terrebonne Parish would be carried out by ministers working out of Houma Heights and/or the MacDonell School.
Easter Sunrise Services were held at this time at the MacDonell School. They were sponsored by the Senior Epworth League.
Vacation Bible School was very popular in 1940. There was an attendance of 119 at First Church, even though it had been held for less than five years. There were 42 women in the W.S.C.S. Of the 200 Sunday School members, 140 regularly attended.
It was 1941 and they were still paying on the Red Brick Church. Rev. Martin Hebert urged them to have a drive to pay off the remaining $1175 of the debt. The Houma church wrote to the Board of Church Extensions for financial help because they could only raise one third of that amount. The pastor gives a couple of reasons for this.
There was a division in the church between the members of the "old congregation" and the newer members. Neither group felt very motivated to pay off the debt. The older members remembered that Houma was a mission church and thought that the conference should help retire their debt. The newer members did not feel obligated to the debt since it was incurred before they arrived. Additionally, the expected askings had increased greatly in the last two years. But of the membership of approximately 150 members, only two thirds were active. And of those 100 active members, only about one third of them are financially able to help the church.
Somehow, they managed to pay off the debt in 1941. On January 4, 1942, the twenty year old mortgage was burnt.
Rev. E.B. Chaney: 1941-1943
In 1941, Rev. E.B. Chaney was appointed to the Houma church. He and his wife arrived with three young children. He was family-oriented. His family was from the New England area. He was an outgoing and ambitious young man. It was said that he had a flambuoyant preaching style. He was also a handsome man; it was said that many of the women went to church just to see him preach. He was a friendly man; everyone got close to him. He enjoyed working with the youth. He preached to the people, and not over them.
The MYF Council met in January to make plans for the year. The Methodist Youth Foundation replaced the Epworth League in 1939. The second Sunday of each month will be Defense Stamp Sunday. Each member will bring a ten cent war stamp (or ten cents to buy one). The third Sunday of each month will be recreational Sunday. Each Leaguer will bring supper and the group will attend evening worship together. Those present at the meeting were Charles Patterson (president), Vera Duplantis (vice-president), Marilyn Nicar (treasurer), Patsy McNeill (recreational chairman), Bea Picou (co-counselor), Mr. C.R. Patterson (publicity director), and Mrs. C.R. Patterson (counselor). Rev. E.B. Chaney was also there.
The oldest church bulletin that we have left is one for April 6, 1941. The order of worship printed in the bulletin is as follows.
Personal Prayer in this Sanctuary
Bell Chimes Prelude
The Congregation Rising as the Choir Enters--All Singing
Hymn: 2 (Morning) 111 (Evening)
Apostles' Creed or Affirmations of Faith by All
Prayer: Pastoral, Congregational, Choral
Mediation: 126 (Morning) 127 (Evening)
(Reserved for Christenings, Specials)
Congregational Scripture Psalm: 539 (Morning) 540 (Evening)
The Gloria Patri
The Offering and Offertory
The Choral Anthem or Hymn: 145 (Morning) 149 (Evening)
The Message of the Ministry
Hymn: 142 (Morning) 140 (Evening)
(Reserved for the Sacraments of Communion and Baptism and for the Reception of Members)
Benediction: Pastoral, Choral, Congregational
Postlude Fellowship Greetings
The announcements in this bulletin illustrate some of the events going on at the church at this time. The topic for Sunday's "Young Peoples Meeting" was "Getting Ready for Easter" ... led by Annette Bynum. Altar flowers for the month were given by Mrs. Elvire Duplantis. A Deep Dish Dinner was to be held on Monday, April 7, at 7 p.m. All adult members were invited. Entertainment was provided afterwards. A social and business meeting of the Women's Sunday School Class was scheduled for Tuesday at Mrs. Claude Ellender's home. A Sunrise Service was held on Good Friday at 5:45 a.m. The W.S.C.S., led by Mrs. H.E. Hendrick, was scheduled to study the Christian Mission in China. The Spiritual Life Committee had decided to start a library and requested the loan of devotional books. This appears to be the first attempt at starting a church library.
The weekly calendar for the church was as follows. On Sunday they held Sunday School (9:30 a.m.), Worship (11 a.m.), Young People (6:30 p.m.), and Worship (7:30 p.m.). On Wednesdays, the Young People held a meeting at 7 p.m. The Adult Choir met at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays. The four women's meetings were held on Tuesdays: W.S.C.S. business (2 p.m. on the 1st Tuesdays), W.S.C.S. social (3 p.m. on the 3rd Tuesdays), Sunday School Class (3 p.m. on the 2nd Tuesdays), and the Spiritual Life Group (2 p.m. on the 4th Tuesdays).
Though not mentioned in this bulletin, Watch night services were held on New Years' Eve. A social would begin at 9:30 p.m. The service began at 11:30 p.m.
The presiding officers of the church were printed on the back of the bulletin. The following were the chairman of their respective committees: E.K. Bynum (Stewards), C.P. Smith (Trustees), Mrs. Claude Ellender (W.S.C.S.), Mrs. David Tarver (Spiritual Life), Mrs. H.E. Hendrick (Adult Council), Mrs. M.S. Ballwin (Fellowship), Miss Vera Duplantis (Young People), and Miss Bea Picou (Publicity). Miss Nettie Brunette was treasurer. K.F. Martin was sexton. Miss Helen Smith was the adult choir director. Mrs. R.P. Haviland was the editor of the bulletin. Mrs. L.L. Gardner was the financial secretary. Mrs. J.H. Thatcher was the director of the choir and the church school. The associate choir directors were Mrs. T.A. Morris, Mrs. Fred Harter, and H.E. Hendrick.
The Houma Heights church was finally completed in the spring of 1942. Dr. Holmes, the district superintendent, preached for the opening ceremony, held April 5, 1942. The pastor at that time was Rev. M.S. Robertson.
The December 3, 1942 issue of the New Orleans Christian Advocate had a picture from the Houma church on its cover. It showed a service flag made by the women of the church. A cross of stars, with each star representing a serviceman from the congregation, was on display. Mrs. Lydia Winders & Mrs. Octavia Marcel were also in the picture. This is the only time a picture from Houma graced the front page of the Advocate in 90 years.
On February 18, 1943, Rev. Chaney was assigned to Crawford Memorial Methodist Church in New York City. He had asked for the transfer, since his family was from that area. He preached for three more Sundays. His last sermon, on March 7, was titled "So Loved ---." He traded places with a preacher from New York.
Dr. Albert S. Hurley: 1943-1949
Rev. Chaney's departure in 1943 brought us Dr. Albert S. Hurley. Rev. Hurley stayed in Houma for six years. Born in Franklin, Texas, in 1907, he went to the University of Texas when he was 16 years old. He moved to New York, where he attended Yale, Union Theological School, and Columbia University. While preaching in a Methodist church in New York, he met his bride-to-be. They got married in 1933.
Rev. Hurley wanted to return back to Texas. He asked Bishop Smith in Houston to find him an appointment. The Bishop told him that there was nothing available in Texas, but he could use Dr. Hurley in Houma, Louisiana. So, after preaching in New York for 13 years, he moved down to south Louisiana. They arrived on the third Sunday in March 1943.
Rev. Hurley is best remembered as an educated, but endearing minister. It seems that everyone liked Rev. Hurley. His sermons were always thoughtful and intellectual, sometimes going over the heads of many in the congregation. He realized this and toned down his sermons after a while. And although his sermons may have been long, he always kept your attention.
Due to a congenital disease, his eyesight had already begun failing when he arrived in Houma. But his memory was so good that you thought that he was reading from a carefully prepared script. When he visited Houma in the 1950's, he brought his sermon to the pulpit with him. Upon closer inspection, the sermon was nothing more than scribbly lines. He was preaching from memory, but he had brought his "sermon" to give the impression that he was using a script.
His memory for voices was excellent. He could meet someone after several years and recognize them by voice alone.
Rev. Hurley believed in visiting his congregation. He visited every day of the week. He would walk everywhere. Sometimes he would set out on foot and his wife would pick him up at the end of the day. His wife helped out in many other ways, such as playing the piano. She said she also liked the town of Houma; you could know just about "everyone" ... it was a friendly town.
The church tried to help out with the war effort. They worked a lot with the Red Cross in knitting sweaters for navy men. They also helped the Red Cross to roll bandages. We held food and money drives for the war effort. Rev. Hurley said that the community seemed to take the war in stride. Mid-week services were also better attended during the war.
Sunday mornings started with Sunday School. The attendance at Sunday School was regularly over 150. Rev. Hurley taught the men's class at that time, still being held in the Thatcher Hotel.
The woman's class and French class were still upstairs in the church.
Worship service generally had 60-70 in attendance. Mrs. Thatcher played the piano in the morning. Although sometimes Mrs. Clyde Martin or Mrs. Patterson would play. When the church's first organ was purchased (by the Hurleys), it was placed on the left, and the piano was moved to the right side.
The MYF was very active. Mrs. Ruth Patterson was the counselor at this time. After MYF, the youth would stay for the evening service, when the youth choir would perform. Mrs. Patterson usually played for the evening service. She loved to play songs from the Cokesbury Hymnal. They say enthusiastic playing often made the "rafters ring out." The evening services typically had over 50 people in attendance. The youth choir alone would sometimes consisted of 25 young people.
Wednesday nights were for youth meetings when Rev. Chaney, who was more oriented towards youth, was here. Towards the end of his tenure, prayer meetings, led by Nettie Brunette were held on Wednesday nights. When Rev. Hurley came, he led the prayer meetings.
Rev. Hurley would also preach at the Gibson church in the afternoon on the first Sunday of each month.
The church was already beginning to talk about a new church building. The Red Brick Church was paid off in 1943. Some of the older members were not too anxious to get into debt again. Plus, World War II forced them to put any such plans on hold.
The church budget for 1945-46 was $7375. Some of the expenses in this budget were: $651 - benevolences, $500 - office supplies, $225 - utilities, $2800 pastor's salary.
When Rev. Hurley arrived back in 1943, First Methodist Church had 189 members. The Sunday School had a membership of 255. By the time he left in 1949, there were 301 church members.
After retiring from the pulpit, Rev. and Mrs. Hurley moved to Franklin, Louisiana.
Rev. C. Reginald Hardy: 1949-1951
In 1949, Rev. Hurley was replaced by Rev. C. Reginald Hardy. Rev. Hardy stayed in Houma for only two years. He was a large man who seemed very reserved and formal. It seems that Rev. Hardy didn't put too much preparation into his sermons. He seemed to look down upon the rural folk. He wasn't the most popular of preachers; people found it hard to get close to him. He was the last of the fire and brimstone type of minister. He was also the last minister to wear a frock tail coat. A while after he left us, he moved on to the Texas Conference.
Not all of the preachers that served the area were popular. Some, like Rev. Hardy, just didn't quite fit in. It wasn't that they were poor preachers. Preachers and congregations sometimes just didn't go well together. It would be extremely rare to find a pastor that everyone liked. One preacher we had did not stay with us long; but soon after, he found another appointment that kept him for ten years. Then again, there are those people like Miss Nettie Brunette. Rev. Rickey said that "she is loyal to each pastor, and welcomes the next one as if the Lord sent him." Ideally, that is how we all should look at our pastors.
As the church grew, more space was needed. A quanset hut was placed on the side of the church after World War II. It was used for Sunday School classes and for the youth meetings. It was also used for square dancing. It would have been unthinkable to have dancing inside the church building. Some members still objected to the dancing in the hut.
The Houma Heights minister (Rev. Mitchell Sanford) was now serving four other preaching locations down the bayous. The Houma Heights Church was located just south of the MacDonell School and included the staff and pupils in its ministry.
Houma Heights was left to be supplied for 1950. Rev. A.D. Martin was appointed as a local preacher in Houma. The membership at First Methodist Church of Houma was 403. Gibson is listed as having one member. Houma Heights is listed as having 41 members; but there were 195 inactive members of that church! Other local churches included Bayou Blue (99 members), Dulac (104 members), Lockport (38 members), and Pointe aux Chene (39 members).
Dr. Sam Nader: 1951-1956
The year 1951 brought a new preacher, Dr. Sam Nader. The congregation had sent word to the bishop that we needed a leader. So they sent Rev. Nader, who had participated in building programs in all of his pastorates. He was what you would call today a "mover and a shaker." He brought out the best in people. Rev. Nader was the driving force behind the new church building. They even had to tear down the walls of the Sunday School rooms to make room for tables for the building drive dinners. Rev. Nader really knew how to raise money. He even got people outside of the church to contribute ... merchants and businessmen from other denominations. He didn't always preach about money; but outside of the sanctuary, he knew how to raise it.
Rev. Nader was born in Beirut, Lebanon. He was the son of a Greek Orthodox priest. Upon moving to America, he grew up in Shreveport, where he received a local preacher's license at age 15. While he was pastoring in Houma, the congregation paid to send him to Lebanon to see his father for the first time. When he came back, he put on a slide show of his trip for family night.
Rev. Nader took a personal interest in people's lives. He had a way of making you like him. He always wore a smile. If you weren't at church, he'd call on you that afternoon. Although he was always working, he always had time to talk to you. He enjoyed working with the youth. He would keep tabs on the members who were away at college.
He often ended up finishing the Sunday bulletin on Saturday night. He hired the first church secretary, Velma Hebert, who had been working at the MacDonell home.
Rev. Nader drove an old Chrysler that wasn't in the best of shape. So the church got together and bought him a new car. Rev. Nader's wife, Esma, though always with her kids, was always there to help out.
His preaching style was enthusiastically accepted. He brought the gospel down to your level. His sermons were down to earth ... to the point. After hearing him preach, you felt challenged. Rev. Nader was fond of preaching on Paul. He also liked to interject common items into the Biblical setting ... "Paul picked up his Parker 51 fountain pen and wrote ..."
During Rev. Nader's tenure, one of our own members decided to enter the ministry. Lionel Marcel went on to become a Methodist minister in the Louisiana Conference. He attributes at least part of his decision on Rev. Nader's influence. Rev. Nader would let Lionel preach on Sunday nights when he was in town. The pastor at Houma Heights would also invite Lionel over to preach. The church family was also supportive. There were a number of times when Mrs. Patterson would place a $100 bill into Lionel's hands to help him out with expenses. Rev. Marcel is still serving in the Louisiana Conference.
The Board of Stewards appointed a planning committee to consider the construction of a new church building. The Red Brick Church was overflowing. When it was built, an average service contained 75 members and the Sunday School attendance was about 50. The church now had about 500 members with an average Sunday School attendance of 185.
The first task was to select the site for the new church. One of the first sites they looked at was on West Main, where a large grocery store now stands. Instead, they picked a site on Little Bayou Black Drive. More property at the West Main location could have been bought for the same money, but the neighborhood was prettier and more serene on Little Bayou Black. In 1882, the Berger brothers built Crescent Plantation on Little Bayou Black Drive. The property was later sold. But Henry Berger bought back a portion of the plantation that included the house in 1932. The plantation had been divided and was now called the Crescent Park Addition. Berger sold part of the property to his daughter, Minty Toups, and to Frank Peavey. Judge Ashby Pettigrew owned the western half of the block. A month before he died, Henry Berger sold an option (for $1000) to sell the rest of the property he had bought in 1932 to the First Methodist Church. On the last day of 1951, a site committee purchased the property for $21,000 from the heirs of Henry Berger, who had passed away the previous month. The Crescent Plantation home was dismantled and used by C.R. Patterson to build a home for his son. The front door of the Plantation home stood approximately where the door of the Financial Secretary's office is today.
By November 1952, the Methodists had raised $119,000 towards the new church. A special service was held on November 9. Five laypersons spoke on various aspects of the building drive. After the service, a dinner on the grounds of the proposed new church was held for one hundred and fifty persons.
A lot (and house) located behind the church was purchased in 1953 from Robert H. Reeves to be used for a parsonage. Henry Berger sold the lot (lot #6, located on the northeast corner of block 29) to Frank Peavy, who in turn sold it to Robert H. Reeves in 1945. The old parsonage on 814 High St. was sold to the Houma Oil Company for $12,500 on November 3, 1953.
The year 1951 brought a note of sadness to the First Methodist Church. Miss Bea Picou, a faithful member, was killed in an airplane crash in Liberia, Africa in 1951. She was a stewardess. For years afterward, Miss Brunette gave out the Bea Picou Award to a Senior youth who exhibited "faithfulness, eagerness to help, attendance, and other qualities." Bea was Miss Brunette's niece.
Just a year after Bea Picou was killed, the church was shocked when Mr. C.R. "Pat" Patterson had a heart attack andpassed away on December 15, 1952. Mr. Patterson, born in 1902, had come to Houma from Texas in 1939. He was an active civic leader who had built up several businesses in town. He had been named Terrebonne's Citizen of the Year in 1949. A strong supporter of the church, he would be deeply missed by the church family and the community. The Sunday School class that met in the Fellowship Hall ... the Patterson Memorial Class ... named itself after Mr. Patterson.
The congregation was anxious to build the new church. A brochure printed in 1953 stated that the church would be built that year. It contained architectural plans and illustrations of the proposed church. As the brochure shows, the first plans were basically the same as the finished church, although there were a few changes that were made. People were encouraged to pay for a part of the church as a memorial, which would be honored with an engraved plaque. These plaques can still be seen. The cost for some of these memorials were as follows.
Sanctuary $75,000 Choir Room $ 1,500
Foyer 5,000 Pastor's Office 1,500
Chancel 10,000 Tower/Steeple 10,000
Portico 5,000 General Office 1,000
Crib Room 1,000 A/C and Heating 15,000
Nursery 2,000 Education Bldg. 50,000
Classrooms 2,000 Fellowship Hall 20,000
Kitchen 5,000 Parlor 3,000
Parsonage 20,000 Bell Tower Room 1,500
Pulpit 750 Sanctuary Window 1,500
Altar 750 Baptismal Fount 750
In an August, 1954 bulletin, several comments on the new church were printed. Mrs. R.B. Edmonson said, "I think the building program is wonderful!" Hayes Marcel said, " Our new buildings are needed badly for all of us. The building program is planned to meet the needs of our Church now and in the future." George Augustat stated that, "We are now in one of the largest endeavors that First Church has ever undertaken, that of building a new church. ... I am sure with our spiritual attitude and divine guidance we will pass our goal."
The general campaign was led by J.W. Bolton and D.W. Rhea. The entire congregation was divided into groups and committees to reach their goal.
The Red Brick Church was sold on November 8, 1955 to the Terrebonne Parish Police Jury for $50,000. The money was spent on the new church.
The last services in the Red Brick Church were evening services held on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday on the last week of March. The last sermon delivered in the Red Brick Church on Friday was on "The Seven Last Words".