AUSTIN AVENUE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH (WACO)

T. Bradford Willis
Postcard of Austin Avenue Methodist Church.
Austin Avenue United Methodist Church in Waco, Texas, was organized on December 31, 1900, and was built on three lots on the corner of Austin Avenue and 12th Street in Waco. Courtesy T. Bradford Willis.

AUSTIN AVENUE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH (WACO). At the close of the nineteenth century, members of the Fifth Street Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in Waco, Texas, convinced Bishop Warren A. Candler and his cabinet of the Northwest Texas Conference that their congregation had outgrown their present church and that Waco needed another Methodist church. Therefore, at the session of the annual conference which met in November 1900, Bishop Candler appointed two pastors to the Fifth Street Church to serve for 1900–01.  These pastors were the Rev. John R. Nelson, who had served as the pastor of the Fifth Street Church since 1898, and the Rev. Milton S. Hotchkiss. The Rev. John R. Nelson’s time was to be devoted to organizing a new Methodist church in Waco.

Rev. Dr. John R. Nelson.
The Rev. Dr. John R. Nelson was instrumental in organizing Austin Avenue United Methodist Church and served as its first pastor. Courtesy T. Bradford Willis.

On December 31, 1900, at the first quarterly conference of the Fifth Street Methodist Episcopal Church, South, a motion was made to organize the Austin Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, South and to elect a board of nine trustees to receive and hold the property of the new church. The motion carried without dissent, and the election of the trustees followed. The Rev. John R. Nelson, pastor of the Fifth Street Church, worked for the organization of the new church and directed that three lots on the corner of Austin Avenue and 12th Street be purchased for the sum of $5, 500. Reverend Nelson along with the Rev. Milton S. Hotchkiss then selected the members of a building committee, which was charged with the task to raise $35,000 with subscriptions and select an architect to design the church edifice. Around that time a new Home Mission Society was formed and worked to raise funds for furnishing the interior of the future church edifice.

Cornerstone for Austin Avenue Church, Waco.
The cornerstone for Austin Avenue Church was laid on December 2, 1901. Courtesy T. Bradford Willis.

On May 6, 1901, the building committee accepted the architectural plan submitted by W. A. Cann of St. Louis. The building committee also secured the services of W. C. Dodson of Waco as a supervisory architect to pass upon the Cann plan and its specifications and to supervise the construction of the building. At the annual session of the Northwest Texas Conference which met in November 1901, Bishop A. W. Wilson appointed the Rev. John R. Nelson to the Austin Avenue Church of Waco.  Thus, Reverend Nelson was the first pastor of the Austin Avenue Church. Representatives of the Grand Lodge of Texas laid the cornerstone for the Austin Avenue Church on December 2, 1901, in an impressive ceremony at the building site at 12th Street and Austin Avenue.  

The Sunday School of the Austin Avenue Church was organized on December 29, 1901, at the Maccabee Hall located at 6th Street and Austin Avenue. The first service of worship followed at the Maccabee Hall and was conducted by the Rev. John R. Nelson. At this service the charter membership was formed with eighty-one members and was recorded in the church register. The Sunday School and worship services were conducted at the Maccabee Hall until the edifice was completed at 12th Street and Austin Avenue. The first worship service at the new church took place on April 13, 1902. After all debts were discharged, the church building was formally dedicated on November 11, 1906, by Bishop Elijah Embree Hoss.

1909 Postcard.
Postcard of Austin Avenue Methodist Church, 1902. Courtesy T. Bradford Willis.

As Waco expanded, the congregation also grew. In the early 1920s the Rev. Robert E. Goodrich, Sr., took in more than 1,100 new members, and soon a building committee was appointed to oversee the construction of a new and larger church edifice. On March 25, 1925, the cornerstone was laid at 13th Street and Austin Avenue for the new edifice for the Austin Avenue Church. The cost of this new edifice was estimated at $350,000. The architect was R. H. Hunt of Dallas. The last service of worship in the edifice at 12th Street and Austin Avenue occurred on Sunday, April 26, 1925, and this building was subsequently sold to the congregation of the Trinity Presbyterian Church of Waco.

On May 10, 1939, the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Protestant Church, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, united into the Methodist Church. Thus the congregation of the Austin Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, South, became the Austin Avenue Methodist Church.

The church edifice at 13th Street and Austin Avenue was dedicated by Bishop Ivan Lee Holt on March 12, 1944, and a printed church history by W. H. McCullough was distributed for this occasion. During 1940s, the congregation provided recreation and refreshments for the men and women in military service on Sunday afternoons and later participated in joint Sunday evening services with other congregations and denominations. The church also contributed generously for the building of the Latin-American Methodist Church of Waco and for the purchase of a parsonage.  

On November 13, 1954, the sanctuary of the Austin Avenue Church was destroyed by an early morning fire. The congregation met at the 25th Street Theater for worship the next day.  A building committee was soon elected to re-build the sanctuary and to build a three-story education building along Franklin Avenue and 13th Street. Walter Cocke served as the architect for the educational extension and the sanctuary, and the new structures were consecrated by Bishop William C. Martin on March 11, 1956, and were dedicated on March 5, 1961.

In 1964 the Austin Avenue Church built a Methodist Student Center for the Wesley Foundation at Baylor University. In 1968 the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church united and became the United Methodist Church. Thus the congregation of the Austin Avenue Methodist Church became the Austin Avenue United Methodist Church.

The church began the Montessori Child Development Center and a Meals-on-Wheels unit during the 1970s. For the occasion of the eightieth anniversary of the Austin Avenue Church, a new church history was prepared. A Texas Historical Marker honoring the church was dedicated on April 22, 1990.

By the 1990s the ministries of the Austin Avenue Church included a Meals-on-Wheels program, a program called Beyond-Our-Doors that provided money to needy homes, and the Austin Avenue Montessori School. Membership of the Austin Avenue Church stood at about 2,100.

Postcard of Austin Avenue Methodist Church.
Postcard of Austin Avenue Methodist Church. From its charter membership of eighty-one in 1901, Austin Avenue United Methodist Church had grown to more than 2,000 members by the end of the twentieth century. Courtesy T. Bradford Willis.
Austin Avenue Methodist Church (circa 1940s)
Austin Avenue Methodist Church (circa 1940s). Courtesy of T. Bradford Willis.

In the early twenty-first century the church continued to expand its various outreach programs, including the support of the physically-challenged, elderly, Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers, special needs children, and others. The church had a preschool and supported children’s, youth, and adult ministries as well as a choir and handbell ensemble. In the 2010s the Austin Avenue United Methodist Church also housed a number of organizations, including Youth Chorus of Central Texas, Waco School of the Arts, and Alcoholics Anonymous. The church published a monthly newsletter, Austin Avenews

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Austin Avenue United Methodist Church (http://www.austinavenueumc.org/), accessed July 25, 2018. Austin Avenue United Methodist Church, Church Archives, Waco. Historical Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin. W. H. McCullough, The History of Austin Avenue Methodist Church 19001944 (Waco: J. M. Pittillo Printing Company, 1944). Cecile Swayze Ramsey, The History of Austin Avenue United Methodist Church (Waco: 1980). Walter N. Vernon et al., The Methodist Excitement in Texas (Dallas: Texas United Methodist Historical Society, 1984). Waco News-Tribune, March 22, 26, 1925; April 26, 1925; January 7, 1955. Waco Times-Herald, Jauary. 1, 11, 13, 19, 27, 31, 1901; February 2, 1901; March 3, 1901; November 19, 1901;  December 3, 29, 1901; April 13, 1902; March 26, 1925; April 26, 1925;-Nov. 13, 1954.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, T. Bradford Willis, "AUSTIN AVENUE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH (WACO)," accessed December 15, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ima03.

Uploaded on July 31, 2018. Modified on December 13, 2018. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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