Stepping through the doorway and into the sanctuary of Aubrey’s First United Methodist Church is like stepping through time.
Saturated with historical significance and drenched in the overwhelming love of a congregation over 150 years old, the structure celebrated its centennial anniversary Saturday.
“A whole lot of planning came to fruition today,” FUMC Pastor Joseph Baker said of the day’s festivities. “We could not have done it without the community of the church; we have an amazing group of people here.”
The morning of the celebration was cold and gray. Invisible mist dribbled from the sky and the air felt heavy. It was a dismal outdoor atmosphere, one that harshly contradicted the merrymaking indoors.
Inside the sanctuary it was warm, almost hot, as friends and family gathered to celebrate the creation of the beloved structure. High-arching stained-glass windows bathed the worship space in shades of blue and purple, retelling the story of Jesus Christ in a vibrant flash of color. Almost every pew was occupied.
Heavenly music swelled in the space as the Trinity Handbell Choir took to the stage to perform the musical invocation. Their melodic set was followed by other musical guests, including The Patterson Family and Mallory Ingram, who performed “His Eye is On the Sparrow.”
Aubrey Mayor Janet Meyers and state Rep. Jared Patterson both turned out to honor the church and the sanctuary, and Joe Gist, the congregation’s longest serving pastor, returned to reflect on the church and its legacy. Somewhere between 50 and 75 people showed up at the event, nestled comfortably inside the belly of a historic landmark that serves as a window to the past.
The story of the church begins in 1858, long before the idea of the current sanctuary was even conceived.
Dr. George T. Key, a pioneer originally from Missouri, moved his family to Denton County and settled near the area that would later become Aubrey.
The Key family built two log cabins, one of which became a school and church. The no-frills cabin was known as the Key School House, and it served a very important role in the community. Aside from being an active place of education, the cabin also became home to one of the first Methodist churches established in Denton County. It was later renamed the Aubrey Methodist Church.
For several years, members of the Aubrey Methodist Church met and worshiped in the Key School House. That changed in 1885, when Aubrey founder L.N. Edwards made an addition to the original town plat of Aubrey and offered free lots to developing churches. The First Methodist church accepted lots on the corners of Plum and Maple Streets. One year later, in 1886, the congregation was elated to have finished construction on a wood-frame building that would serve as their worship center for over 30 years.
Then, on April 14, 1918, a devastating tornado blew through Aubrey. The cyclone obliterated the church, and the congregation was left in turmoil, with very little money and no place to worship. Never losing faith, they got back to work.
In February 1919, not even a full year later, a new one-story veneer building was completed. The church was built to be beautiful and durable. Polished woodwork, high ceilings and riveting Pre-Raphael style stained-glass made the sanctuary a remarkable site to behold. Even now, 100 years later, the beauty of First United Methodist still resonates. The pastor recalled one night he was particularly stricken by the church’s elegance.
“We have choir practice at nighttime during Christmas season,” Pastor Baker said. “Around that time the nights get dark early, about 6:30. I came up here one night, and the lights were on inside the church. And if you think it’s beautiful during the day when the light’s coming in, … it’s way more amazing when the light’s going out. The whole area is surrounded in darkness, and all you can see is the different pictures of Christ shining through from the light inside the church.”
Pastor Baker said he often uses the memory as a sermon analogy.
The church was named a historic landmark in 2011 and earned an official dedication marker in 2012. Its current congregation consists of about 30 parishioners, whom Baker has led for two years.
At Saturday’s festivities, the congregation tripled in size. Baker was impressed with the turnout.
“It was more people than we typically see at Christmas and Easter,” he said. “For a small country church, if you can surpass Christmas and Easter, then you’ve done well.”
If the sanctuary’s beauty and historical significance weren’t enough to get people excited about the centennial celebration, the barbecue cookout and show- stopping performances were.
“It was spectacular,” FUMC member Anna Taylor said about the event. “It went well. It was well planned, and it was very satisfying. The spirit was with us, indeed.”
Amanda Baker, Pastor Baker’s wife, said the celebration had been planned for about a year. Things really began snowballing after Christmas, she said, and the event wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of a dedicated committee.
“We had a lot of ideas, a lot of things we were planning on doing,” Amanda said. “I actually think everything turned out better than expected.”
Church members seemed to agree that the day was a success, staying long into the afternoon as they laughed together over food and good memories.
“We look for every opportunity to share our hands, our hearts and our hopes,” Pastor Baker said. “And that’s what we did today. I always tell people, we’re a small country church, but we’ll make room. So y’all come.”