Church members search for way to save building
Pilot Point’s Central Christian Church is an impressive sight to see – from a distance.
The historic structure’s painstakingly crafted architecture is reminiscent of a tapered bell tower, rising powerfully out of swaying foliage. Decades-old stained-glass glistens in scattered sunlight, painting colors across the building through windows that swoop and bend along the sanctuary’s high-reaching arches. The structure itself points heavenward, brushing the undersides of tree branches with pointed rooftops dipped in gray.
The peeling paint, splintering wood and shattered glass fixtures are less noticeable from a distance. Razor-thin cracks as slight as spiders’ webs plague windows, holes the size of hailstones stipple the church face. Floorboards creak, doorknobs rattle. But from a distance, you’d never know.
Joyce Wood said she can’t quite remember the last time the church saw a full-on renovation. The 91-year-old has been an active member of Central Christian since 1947.
“The congregation had about 80 people when I originally joined,” Wood said, adding that the church kept constant numbers throughout the next several decades. “And then people got older. I guess it started to dwindle when the original people that ran the church passed away or became inactive.”
The congregation of Central Christian continued to fall over the next several years. Today, there are six members, only four of whom are classified as active.
Despite the small number of the flock, the congregation is still expected to be fiscally responsible for the historic building. Monthly fees were running members upwards of $600, Wood said, and that did not include general upkeep and maintenance costs.
“We just can’t keep paying those bills every month,” Wood said. “We don’t have the money.”
Citing funding as the primary issue, Central Christian Church officially closed its doors last month. The decision left six members and two pastors displaced.
But that is the least of their concerns, Wood said.
After freezing their services, the congregation is faced with a new task: deciding what will become of Central Christian’s historic sanctuary.
“I hate to see it just completely deteriorate and go away,” Wood said. “Right now, we haven’t decided what to do; we have absolutely no idea. But we cannot continue to pay bills every month.”
Organized in 1901 by J.P. Adcock, Central Christian Church is a longstanding religious institution in Pilot Point. The sanctuary was built in 1902. Walking through the heavy wooden doors and into the high-ceilinged worship space is like stepping through time. Inside can be found a Bible dated back to 1907, as well as a grandfather clock from the late 1800s. Also significant about the church’s roots are its founding members, among them R.T. Evans— one of Pilot Point’s first mayors.
Erected on the corner of Liberty and Church streets, the century-old building sits right across from the town’s Historic District. Wood, who is acting chair of the church board, thought the building’s historical significance could be the key to saving and restoring it.
“The first thing we did was check with the city to see if they had any type of ordinance for historic buildings,” Wood said. “At this point, they do not.”
After having no luck in Pilot Point, Wood continued the search for assistance at a higher level.
“We have explored several possibilities,” she said. “I checked with the Denton County Historical Society and the Denton County Association, and then I went on up to district and state. I can find no help at all. No suggestions for preserving the building.”
Despite her lack of luck, Wood isn’t losing hope. The church board is still in what she calls the “checking-our-options phase.” She’s looking into several state construction grants, as well as toying with the idea of using the building as a town gathering place.
“We don’t exactly know what we want to do,” Wood said. “Right now, we haven’t found any options other than to sell it. We’ve checked into whether or not putting a historical marker on the corner there would make any difference in people’s interest in maintaining the building. But who wants to put that much into a vacant building that’s deteriorating?”
Wood said the members of the congregation realized early last year that they probably wouldn’t be able to stay at Central Christian much longer. They continued holding services, though they held them biweekly to save on costs. They just kept hoping for a miracle, she said.
Now that the congregation can no longer use its services, some members of the community are putting the building to use.
Pilot Point’s first ever Victorian Piano Festival will be held in Central Christian’s sanctuary May 11. World-renowned pianist Francis Vidil is founder of the festival, and recently purchased a 19th century square grand Weber piano to play at the event. Half of the festival’s proceeds will go to the church’s restoration.
Wood said events like the piano festival are one of many options the congregation could choose for their beloved sanctuary. Ultimately, what becomes of the church is still entirely up in the air, though Wood said she would like to see the building preserved.
“We need more time to decide what to do with it,” Wood said. “Right now, we just don’t know.”