Celebrating 184 Years

Date Posted: 10/12/2017

It’s birthday time for McMahan Chapel, the oldest Protestant church serving in continuous ministry in Texas. Mary Lou Reece, wife of Bishop Scott Jones, will be the guest speaker at the annual celebration service Saturday, October 14th at 10:30 a.m. “I’m honored to be a part of history this month,” Mary Lou said, “and meet many of the longtime members who are continuing the legacy. Mary Lou’s life is one of rich service and leadership, both within the UMC and in business. She is President of Reece Construction Co., a family-owned business that builds bridges and other concrete structures for the highway system. As a specialist in bridges, she is excited to title her comments for the anniversary celebration, “Building a Bridge to Our Future.”

History in the Making
McMahan Chapel turns 184 years old this year. A historical marker in rural Sabine County states that the Rev. Littleton Fowler, a circuit rider, led the church’s earliest services in the home of Colonel Samuel Doak McMahan with forty-eight founding members in attendance.

The church’s unique history as the birthplace of Texas Methodism is shared not only through the historical marker, but also in a local museum that showcases a collection of early Texas Methodist memorabilia including an 1818 Bible, a broadaxe, and a timeline of church milestones between 1833-1902. Rev. Littleton, upon his death at age 43, requested burial under the pulpit of McMahan’s Chapel. His massive marble headstone still rests in the pulpit area, a constant reminder of the faith and work of Texas's earliest Methodist.

The McMahan Chapel Cemetery, where many travelers have stopped throughout history to camp because of a nearby spring, has more than 400 marked graves, some dating back as early as the 1830s. Several of the oldest graves are covered with the locally quarried “blue” rock.

The members of McMahan Chapel appreciate the continuing story of their church. According to Rev. Martin Doran, the congregation holds regular worship services and campus tours. The guest register shows that people from all around the world stop at McMahan Chapel for moments of prayer and meditation beneath the beautiful stained glass windows which memorialize many early Texas Methodists.
 
The chapel campus is often used for weddings, and Wesley leadership and youth retreats. It is also a popular destination for school field trips. “We even have a play depicting our historical roots featuring the museum caretaker dressed up like Daniel McMahan,” the church secretary, Sandy Newman, said.
 
The annual celebration is an exciting time for McMahan Chapel, when many former members who grew up in the church return to their church home to celebrate their heritage. This year, the congregation is especially looking forward to hearing from Mary Lou Reese they prepare to “build bridges” from the rich history of Texas Methodism to our vibrant future.