By Lindsay Peyton
Even after a burst pipe flooded two of the buildings on FUMC Canton’s campus due to the winter storm, congregants still gathered for worship in the sanctuary. What helps members hold onto hope, in the midst of so much destruction plus a year adjusting to COVID-19? The answer is delving into history, Pastor Adam Muckleroy explained.
Right before the coronavirus pandemic began, FUMC Canton was approached by the Canton Historical Society. “They informed us that there were two unmarked graves in the cemetery,” Muckleroy recalled. “Both belonged to women who were the wives of pastors who had been appointed here.”
The two women died while their husbands were under appointment at Canton and its circuit. The first, Elizabeth Cullen, died on November 8, 1891 from pneumonia at the Canton parsonage. She was married to Rev. D.P. Cullen for 20 years.
Her obituary in the “Canton Telephone” notes that she was “a true Christian lady and exerted a wide influence for good among all with whom she become [sic] associated.”
The second grave belongs to Minnie Redd , who died on June 21, 1922 from heart disease. She was married to Rev. J.L Redd for six years. The presiding elder of the district, Rev. H.H. McCain, conducted her funeral, saying she was “the ideal Methodist preacher’s wife.”
Muckleroy explained that the historical society was working on a book entitled, “Stories Beneath the Stones: The Hidden History of a Small Texas Town Told through the Lives of Those Buried in the City Cemetery.” Research for the text revealed the women’s unmarked graves.
“We were surprised,” Muckleroy recalled. “We didn’t know if they had a marker that disappeared over the years or what happened.”
The historical society revealed biographical information about the women and their obituaries. “They asked if we wanted to get involved and help raise funds,” Muckleroy said. “We were absolutely on board.”
But right as the momentum was building, COVID-19 screeched the effort to a halt. “The conversation was put on hold until recently,” Muckleroy explained.
Canton FUMC returned to in-person worship in June and went back to work on the history project at the beginning of this year. “It’s a unique and interesting opportunity for us to gather as a church and work on a project that connected us to our heritage,” Muckleroy said.
Next summer, the church plans to hold a dedication of new markers for the two women at the cemetery, which is located a few blocks away.
“Their lives tell the story, as does the church on a whole, of the different ways we can look back and gain new insights,” Muckleroy said.
He explained that the past year the congregation has spent time examining history for inspiration. “How can we help the church find hope in the midst of all of this? What we’ve done is dwell on our history,” he said. “A lot of what’s gone on in the past year has caused us to look more into our story.”
Looking at the past also helped with the present after the congregation suffered water damage from a burst pipe. FUMC Canton first learned of the water damage after receiving a notice from the City of Canton. “They saw water running out of our buildings,” Muckleroy said.
Icy roads prevented the pastor from going to the church immediately. Instead, he asked a member who lives next store to check on buildings. He reported back that the damage was severe and the ceilings caved in.
“We had a tremendous amount of support from the church,” Muckleroy said. “They stepped up and helped us get everything moved. We’re grateful for all the help we had.”
Thankfully, none of the historic documents or files from the church were harmed. Muckleroy explained that the church was founded in the 1860s, as part of a large circuit in the area. “We didn’t have a building until the turn of the century,” he added.
While the congregation worshipped in different sanctuaries over the years, all services over the past century or so have all been located at 600 S. Buffalo St. in Canton. “We’re literally built on the foundations of prior churches,” Muckleroy said.
The church has photos of its past sanctuaries and of the congregation. There’s also a list of pastors who served going back to the 1800s.
Recently, Muckleroy was shuffling through the files and found the writings of a former pastor from 1934, describing the struggles of the church in the Great Depression. He shared the story with his congregation.
“We’re recalling the struggles of the past and the ways we got through them before,” he said.
“There were hard times before. The church dealt with the Depression and the War. We know that God was still with the church, and bright days were coming. Things got better for our predecessors. They too will move forward for us.”
The history of the church is a story of hope, Muckleroy explained, and connecting to the past helps the congregation continue to adapt and persevere, just as they were called to do in yesteryear.
In the past year, that has meant finding innovative ways to livestream sermons. After the flood, the congregation had to move its day school to the gymnasium on campus. “We’re trying to make it work,” he said. “We just have to get creative on how and where we do ministry.”
“In the midst of crisis, the church has rolled with change,” Muckleroy continued. “It feels like things keep coming. How do we draw on that hope of Jesus and connect to His promise?”
Christ provides the ultimate lesson in perseverance, Muckleroy explained. “We get knocked down time and time again, and God is still Good,” he said. “Jesus is still saving. Jesus is still giving us hope.”