The year was 1875; the Civil War had ended just 10 years earlier. General Ulysses S. Grant was in the middle of his second term as President of the United States. A settlement 15 miles northeast of Waxahachie, named for Judge Justus W. Ferris, had been surveyed and laid out by employees of the Houston and Texas Central Railway one year before. And every settlement needs a church. Our records begin on March 27, 1875 when 32 believers joined together in covenant to form the Ferris Missionary Baptist Church. H. H. Tilford was called as the first pastor at a salary of $100 per year. J. F. Sewell and G. F. Culpepper were the first Clerk and Treasurer, respectively. The original deacons were J. G. Vinson, N. V. Lovett and C. Parsons. At first, worship services and church conference were held monthly “…on the fourth Saturday and Sunday…” in private homes. In 1879 the Baptists cooperated with the Masonic Lodge and the Church of Christ (called “Campbellites” in the church records) to build a facility which the three groups could share. The building was located on the corner of 5th Street and Baker. The first Sunday school was organized in 1882 with Bro. N. V. Lovett as Superintendent. In a few years the church had decided to sell their interest in the common house, purchase land and build a building of their own. Dedication for that building was held May 21 & 22, 1887. Little is known about that new building on Church St. , but the records show that by the time it was occupied the church had spent $1,384.49 and had an outstanding debt balance of $1,215.75 – presumably for the building and the land on which it sat. By 1891 (perhaps earlier) the church had gone from being “quarter-time” church to a “half-time” church, meeting for worship on two Sundays each month. Church conference was still held on the Saturday before the 4th Sunday. During the 1880s and -90s the church seems to have struggled in several ways. Members were often dismissed for immoral conduct, heresy, and for joining other denominations. Debts and obligations were hard to pay and requests to extend note deadlines were common. But in 1895 the church managed to retire the property and building note. Perhaps it was financial difficulties that prompted the church in 1897 to cooperate with the Prairie Valley Baptist Church (Wilmer) in calling a pastor. Apparently each church would conduct services twice per month and share the burden of salary. The first pastor under this arrangement was W. E. Tynes. The minutes of June 5, 1898 show that what has been called “the most virulent of all quarrels of Texas Baptists” was being felt in Ferris Missionary Baptist Church. There was sharp disagreement over missions and other matters in the Baptist state convention. The church record says: “By a unanimous vote a code of resolutions disapproving the policy of our State Missionary Board were adopted. Moved and Sec. that a copy of these resolutions be sent [to] the Texas Baptist and Herald and the Missionary Worker for publication.” Just a few years afterward, Baptists in Ferris would align their church with the newly formed Baptist Missionary Association. But in spite of the difficulties, these early years show progress in ministry. During these first 25 years there is evidence of a vigorous Sunday School, a Ladies Aid Society, Home and Foreign Missions support, an Orphans Home Committee, and continued improvements to the church facilities such as the addition of heaters and new paint; and new aids to worship such as an organ and hymnals. The church was an active member of the “Waxahachie Association” from its earliest days and sent representatives to state convention meetings as well. Evangelism was also alive and well as demonstrated by a “protracted meeting” in July 1899 that resulted in twenty- nine baptisms with eight new members by letter. Another meeting conducted by the church that summer in the India community netted another 20 professions of faith and baptisms.
A New Century
Around the turn of the century the church changed the time of monthly Church Conferences from Saturday to Wednesday. It’s not clear whether they met on Wednesdays regularly or just for Conference. In 1902, in what appears to have been the “annual” business meeting, the church enters into an obligation to pay their pastor $400 during the upcoming “associational year.” That meeting also appears to be the first documentation of a general election of church officers to coincide with associational year beginning September 1. While Bro. J. B. Pittman was pastor (1902-1909) the church began to adopt practices that resemble churches of today: (1) An incidental (general) fund was kept to pay for unforeseen expenses. Before this everything was paid for by “subscription” (pledge) to a specific need, e.g., repairs, pastor’s salary, missions offering, etc. (2) An expense report became a regular part of monthly church conference. (3) Benevolent work took on a greater role with the payment of certain medical and nursing bills for those in need. (4) Bro. Pittman became the first pastor to receive an indefinite call (as opposed to being re-elected each year). (5) The first electric lights were added to the church building. During the early 1900's another new church building was planned “and with this new building came continued growth…” The pastor’s personal records of 1925 reflect “perhaps the greatest yr. in the history of the church.” Sunday School averaged 210, occasionally reaching 300 or more. Eighty-one members were added to the church that year. Growth and prosperity enabled the church to “voluntarily” raise the pastor’s salary to $2,100 per year. March 14, 1926, “Although the morning was snowy and very disagreeable” the church met for an all-day service. The church celebrated the pay-off of all debt on the stately and spacious church building on Church St. and Fifth, and also the debt on the parsonage. P. C. Scott was pastor at that time.
At the onset of the Great Depression attendance and offerings seem to have waned once again. In the minutes of the Sept. 7, 1930 business meeting where a pastoral call was recorded, only 88 votes were tallied. There was also indication that the church had taken on new debt and was once again taking “subscriptions” in order to pay it off. The pastor’s salary was reduced to $125/month and subsequent entries in the church minutes make it clear that the church was unable to pay this on time. Further evidence of difficulties… · In April 1932 L. B. Jenkins was called as pastor on a half-time basis at a salary of $60.00. · November 5, 1933 “…the deacons recommended that the pastor be put on one-fourth time on account of the financial conditions of the church. The church approved and accepted the recommendation…” · Membership had dropped from 435 in 1925 to 206 in 1934. By 1937 there are signs that the church was gathering momentum again: The treasurer’s report showed an increase of 80% and more in offerings over previous months. It was deemed “a very encouraging report.” There are indications that the church had resumed weekly services by this time as well. Later in 1939 there was a difference of opinion regarding the church’s associational affiliation. There was a vote taken apparently designed to sever relations with the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas and align with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. The vote was a tie, so alignment remained as it was. It was at this time that a number of members “lettered out” and it was probably at this time that a new Baptist church was started.
The Work Goes On
The first documented staff member added was an educational director in 1949. There had been a mention of this several years earlier, but at that time the candidate refused the position and there was no indication that anyone else was called then. Although the church had probably been as generous toward her pastors as was prudent, it was in 1949 that new pastor, Charles Hall, was given a weekly salary of $55.00. That was still a bit below the national average salary according the U. S. Census bureau, but it wasn’t bad for a Baptist pastor; especially when you consider he was also granted time away from Ferris to attend school during the week and two weeks paid vacation. Additionally, the church bore the expense of moving him to Ferris. Throughout the 40’s and 50’s, it seems, there were no huge issues recorded, but ministry continued. Each year shows that souls were saved and believers were baptized; people were entering the preaching ministry and quite a few became deacons. People served in a variety of church offices, as elections were held each year without fail; and frequently the same position might be held by several different individuals during a year. In May 7, 1964 the historic church on the corner burned to the ground. A new place of worship was built and occupied in 1965. That building currently serves as our Conference Center. The fifty years beginning around 1940 show that people were really on the move. Americans were more mobile than ever. While new people came into the church regularly, it was with equal regularity that members moved away and joined other churches. Membership seemed to hover somewhere between 250 and 300 while attendance varied greatly.
The 90’s saw remarkable growth and several building programs. The Family Life Center was built in the early 90s. It housed 13 new Sunday school rooms, a spacious kitchen and a full size basketball/volleyball court. The facility became significant to the church’s ministry in the community; it would become the center for AWANA Clubs, Ferris Christian Academy, and many other activities. In 1999 First Baptist dedicated its third new Worship Center in the 20th century. As the new millennium arrived, First Baptist voted to establish Ferris Christian Academy, a full service Christian Day Care/Pre-K facility. It was initially housed in the Family Life Center but in 2004 it occupied its own large and modern facility just west of the church on Ovilla Road. It has since expanded to provide private school education for K – 3rd grade. How do you summarize 135 years of ministry? Sadly, what is most important often does not make into the historical record: that is, people ministering to people in the name of our Lord Jesus. As we press on into the future may we all remember the words of the Apostle Paul: “other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. … If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward” (I Corin. 3:11,14).