Black History: Salem UMC celebrates 146 years
In 1999 Salem United Methodist Church, sought historical recognition as the oldest black church in Orange. With the assistance of area historian, Dr. Howard Williams, the church now sports a historical marker claiming such.
This year, the church, currently located at 402 W. John closes out Black History Month with their 146th Anniversary Celebration on Sunday, Feb.27.
The church’s history goes back to when the Methodist Episcopal Church for African Americans was organized during the annual Mississippi Mission Conference in Louisiana in December of 1865. From that conference Salem Mission was established in 1868 in Orange. Services were held in a home that was located on the site of The Oaks Home Apartments, formerly Gilmer Town Homes. Today, when there is a fifth Sunday in the month Salem offers services at The Oaks after their regular services at the church.
Because they didn’t have a regular preacher, the Rev. Arthur Robinson, a Baptist minister, conducted services.
Sent from Galveston to Orange in 1869, the Rev. Joseph Hardin became the first full time minister. The reverend, a horseman, competed on the rodeo circuit. Money earned from that occupation enabled him to help the church financially.
Fully organized in 1873, the church was named Salem Episcopal Church. Four years later, a portion of the property where the church is presently located was acquired. The original deed notes the trustees acting on behalf of the church were Gave Elkins, Pierre Ross, Joseph Henderson, Henry Briley and Clem Green.
The small frame house built on the property soon became inadequate for the growing congregation. Between the years 1903 and 1914, the Rev. S.W. Johnson spearheaded fundraising efforts for a new wooden frame constructed a few years later.
When the Rev. J.S. Blue took over pastoral duties in 1921, his first task was to brick the structure. The brick work was completed in 1923.
Majorie Robinson, a native of Orange and lifetime member of Salem Methodist was interviewed 12 years ago for an article on Salem UMC. Robinson remembered the woman who made the communion hosts for the first Sundays of the month. “Now they order the hosts, but when I was coming along Mrs. Sapp would use my mother’s old wooden stove,” Robinson said. “She would mix the flour with water and no salt. She would clean the iron and then press the flour down on the stove until the mixture would get real stiff and then she would break them off into pieces.”
Mrs. Robinson, 81 when interviewed, has since passed away. Robinson’s grandmother, Sarah Henderson, died at age 105, her funeral was held at Salem Methodist.
The frame house was demolished and replaced by a three-room brick building in 1969.
During a 1968 conference in Dallas, a merger united the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church and Salem Methodist became Salem United Methodist.
The brick building was destroyed by a fire during the Rev. Ezekiel Taylor’s tenure between 1968 and 1971. The current building was completed and consecrated on March 18, 1973.
The Rev. Clarence Breaux was assigned to Salem in 1973, Breaux stayed for 20 years, the longest any minister has stayed at the church.
“When I visited the church Rev. Breaux impressed me a lot, so I decided to bring my membership over here,” said Fred Green, a converted Baptist, in a 1999 interview with The Record. Today, Green still lives in Orange, but is housebound.
The Rev. Donald Waddleton was assigned to Salem UMC in 1993, followed by the Rev. Horace Winn III in 1997. Next in succession was the Rev. Isiah Lee Jr. in 2000.
Orange’s first female pastor was the Rev. Patricia Lewis, joining Salem in June of 2003. In 2008, the church’s current pastor, the Rev. Dr. Carolyn McCall joined the congregation.
On an interesting side note, McCall was one of the guest speakers at the church’s anniversary celebration in 1999. “Who would have ever known?” she said.
The churchwas damaged in both Hurricanes Rita and Ike. “For Rita, the front of the church, where the bricks were all replaced up in the front where that caved in, they replaced all that and some of the eaves,” said Gerald Richard as he gestured to the church wall. Richard and his wife, Virginia have been members of Salem UMC for 40 years. “It wasn’t any trees, just wind,” said Mr. Richard.
Ike swept 16 inches of water into the sanctuary.
Ike repairs were done in a matter of weeks said McCall. “We have UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief)which is a branch off the United Methodist Church that sees to it in disaster areas to share the love and put [the church] back together. They were here in three days pulling out carpet and pews. We got the carpet back in and because we are a connectional church, we had another team from League City that came and helped us paint and build cabinets and build things we needed because they were damaged in the storm and had to be replaced, so they came and helped with that about three times,” said McCall.
“It helped out alot because it didn’t cost us half as much money because those teams came in; and what a fellowship we had with them being here.” McCall continued, “We were the only church, I think, around here that was open the Sunday after Ike. Had it not been for those teams, we would not have been able to do that.”
One of the many ministries at Salem, “Feed My Sheep” was started by Suzie Murray. The ministry serves hot meals Saturday’s from noon to 1 p.m. since no other community feeding program operates on the weekend. “Anybody, come on Saturdays, we serve from 12 to 1,” said McCall. “It is open to the entire community, we don’t turn anyone away. It’s done right here at the church. If there is someone homebound in a six to 10 mile radius, we take meals to them.”
“We usually do up to 80 dinners per Saturday,” said Birla Shankle. Shankle has been a member of Salem Methodist for over 50 years. “Sometimes we have 35 to 40 that come get them.”
“It has been phenominal,” said McCall. They started the program a year ago this week. “Feb. 14 of last year. It’s just a miracle how it’s grown… at first we didn’t think we’d have enough volunteers. Some Saturdays, were running over each other. It’s just amazing how it has also lifted the church. It’s like they’re really in ministry. It is really awesome. God is really moving there,” said McCall.
Shankle continued, “First United Methodist comes every fourth Saturday to help out. Some of the members from there and even the pastor, they come and help serve the people and help go with the riders to deliver the food. There are different parts of Orange [the First UMC volunteers] have never seen before.”
According to Shankle, one volunteer said “here, here’s my key, you do the driving and I’ll carry the food.”
The program was started on a wing and a prayer, so to speak. “We had no money, there was no money,” said Shankle.
“None,” said McCall.
“We went out on prayer,” said Shankle.
“Yes,” said McCall. “It’s all been by prayer.”
“It’s never a Friday or Saturday like ‘I don’t know how much money I got to go get this and go get that,’ we just go get it,” said Shankle. “We have so much food left over some time, if there’s a funeral over here or down there we take the big pans of food for the families to eat.”
“And then the leftovers sometime, we take to the Serenity House. We don’t throw away anything,” said McCall.
“It’s been a blessing,” said Shankle.
“It sure has,” said Richard. He continued, “We have a wonderful pastor that’s really making [the church] grow more than it has been. We are all pleased with her here and we hope she’ll be with us many more years,” said Richard. “Besides that, we have new members being added to our membership here at Salem United Church. It’s growing.” According to a recent census, Salem United Methodist Church’s current membership is 185.
The church will kick off their 146th anniversary with the Battle of the Choirs at 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 26. Competing will be: Orange City Wide Choir-Orange; The Men of Emmanuel-Port Arthur; The Soul Seekers-Lake Charles, La.; and United for Christ-Jasper. ASAPH from Amite, La. will be a special guest. Tickets are $10 per person or $160 for a table of 16.
Sunday, Feb. 27, the anniversary celebration will be at 3:30 p.m. with a worship service including guest speaker, the Rev. Tori Butler.
“It’s just amazing to even think about a church being established for that many years,” said McCall. “I can’t even imagine what it had to be like in year one; I just can’t. Even year 10 I couldn’t imagine it and this is the second building.”
There will be a meal after that over at the Ware Plaza on Park.
For more information you can contact the church at 409-883-2611 or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.