Austin Avenue United Methodist Church

As one of the first churches built west of Eighth Street, Austin Avenue United Methodist Church has been a center of spiritual growth and community outreach for over one hundred years. 

Having decided that the congregation at Waco’s Fifth Street Methodist Episcopal Church, South (now First United Methodist Church) had grown too large, its members petitioned the denominational conference for a church plant. Recognizing the aforementioned need, the quarterly conference approved the establishment of Austin Avenue Methodist Church on December 31, 1900. Dr. John R. Nelson, the incumbent pastor at Fifth Street, took the lead in organizing the new church.

To house the new church, the building committee purchased three lots on the southwest corner of Twelfth Street and Austin Avenue and commissioned architect Charles Bowman to build the sanctuary for $25,000. The main auditorium seated six hundred. The church building also included a special auditorium for Sunday school classes, a pastor’s study, a choir room, and a ladies’ parlor complete with a dining room and kitchen. The first service in the new sanctuary took place on April 13, 1902, despite the fact the stained glass windows had not yet arrived.  

As the church grew alongside prosperous downtown Waco in the early twentieth century, church leaders decided a larger property was needed. After much fundraising, church leaders purchased two pieces of land at Thirteenth Street and Austin Avenue and hired architect R. H. Hunt to construct a two-story structure inspired by gothic architecture at a cost of $350,000. The new sanctuary was completed in 1925.

On Saturday, November 13, 1954, tragedy struck Austin Avenue Methodist Church in the form of a terrible fire. Though firemen fought to save the sanctuary, the blaze consumed the worship space and its roof collapsed. The adjacent educational building was spared from the flames but suffered extensive water damage. Shaken but undeterred by the disaster, the congregation assembled the next day at the Twenty-Fifth Street Theater to worship and hear a sermon titled “Fortunate People” by incumbent Pastor Dr. G. Alfred Brown.

Austin Avenue Methodist Church’s sanctuary and educational building reopened to congregants on March 11, 1956. The rebuilt worship space featured aesthetic improvements such as walnut paneling, wall-to-wall carpeting, and forty-eight beautiful stained glass windows depicting scenes from the life of Christ and important Christian symbols. The new three-story educational building contained ten large department rooms, nine restrooms, and three kitchenettes. These facilities continue to be central to congregational life well into the twenty-first century, although renovations occurred in the 1980s to accommodate the growing body of worshippers.   

In 1968, Austin Avenue Methodist Church became formally known as Austin Avenue United Methodist Church. The name change marked the merger of the Methodist denomination with the Evangelical United Brethren.

Over its long history, Austin Avenue United Methodist Church has served the greater community of Waco with a variety of outreach programs. During the Great Depression, the church established a soup kitchen to help feed local individuals and families hardest hit by the economic downturn. From 1942 to 1945, Austin Avenue contributed to the World War II home front by hosting Sunday evening programs and dinners for visiting servicemen. Congregation member Maybelle Rice even took on the role of wedding planner, happily organizing many a marriage ceremony held within the church for active-duty soldiers and their sweethearts. Austin Avenue’s commitment to American servicemen continued during the Korean War (1951-1953) as the church hosted parties each Friday night for the homesick cadets stationed at James Connally Air Force Base. In the aftermath of the 1953 F-5 tornado that devastated Waco’s downtown, Austin Avenue Methodist Church served as one of the main distribution centers for relief donations. Seeking to make better use of its resources in the mid-1970s, the church opened a kindergarten in its education building and used its kitchen to participate in the Meals on Wheels program. Two years later, a preschool was added to the kindergarten and the administrative board approved the adoption of Montessori-style instruction for those childcare facilities. Austin Avenue Montessori School remained at the location until 1993. To further meet the childcare needs of the community, the church started a Parents’ Day Out program in January of 1980.  

In 1990, Austin Avenue United Methodist Church received an official Texas Historical Commission Marker.

As one of the first houses of worship established past Eighth Street, Austin Avenue United Methodist Church continues to serve downtown Waco well into the twenty-first century.

Images

A Work in Progress

A Work in Progress

Although sufficient funds were raised to complete the grand exterior of the new church, the sanctuary remained a work in progress for many weeks after the first service held on April 13, 1902. For instance, the walls had only a sand finish until money could be raised to paint them. The inscription on the side of this postcard hints at this aesthetic imbalance via the statement, "Beautiful outside but the interior is quite different." | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Childlike Faith

Childlike Faith

The spiritual and physical well-being of children has long been a priority of Austin Avenue Methodist Church. Through Sunday school classes, its long-term support of the Methodist Children's Home, and the use of its facilities for early childhood education programs, the church seeks to meet the needs of the children of Waco. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Souvenir Postcard (1916)

Souvenir Postcard (1916)

In 1900, no businesses existed west of Eighth Street on Austin Avenue. The construction of the church represented one of the first positive contributions to the rapid development of Austin Avenue in the boom period of the early twentieth century. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Ready to Make a Joyful Noise

Ready to Make a Joyful Noise

Austin Avenue Methodist Church met traditionally Christian holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, with great enthusiasm. Here, the church's choir sits for a formal portrait before leading the congregation in Eastertide worship. Note the special seasonal decorations of Easter lilies, daffodils, and palm fronds. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Shelter from the Storm

Shelter from the Storm

In the aftermath of the 1953 F-5 tornado that devastated Waco's downtown, Austin Avenue Methodist Church served as one of the main relief stations for storm survivors and rescue workers. Displaced persons slept on cots scattered throughout the church while congregants worked tirelessly to distribute donations and hot meals. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred Marlar View File Details Page

Worshipping in Comfort

Worshipping in Comfort

In the mid-1950s, Austin Avenue Methodist Church installed air-conditioning in the main sanctuary. This improvement was likely met with enthusiasm by congregants tired of sweating profusely in their Sunday best during the hot summer months. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Audio

Growing Up at Austin Avenue United Methodist Church

Eb Bowles Morrow describes his experiences at Austin Avenue in the late 1920s. | Source: Morrow, Eb Bowles, interviewed by Kari Vanhoozer, July 9, 1997, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Prisca Bird, “Austin Avenue United Methodist Church,” Waco History, accessed July 22, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/91.

Related Tours

Tour navigation:  Previous | Tour Info | Next

Share this Story