The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
This Sunday the congregation at Port Arthur’s First United Methodist Church will be looking for a new home — a new church to not only celebrate Easter, but also to join.
With less than three dozen members still attending, and most of them elderly, the church closed its doors last Sunday to the longtime faithful congregation, and to a long history that spans 115 years.
The church was sold, and is now the Iglesia Apostolica Church, home to a new congregation filled with children and young people — a fact that makes the sale much easier for the longtime Methodists.
“They are most grateful to us for selling it,” Aletha Kirkwood, charter First United Methodist churchmember, said. “All this time we have been praying for the need for young people. This congregation has babies, children, youth, young adults, families.”
While the congregation may have changed, the Lord’s work has not, and is still being done in the church just as it has for over a century, former pastor Byron Jarratt, said.
Changing with the times is nothing new for the Church. Through the years there have been name changes and mergers with other congregations.
The church, which was initially called the First Methodist Episcopal Church, was first chartered in August 1897, about six months before the city of Port Arthur.
It was the first church of any denomination chartered in Port Arthur, Jarratt said.
The church was part of the Northern Branch of Methodism to accommodate wealthy residents from Pennsylvania, New York and Kansas who traveled to Port Arthur, a city at the time known as a vacation destination.
Later, from the oil refinery development, the northern Methodists melded with the southern Methodists, Jarratt said.
In the early 1900s one of Port Arthur’s founders, John Gates, provided funds to build a new church building, moving the Methodist congregation from its original downtown location.
The new sanctuary was completed in 1915.
Long before Jarrett became pastor of the church, his uncle Dennis Jarratt crafted four wooden offering plates while a senior at Port Arthur Manual High School.
Those plates were used until the church merged with St. Mark’s Methodist in 1976 to form St. Mark’s First United Methodist Church in 1951.
In 2001, the Lakeview Congregation merged with St. Mark’s in Griffing Park to become First United Methodist Church — a neighborhood church set between towering oak trees.
Now, the church is changing once again.
The congregation had their last service at the Methodist Church at 4 p.m. last Sunday, on Palm Sunday.
“There were about 30 people there including the organist who played for 30 years and the choir director” Jarrett said.
While the congregation has disbursed, and many plan to move on to surrounding churchs, the former Methodist Church is still a neighborhood church, providing a place to raise families in a worshipful atmosphere.
The church will remain the meeting place for neighborhood watch groups, the United Methodist Women and Collector’s Club, Kirkwood said.
Longtime member Joyce Everett said she took solace in knowing the church building would be filled with the sounds of children’s voices in years to come, just as it was in years past.
“The building I am sad about, but I feel like time marches on,” Everett said. “You have to do what you have to do, but God will be wherever we go.”