Country churches keeping the faith serving communities

Posted 8/6/20

Tucked away in quiet roads throughout Wood County are a collection of small, non-descript chapels.  Their very presence can be a source of great comfort to many. However, these small community churches too often are mistaken as mere quaint background to the beautiful landscape. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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Country churches keeping the faith serving communities


Tucked away in quiet roads throughout Wood County are a collection of small, non-descript chapels.  Their very presence can be a source of great comfort to many. However, these small community churches too often are mistaken as mere quaint background to the beautiful landscape. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Inside each of those small churches burn bright lights of community, service, praise and grace. At a time of significant challenges in our nation, the Monitor visited a handful of community churches. A wealth of wisdom, confidence and faith was uncovered. The combined thoughts of these local pastors reveal a common path forward.

It became evident during these visits that the name of each particular church was not really important. The pastors echoed so many similar themes that distinctions were hard to make. However, while each church community strives for the same eternal goals, the methods employed are as varied as individuals. Therefore, the names and descriptions are properly attributed. 

Tinney Chapel United

Methodist Church 

Tinney Chapel represents much of what we associate with small community churches. A historic founding – the church dates from 1900 – a picturesque setting, and a small exceptionally well-detailed interior.

According to Pastor Michael Moore, the foundation of the church is predictably, family.

“Our congregation is a family,” stated Moore. “We have a strong, strong sense of fellowship here.”

That fellowship has its roots in rural living. Moore described that it is commonplace for members of the church to check up on one another, to deliver fresh eggs and hot meals. 

Those small gestures may be associated with an older generation, and while the congregation is indeed older, it belies the real work of the churchgoers. 

“I am most proud of the ministries of this church that get passed down through generations,” Moore explained. Although his flock comes to the chapel in search of life’s answers, it is a long list of ministries which shape its character.

“We are a grace-based, inclusive family,” declared Moore. Using a balance of orthodoxy and good works, the small population excels at service. 

Among the many church initiatives are active participation in Residents Encountering Christ program conducted annually for prisoners at the nearby Johnson Prison, a monthly praise and gospel concert, an on-call food bank, and a large Christmas Day free community luncheon. 

With an active roster of around 100 people, the chapel is busy.   

A part-time, local pastor, Moore yielded to his calling in 2005.

“I have had the calling my whole life,” he admits, “and it eventually led me here.”

Moore’s perspective on leading the church is straightforward: turn your faith into action. 

Moore uses a combination of humor and history in his weekly sermons. His challenge to his faithful remains consistent: what strengths can we put to use through ministry?

Seymore Bible Fellowship 

Just north of Yantis, at the Seymore crossroads, a vision has become reality. In an old schoolhouse and community center, a church has been born. This Thanksgiving the Seymore Bible Fellowship will celebrate its fifth year. 

The vision of reopening a church in the old schoolhouse owes much to the late long-time Yantis mechanic Mike Kenney. Kenny led the effort to turn a building with a sagging roof – one could stand inside and touch the collapsed north peak of the roof – bulging walls and separated joints into a building safe for habitation. 

After securing verbal permission from the yet living members of the Seymore Community Center board of directors, the renovations took six months. 

Missionary work first brought Pastor Jeremy Durig to East Texas.

“It was a spiritual pilgrimage that brought me to this church,” he freely admits.  

Durig leads the independent and non-denominational church. The focus of his congregation is not on programs or tradition, but rather on becoming “vessels for God’s power.”

His message is one of the primacy of scripture. As man is created in God’s image, Durig emphasizes that all are welcome to become a member in the body of worship. He calls for authentic worship as a complete family. 

Pastor Durig offers the circumstance of a grandson seeing his grandfather testify as an example of the type of conviction he hopes to build in the church.  

The congregation, drawn mostly from the Yantis area, is composed of working families. They celebrate the unofficial church motto of “We seek to make much of the name of Jesus.”  

Pastor Durig steadfastly believes that the way forward through the challenges we face in the nation today are three fold: a) to humble ourselves to the glory of God, b) to acknowledge that we are all created in God’s image, and c) to become foot soldiers for the Lord. 

New Life Baptist

Fellowship Church

Years ago, a 2-year old boy stood up in a chair next to his grandmother during church service in the New Zion C.M.E. Church at Redlands in the southeast corner of Van Zandt County. He told his grandmother that he needed to stand up to watch the pastor as “I will be doing that someday.”

That young boy, Reverend Charles Brewster, is now in his 18th year as pastor of New Life Baptist Fellowship just south of Quitman. Brewster recalls that the event with his grandmother in church is the earliest memory he has of his life.

Like his fellow pastors, Brewster received his calling relatively early in life, but several years intervened before his active ministry was born. It was with the intervention of a number of New Life church members which eventually guided him to lead the congregation.

As Deacon Brusker Fannin explained, “a small number us went to Tyler, where the pastor was an assistant and listened to him preach. We went down and got him.”

Having had received a vision of the church before the intervention of the congregation, Brewster knew it was meant to be. 

The pastor calls all those who are seeking God to come and be cared for. He endeavors to provide spiritual nourishment and to build a multi-racial church as a beacon of light.  

Given the earnestness and hospitality demonstrated by Deacon Fannin and his wife Barbara – who also serves as the church clerk – the church is flourishing. 

Brewster credits several characteristics of the community which have shaped the church. Chief among them are knowledge of God, a genuine love of people, a call to minister to one another, and the effort to build a body of worship. 

Most predominantly, the youth of the community highlight any discussion of sponsored activities. New Life works hard to instill faith in the young generation. Events such as picnics, trail rides and dances are evidence of those efforts.

Church members look forward to adding a large family center just north of the church. 

Central to the value of New Life Baptist is the desire to build a relationship with God. In light of the many challenges facing people today, Brewster emphasized, “Wherever you are in life, God is the answer…the author and the finisher.” 

Wood County Cowboy Church

Very near the geographic center of Wood County stands a large metal building that houses the Wood County Cowboy Church. The genre of cowboy churches was spawned by a need to capture the many working cowhands who were falling through the net of more traditional churches. 

Today, the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches – which had its origins in Texas – facilitates 250 churches across the country. It is growing, with three cowboy churches in Wood County and two very large churches in Tyler and Henderson. 

Fittingly, Pastor Chase Pope hails from the Texas Panhandle and lived the ranch hand life for which the original cowboy churches were established. He felt the call to minister as he sat in the bleachers at a rodeo in Tucumcari, N.M. in 2004. 

Having come to East Texas to work at Sky Ranch in 2007, he answered that call in 2009. Now in his fourth year as pastor, Pope credits his father-in-faith, and former world champion bull rider, Rope Myers, for helping him to “shod his feet with peace” and accept ministry.

Pope willingly explains how the church concept caught people who fell through the net, and through fellowship has given them families within the church. Many of those men are now husbands and fathers and are building a new generation of productive Christian men and women.

There is much yet to be done toward the original intent of the church, Pope explained. Therefore, the large arena adjacent to the church building “is our mission field.” With a growing congregation of around 260 worshippers, that mission field is effective, and it draws congregants from beyond Wood County.

Ministry teams are used extensively to ensure that the church does not outgrow the personal relationships which are such a large part of Pope’s ministry. 

Pastor Pope did not hesitate when responding to the challenges facing our nation: “Jesus,” he simply stated. “The only thing that unites is Jesus. We need to stop looking around and look up.” 

Forest Hill Baptist Church

Fittingly, the last stop on this brief tour of small churches in Wood County concluded at the kitchen table of Pastor Fred Morrow. The veteran minister had spent his life pastoring in six local churches and accumulating 56 years of experience. 

Morrow served as pastor at Sand Springs, Hubbard Chapel, Red Springs, Forest Hill, Sharon Baptist and New Hope with his longest tenure being 26 years at New Hope.  

Having been recently called upon to fill the pulpit one Sunday at Forest Hill, Morrow was asked after the service if he would return to minister once again and rejuvenate the church.

“If I have anything to offer,” he replied, “I am here to offer it.” He is leading Forest Hill once again. 

Speaking with Morrow is far from just a discussion of church and faith; it is a history lesson. The pastor can seemingly connect nearly anyone in the area through their family and acquaintances throughout the county.

Morrow’s great-greatgrandfather, Jahaza, was an early resident of the county and established a homestead in Cartwright. Generations of Morrow children call Cartwright home.

The memory of his call to ministry remains as clear as a bell to Morrow. It came to him as a young man, sitting in Clover Hill Church listening to Pastor Arthur Dimsdle preach a sermon titled, “Have you counted the cost?”     

Although he resisted the call for three years, he surrendered to ministry on July 13, 1962. 

Like many small church local pastors, Morrow was bi-vocational; serving many years as the county tax collector. He also ran a barbershop in Mineola for a number of years. 

Behind it all, however, was the calling. He quoted Proverbs 3:5-6 as a basis for his ministry, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight.” 

As for the modern challenges we face today, Morrow recited 2 Chronicles 7:14, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive  their sin and heal their land.”

As we parted, Morrow walked to the door without his sight cane, smiled, and said, “Live to help others, in the end you leave all else behind.” 

If a blessing is a gift left for the benefit of others, then Wood County is certainly blessed by the many small churches spread throughout the county. A random sampling, such as recorded above, has uncovered a depth of faith and selfless service which is a joy to witness.