Freyburg United Methodist Church
Freyburg United Methodist Church is older than the telegraph, the telephone, the automobile, the electric light bulb and the airplane. Like a quiet sentinel on watch, it has stood since 1879 on a winding country road in southern Fayette County. The simple white frame sanctuary built of cypress wood planks holds its ground, enduring in the ever-changing world.
Pioneer preachers on horseback called circuit riders brought Methodism to this rural community in Central Texas settled by German immigrants. In 1868, Rev. Karl Urbantke held the first services in the homes of local families. As greater numbers of farmers and their families gathered to pray, the congregation moved to first a store and later a school. In 1874, Rev. Gustavus Elley was appointed as the first full time pastor at the Freyburg church.
In 1877, local farmer Anton Kortlang sold six acres for $48 to the trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church “to be kept, maintained and disposed as a place of divine worship.”
More funds were raised and in 1879, builder H. Griezendorf and community volunteers constructed the present church. With its soaring ceilings and tall steeple, Freyburg is reported to have been one of the most admired churches of its time when it was dedicated in November 1879.
The Texas Historic Landmark plaque erected outside the sanctuary in 1994 describes the building as “an excellent example of an open plan Gothic church with a central bell tower.”
Freyburg United Methodist Church underwent a complete restoration project in 2004 in order to preserve this historic house of worship to the Glory of God. Also in 2004, it was recognized as a Methodist Historic Church and the nearby cemetery was awarded a historic plaque, as well.
Obscured from view in the entryway of the church is a mighty cast iron bell that is older than the church. A member of the congregation, Gottlieb Stichler, gave Rev. Jakob Ott, who served as pastor from 1878-1881, a gold coin to purchase it. Rev. Ott did so and had engraved in German the words of Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all yea that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
The peal of that church bell has heralded the start of Sunday worship services for more than 13 decades. It has rung joyously at weddings; it has rung somberly, announcing the declaration of wars, deaths, fires and other significant events in the community and the world. Years ago at funerals, it was the custom for the bell to toll continuously while the congregation walked behind the hearse down the dirt path that once ran from the church to the cemetery. More recently, while the cities still smoked, the mournful clang of the bell marked the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. It is still rung before every church service.
Church services originally conducted in German switched to English around the time of the Second World War. Electricity was installed in the 1950s and later, the old pot-bellied wood stove came out and a propane furnace in. For more than 120 years, men traditionally sat on the left side of the church and women sat on the right but today couples sit together. An organist who adds her personal touch on an electric keyboard and a modern sound system fills the sanctuary with the old hymns along with modern worship music. Gone are the old organ and piano of years ago.
The original windows, which are still in place, used to be opened wide in good weather and a pleasant breeze rustled through the sanctuary even on the hottest summer morning. Now the sanctuary is air conditioned. Sunlight shines in through the frosted arch of the windows, creating beautiful silhouetted cross shadows around the church.
While the old, hand-dug well still sits as a reminder, it has been replaced with a new water well. The old outhouse has been removed, exchanged for a modern facility. The parsonage, built in 1929 to replace the original that burned to the ground with many early church records, was renovated in 2010 to serve as a Fellowship Haus. In 2011, a commemorative brick sidewalk was built to connect the church with the Fellowship Haus.
The tradition of hauling in a huge, freshly cut native cedar tree to decorate at Christmas continues, as does celebrating Decoration Day on the 4th Sunday in April, a tradition that dates back to1880. It is also our custom to hold an Easter Sunrise Service and to celebrate our German heritage the fourth Sunday in September with a Heritage Sonntag service.
History courtesy of www.elainethomaswriter.com.