by Tim Marlow (posted September 2002)
Our History in Three Parts
Pastor Carla asked me to share the history of Faith UCC. I thought I would break down the history into three parts:
- Beginning to present day church building ↓
- History of current church and grounds ↓
- History of Social Justice and Community Outreach ↓
First, a little about myself. I first came to Faith Church a little over 23 years ago when I began dating my wife, Jennifer. We will celebrate our 20th anniversary of being married in this church in October. I still consider myself an “Auslander” or a new comer, as members of Jennifer’s family have been attending this church since the 80’s and attended Faith’s parent church, First Protestant, since the 1800’s.
Faith Church is part of a long and storied history. Our denomination traces one of our roots to the Pilgrims and the Congregational Church, like the Old North Church in Boston from the Story of Paul Revere. Also, the Reformed church, like the one in Philadelphia that hid the Liberty Bell from the British. We are the church of the Amistad trial to free the people enslaved on that ship. We ordained the first African American Preacher in 1785, the first woman 1853, and first openly Gay pastor, a Texan, in 1972. https://www.ucc.org/ucc-firsts/
The UCC is made up of 2 denominations which joined together officially in 1957. The Evangelical & Reformed (E&R) and the Congregational Christian Churches. Locally, First Protestant was part of the E&R tradition.
Faith United Church of Christ had its beginning in a recommendation of the 120th Anniversary Committee of First Protestant Church that the church sponsor a second UCC congregation in New Braunfels as part of its own anniversary celebration in 1965. The committee endorsed this recommendation at the annual congregational meeting of First Protestant Church in January of 1964.
On September 4, 1966, a new congregation, that was to become Faith UCC, was commissioned at a special service at First Protestant with twenty-one adults and nine children serving as founding members. These committed members met and worshipped at Eden Home, Landa Professional Building, Comal Middle School and Slumber Falls Camp until the creation of a permanent church home could become a reality. In April of 1967, a constitution was adopted and the mission statement was written.
It was with great joy and new hope, that in 1974, a long-cherished dream of the members — their own building in which to worship and conduct activities — was brought to partial fruition. The church was given a valuable piece of property for a building site. On December 21, 1975, the congregation held its first worship service in the partially completed building. This first building served the congregation for many wonderful years.
In 1998, looking to meet the needs of a growing congregation, Faith Church broke ground for a new church building that would be able to serve the congregation well into the next century. On July 4, 1999, the first worship service was held in the lovely new sanctuary; where we continue to worship today. That same year, the original church building was rededicated as the Baese Fellowship Hall; where it continues to serve this congregation through community outreach, potlucks & celebrations, and a meeting space for our youth. The congregation celebrated again in 2001, when on December 2, the art glass windows that line both sides of the sanctuary and the narthex were dedicated, bringing light and beauty into the church and completing a long journey that began in 1964.
There were many UCC Churches all around us, with several in San Antonio and one each in Seguin, Cibolo, Zuehl, and Geronimo. Now there is just one in San Antonio and Geronimo, with a new church start in Boerne. New Braunfels has a long tradition of UCC affiliated places. Eden Hill began in San Antonio in 1906 and moved to New Braunfels in 1956. In 1957, property was purchased along the Guadalupe River and Slumber Falls Camp began its outdoor ministry program. Both began in the E&R tradition and have continued their strong ties to the UCC & Faith with members serving on boards of each.
Current Church and grounds:
In 1974, the Baese family donated the land that our church is built on. The first building is what we now know as the Fellowship Hall. The current “stage area” was the altar with the carpeted room on the left serving as the pastor’s office and the room on the right as the church secretary’s office. The large room in the back, currently used as the pastor’s office, was the Sunday school room & nursery. I think it is very telling that the mindset of the church was on growth in dedicating such a large space to youth. The first service in the building was held December 21, 1975. Originally a Bell Tower stood in the front of the church. This original bell was donated by a member of the church. When that Bell Tower was taken down to make room for the new Sanctuary the bell was donated to Slumber Falls as a replacement for their wake up and meal bell. The bell is still there today in front of Woelke Lodge. The current bell is much larger than the original and was dedicated by Rev. Al Hennig in honor of his wife. He rang it every Sunday at the beginning of Worship.
The handmade wooden cross that currently hangs on the sanctuary wall was made by Rev. Robert Shock in 1976. Rev. Shock was the first pastor of the church serving from 1966-69. This Cross hung in the original Sanctuary. He made the Cross himself as a gift to the congregation in honor of a church building coming to fruition.
About 20 years after the first building was built, the current Sanctuary began the planning and building phase. A group of members, including Kathy Hoffman and Rick Leber, put countless hours into meeting with architects, contractors and taking suggestions from many members to design and build the beautiful sanctuary we have today. The first worship service in this sanctuary occurred July 4, 1999. One of the interesting stories I have heard is the discussion of whether to put a Rooster or Cross on the top of the bell tower. Bennie Harst, a long-time member, who came from the Netherlands during WWII as part of the UCC refugee resettlement program, strongly advocated for the Rooster. He explained that the Rooster went on protestant churches and crosses went on Catholic churches. Bennie did not win the argument, but he still told the story 10 years later.
With the dedication of this building, the original church building was renamed Baese Hall to honor the family that donated the land. In the 1990s, the church had a strong and vibrant youth Program. There were 20-plus kids in the Sunday School program. Kathy Hoffman helped to lead this program and hosted many youth parties at her home as well as special Saturday activites. Kathy Hoffmann also donated the building behind the Baese Hall to provide for more space for Sunday School classes. The playground equipment and fence were donated by the Perry-Clark’s and the Gilbert trust to give a safe and dedicated space for the youth before and after church. The picnic table and benches were added later by the grandchildren of Julia Pantermuehl to honor her memory. The Gilbert Trust was created by Norma Gilbert to fund activities for youth. This trust sent many youth to Slumber Falls camp over the years. Norma volunteered as the church secretary for many years
In 2001, the art glass windows were added to the Sanctuary and Narthex. I encourage you to take the time to read the dedications on each window. You will see many of the names I have mentioned above, Hennig, Gilbert, Hoffman, Pantermuehl, and also the name Fischer.
Elmo Fischer was a founding member of this church. He dedicated his life to the betterment of healthcare and resources for the aging. Elmo was a pacifist his whole life. He was a conscientious objector to the draft in World War 2. He served his country doing “work of national Importance” instead of going to war. Elmo helped to craft the first constitution of the church and remained an active member until his death. In 2010, the note was called on the mortgage for the new sanctuary. The decision had to be made in about 45 days. Do we refinance the remaining balance on the loan or do we try to pay it off? Elmo pledged to match 1:1 each dollar raised to pay off the note. In 45 days, the members of the church came together and raised enough money to pay off the note. In February 2010, Elmo Fischer representing the founding members and my son Fischer Marlow, just 2 at the time, representing the future, burned the mortgage note in celebration of the accomplishment.
With the new building came the “New Century Hymnal.” This was a big step in defining ourselves as a progressive congregation. Recognizing that words and representation in the Worship service matter. Inclusive language was used in the hymns to recognize both male and female forms of God. This gave us a shared language with our fellow UCC churches in Texas and beyond. We might come from different backgrounds but all could sing on the same page. We later added the Sing hymnal to incorporate more songs.
In 2002, more than a decade before the Obergefell decision granted the fundamental right to marry to same-sex couples, the church was performing same-sex unions. In 2009, after a period of discernment and church wide discussion, the church voted to publicly proclaim what we had been practicing for a while. We voted to become an Open & Affirming congregation. Then in June 2015, two of our church members became the first couple to legally marry in Comal County.
Social Justice & Community Outreach:
Today I am sharing the last in a series of the History of Faith UCC and will focus on our history of social justice and community outreach. Since we are in this time of discernment looking for our settled Pastor, it is helpful to know those who came before us and the foundation of service they built in order to understand what we want the future of our church to be.
Faith UCC has been a church of service from its founding. SOS food bank has been one of our areas of outreach for over 40 years. SOS stands for Spirit of Sharing, a spirit that is evident in the work we do at Faith. Even though we are a smaller congregation when compared to others in the community, we graciously and willingly share our love and dedication. For over 40 years, Faith has been supporting SOS through collecting donations, serving on the board, and having volunteers there once a month to pass out much needed groceries.
I have shared about the connection between Faith and Slumber Falls before, but we have an even deeper connection. In the early 1980’s, Rev. Ray Bizer was called to Faith UCC, but we weren’t quite big enough to support him as a full-time pastor so we split his time with Slumber Falls camp. Rev. Bizer was able to grow both the church and the camp, leaving a lasting legacy in both places. He was able to accomplish this in part because both places really got 2 pastors in one. Emma Lou Bizer, his wife for over 50 years, also attended Eden Seminary and received a Master of Christian Education degree. Emma Lou helped start what became the Head Start program here in New Braunfels, helping generations of kids in Comal County. The Bizers were recognized for their contributions when the Retreat Center at Slumber Falls was renamed the Bizer Center and Faith named him Pastor Emeritus. Enjoy this song written by our former Music Director Luke Leverett about the Bizers. https://youtu.be/XHXMOUD2GV0
Faith and Slumber Falls also partnered during one of the largest natural disasters in a generation. During Hurricane Katrina, an extended family of 20 had evacuated to New Braunfels from New Orleans. In the days after the storm, it became apparent that they were not going to be able to return home anytime soon. Rev. Charles Stark, who was the director of the camp at the time and a member of Faith, learned about the family and invited them to stay at the camp creating a lively Katrina Village. Faith and the larger New Braunfels community supported this family ranging from elementary age kids to grandparents for around 9 months as they worked to rebuild their lives. Rev. Stark received the Humanitarian Award from the Herald-Zeitung for his work.
For many years Faith took on a mission project for Advent. We would learn about different opportunities around the world and select one to focus on for the Advent season. One year we raised money for solar lights for a village in Belize. This allowed the children additional hours to study, saved the families money on kerosene and improved the air quality inside their homes from not burning the fuel. One year the Youth Group learned about Fair Trade and the working conditions of indigenous cultures around coco beans and coffee. The Youth Group took up selling Fair Trade coffee & chocolates year-round to support these workers. Another year we focused on adult literacy and began LEAP – the Literacy Education for Adults Program. We raised money, members of the congregation were trained in one-on-one tutoring, and several members of the community were helped by this program. Each year we would also donate all the money collected on Christmas Eve to that mission project. The Save Darfur campaign was one of our largest. This was part of a national movement and large canvas tents were decorated to bring awareness to the issue. Our tent was at Slumber Falls all summer and a focal point of each camp. At the end of summer, the tent came back to the church for the Youth Group to finish decorating. Former Senator Bob Krueger and his wife, former Mayor Pro-tem, Kathleen Krueger came to talk to the congregation about the Darfur refugees and their experiences in Africa. The tent from New Braunfels was displayed along with others from around the nation on the Washington DC Mall as part of a national Save Darfur Campaign. The money we raised went directly to aid organizations working with refugees in the region. The church has also help sponsor Haitian school children.
Faith is proudly a 5for5 church. National UCC has 5 designated offerings each year, Our Church’s Wider Mission (OCWM), One Great Hour of Sharing, Strengthen The Church, Neighbors In Need and The Christmas Fund and Faith UCC supports them all making us a 5for5 church. Our church grounds have been used by varying groups from municipal elections, garden clubs, community gardens in the field out back, meeting space for the Unitarians, a local Indivisible chapter, support groups, Moms Demand Action and Weight Watchers. Faith has participated in the annual MLK march since its inception, receiving lots of comments on our Be the Church banner. Prior to our participation in the New Braunfels Pride Festival that began in 2021, our church choir performed at San Antonio Pride. We have supported Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, MS with our monetary support and members serving on the board. We were key in promoting and participating in Crop Walk to raise money for Church World Service and our youth group participated yearly. Since 2016, members of Faith have participated in protests both big and small from the Women’s march in both Austin and DC, to protests on the Plaza, and going to border detention centers.
Faith continues this call to service in our participation with Family Promise, of which our church was a founding member. Faith’s longest and most enduring service project has been Kiva https://www.kiva.org/ which we have participated in for about 15 years. We have about $8,500 in the Kiva program which has been donated and repaid several times. We have given out about $69,000 in loans to over 2,100 projects across 85 countries. Here is a link to a write up from the National UCC about our participation in the program.
We also participate in the Salvation Army red kettle program each year at Christmas. We come from a strong foundation of Social Justice and Service. As we grow and move forward, I can’t wait to see where we as a congregation are called to participate in this community and beyond.
Thanks for this opportunity to share a little about the rich history of Faith UCC. Our future is a bright one!
Additional history: Below is an Advent Devotional from our 40th Anniversary in 2006 and a Memories of Faith Collection from our 50th Anniversary in 2016. Both filled with memories, take a look!