Research Your Community, Too

St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Rural Falls County, Texas
St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Rural Falls County, Texas

While studying the history of congregations that were founded by folks who spoke German, I noticed something interesting.

There are two different words you’ll encounter in the original German names given to the churches.

One is “Kirche” – the German word for “church.”

But sometimes, you’ll see churches that use a different word… “Gemeinde.”

For instance, the church pictured, St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Falls County, Texas was originally named “Deutsche Evangelische Lutherische St. Paul Gemeinde.”

Another example is Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Warda, which was originally called “Evangelische Lutherische Kreuz Gemeinde.”

“Gemeinde” which also can mean “church” or “congregation” but also brings with it an understanding of community.

And in fact, the community surrounding St. Paul UCC is even known as “St. Paul.”

When researching the history of your congregation, don’t forget the history of the surrounding community! After all, the members of your congregation were often also part of the surrounding community. They lived there and worked there.

Of course, a church IS a community. And it exists outside the walls where it meets for services.

So the histories of your congregation and the surrounding community are very likely intertwined.

And sometimes you’ll find clues to the history of your congregation in studying the history of the surrounding community.

For instance, when I was researching the history of Trinity Lutheran Church in Dime Box, the Rev. Ray Spitzenberger (who grew up in that church) told me that he remembered being told that the old church building was purchased from the Brethren church.

But another source stated that the building was purchased from the Evangelical Synod.

Now the Brethren and the Evangelical Synod are two separate streams, so how to reconcile that?

Well, part of the clue came from two different photos of the church.

One showed it with a short belltower with a peaked roof. And another showed it with a taller belltower that was open.

And while looking through materials at the Dime Box Historical Museum, I solved the mystery.

You see, the old Brethren church building burned and was replaced. And there was a photo of that old building.

And the top of the belltower on the Brethren church was EXACTLY like the top of the Trinity building in the second photo.

So it would seem that when the Brethren church burned, that part of the belltower was not damaged, and Trinity must have purchased it from them.

Now, there are no records (that I know of at this time) that can show this for sure, but it’s definitely a smoking gun!