Historic East Texas Church Celebrates 175th Anniversary

Members and guests of Chireno United Methodist Church reveled in the past while looking to the future during the church's 175th anniversary.

The Daily Sentinel reports the church was established in 1844, making it one of the oldest Methodist congregations in the state.

"We know God has a plan for us because we have survived 175 years in three different buildings," said church historian Linda Metteauer.

The original church near Lower Cemetery was known as Vail's Chapel in honor of Daniel H. Vail, who sold elders the land on which it was erected when the area was still part of the Republic of Texas.

Some who passed by that original church go back to the founding of the United States.

"Three score and three years before the founding of Chireno Methodist Church, the Revolutionary War ended on this date, the 19th of October 1781," said the Rev. Farrar Bentley, pastor of the church. "There are 12 revolutionary soldiers known to be buried in Nacogdoches and San Augustine County, and we can certainly believe, especially in their later years that they were aware of this church."

The first church was destroyed by fire in 1890. A second church was constructed on land now owned by the Chireno Independent School District. Early pastor Richard Mennefey, whose father was a patriot of the Revolution, asked to be buried behind the church, which Metteauer said wasn't a problem until the school district purchased the land.

"They sold that one acre to the Chireno school district. When they did that, they reserved a 16 by 16 plot where Rev. Richard Mennefey is buried," she said. "When I moved here in 1972, I was shocked to find the elementary school playground had a grave on it."

The current church on Main Street was built in 1925, eight years before its longest tenured current member joined. Lilly Mae Stone became part of the congregation in 1933 at age 9, but the church's oldest member, 101-year-old Bea Haney, joined in the 1940s. Both women were presented commendations Saturday for their long service to the church.

"It was a beautiful service," Haney said afterward.

Bishop Scott Jones of the Texas Annual Conference congratulated Haney and Stone.

"You women who have been so faithful for so many decades in this congregation are an inspiration to the rest of us," Jones said.

Jones encouraged others to step up and become the church leaders of the future.

"In all the activities that go on in the church, there are opportunities to connect the life changing grace of God with people who desperately need it," he said.

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