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Locked doors couldn’t keep church down Sam Hodges, Feb 8, 2012
UMR PHOTO BY SAM HODGES
Funds raised in a recent capital campaign have guaranteed renovations around the Tyler Street UMC campus.
By Sam Hodges Managing Editor
DALLAS—Churches that make it to their 100th anniversary aren’t all that uncommon. But Tyler Street United Methodist in Dallas deserves an extra candle or two on the cake, given the adversity it has overcome.
The church’s Depression-era history was on the mind of the Rev. Ed Lantz, current pastor, at the centennial worship service on Jan. 29.
“It’s a huge deal,” he said. “There was a moment when we were literally locked out of the building.”
And it happened at Easter, giving rise to banner headlines in the local press.
Tyler Street Methodist opened in 1912 in Dallas’ North Oak Cliff area, and within a decade had grown to more than 1,000 members. It moved from a white frame building to the brick substructure of its current home. Members paid off the loan, and borrowed $120,000 to build three more floors.
Those were finished by the late 1920s, and the sanctuary became a Dallas showcase, with spectacular stained glass windows made by local artisan Roger McIntosh. Tyler Street had continued to grow, becoming “an early mega-church,” according to church historian and longtime member Carla Boss.
But the stock market crash of October 1929 did a number on many Tyler Street members. The minutes of the church show that by 1931 leaders were deeply anxious about their inability to meet payments on the building.
The St. Louis bank that held the note threatened foreclosure late that year, and foreclosure occurred on March 1, 1932, the church building being sold for $75,000 at a courthouse sale. On Good Friday, a local lawyer representing the bank took the keys and locked out church members and staff.
The Dallas Morning News announced the story this way: “Church closed by creditor on Eve of Easter.” (The doors were actually padlocked on Good Friday.) The Dallas Times Herald headline put a biblical spin on things, claiming: “Worshippers Driven out of Temple by Money Lenders.”
The bad publicity caused the bank to offer to let the church back into the sanctuary for Easter. But by then, Tyler Street leaders had announced worship would be held at the local Rosewin Theater, and felt it was too late to change.
For months, the congregation continued to be a vagabond, meeting for worship and Sunday school at other churches, a high school, two funeral homes and a car dealership.
By the fall of 1932, the church was again in its building, albeit on a rental basis. And before long, with the help of the North Texas Conference, Tyler Street arranged financing to acquire the building once more.
“It bounced back, and found a way to pay its bills,” said the Rev. Mike Walker, a former Tyler Street pastor who returned to help lead the centennial service.
Tyler Street needed several more years to own the church outright—and it had to pay taxes accumulated during the foreclosure period—but continued to grow as it stabilized financially. It would eventually become a denominational leader in Sunday school attendance.
“The classes were so big they had to buy a house across from the church,” Ms. Boss said.
But more trouble awaited Tyler Street, including a 1957 tornado that missed the church building but wreaked havoc in the neighborhood, and a 1966 fire that caused significant damage to the sanctuary.
In recent decades, Tyler Street has coped with tremendous social change in its neighborhood, including the scattering of many families who helped build the church.
“Being in a transitional community is always a challenge,” Mr. Walker said.
Tyler Street is much smaller than in its heyday, but still averages about 330 in worship, including those who attend a Spanish language service. It gave birth to a school, Trinity Christian Academy, that is now self-governing but considered a ministry extension of the church. The church operates Community Service Outreach, a ministry that provides clothes and food to the needy.
“There’s a spirit of serving Christ by serving others,” Mr. Lantz said.
On its centennial Sunday, Tyler Street had a lunch for more than 400 people, with children summoned on stage to lead in singing “Happy Birthday” to the church.
For the worship service just before lunch, Mr. Lantz and other clergy—including the Rev. Clara Reed, superintendent of the North Texas Conference’s Metro District—wore stoles with the centennial logo. Mr. Lantz preached from Hebrews 12:1-3, dwelling on the “great cloud of witnesses” in both the Bible and Tyler Street’s history.
“Today we stand tall, because we stand on 100 years of faithful service,” he said. “The best thing we can do to honor the past is make sure we have a great future.”
A recent capital campaign received gifts and pledges beyond its $295,000 goal, making possible renovation of the children’s education building, as well as replacement of various windows and repairs of floors.
For Betty Binion, a member for 39 years, one particular anniversary effort sums up Tyler Street’s determination to look forward.
“We’re planting trees in the back parking lot,” she said.