Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
On Sunday, members of Lookout Valley Church of the Nazarene will celebrate the church's 100th anniversary of founding, an event that member Nelda McCaig says is doubly endearing to her heart.
She's been part of the small congregation, which meets weekly at 2040 County Road 3908, off U.S. Highway 69 North near Love's Lookout Visitors' Information Center, since childhood.
Her heart, she admits, “is in this church.”
After all, it was her great-grandfather, Pastor J.W. Gregory, who founded the church, and her grandfather, C.A. Alexander who served as its second pastor.
“I've got a strong identity to that church, it's special to me. That my grandparents were part of this church means so much to me,” McCaig said. “My relatives started this church, so I stay active because I don't want anything to stop (it's growth) – I want to see it going strong.”
A centennial celebration will be held after a 10:30 a.m. service at Lookout Valley Church of the Nazarene, when members gather for food and fellowship, and view photos of the congregation's history that will be on display.
Rob McDonald, superintendent of the Dallas District of the Church of the Nazarene, is the guest speaker at Sunday's event.
Rev. Clay Hale serves the 20-plus families of the congregation as senior pastor, a position he has held since April after filling in there while serving as an associate at Jacksonville First Church of the Nazarene.
“We're looking forward to good things, and expecting the Lord to (help us in) our work here,” Hale said, describing the main challenge he faces is that because of its out-of-town location, it tends to be a smaller congregation.
However, he said, “it's a very family-oriented community, and we're optimistic (about growing) – several churches in our area are doing pretty good.”
His hope is to see the community grow, “making sure that people are spiritually fed and that we see some good, positive strengths come of all this,” he said.
Hale was ordained in April 1990 for the West Texas District of the Church of the Nazarene, said his wife Jo Ann.
He has served at Burkburnet Church of the Nazarene in Burkburnet, Andrews First Church of the Nazarene in Andrews, Athens First Church of the Nazarene in Athens and in Jacksonville. In addition, he was youth pastor at Nocona Church of the Nazarene several years prior to accepting the position in Burkburnet, Mrs. Hale said.
The couple have been married 36 years and are parents to Brandon, 26, and Brian, 20, and last month welcomed their first grandchild to the family.
When the church was founded in 1912, it was first named Mt. Hope Church of the Nazarene – it later changed to Lookout Valley, McCaig said, to reflect the new name of the area – and members met in a structure called “the Rag House” because of the thin cloth that served as upper “walls” of the building.
The Rag House, according to a brief parish history, only had a roof and plank walls that went up three feet from a sawdust-covered floor, with the material covering the gap from wall to ceiling.
“In the summer, the material was raised up in order to be cool, and in the wintertime, a little tin heater provided adequate warmth for the group,” states the history, which also mentions R.F. Grimes as donor of land and lumber for the project.
McCaig said a second wooden structure served the congregation for a while; in 1963 a more permanent brick building was constructed, and still is used by the community.
While the congregation size has varied some over the years, she said the one thing that has remained constant is the vibrant, caring personality it exudes.
“It's always been a small church community, where everybody loved each other and were very friendly, very helpful people,” McCaig said. “Everybody knows everyone else, and everybody is close to one another. I love my church.”
Since their arrival, the church has held a singing on the second Friday of the month, Mrs. Hale said.
“We've done this almost every where we've been (because) it brings people together,” she said of the open-mic music night. “Whether it's instrument or song, people are welcome to come and spend the evening praising the Lord, and eat and visit.”
The goal is to “forget about the shingle on the door, and (instead) worship together as brothers and sisters of Christ,” Mrs. Hale said. “We don't have to worry about being Baptist or Nazarene, it's for all the community.”
Attendance varies, with the largest crowd at 60 to 65 people, she estimated, but “we have people come from all over.
“Some come to play and sing, while others come just to listen,” Mrs. Hale said. “It's just fun.”
Services at Lookout Valley Church of the Nazerene are held on Sunday, beginning with a 9:45 a.m. Bible study, followed by worship at 10:30 a.m. A second Sunday worship service starts at 5 p.m. Also, a second Bible study is held at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
In upcoming months, Hale said that the church is planning to have performers like gospel musician Miles Pike perform at the church.
For more information about the church's centennial celebration, contact Nelda McCaig at 903-574-3437 or Jo Ann Hale, 903-586-8215.