As much for others as for ourselves” has been an underlying principle for East Dallas Christian Church, which has brought this congregation to a position of leadership among Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) nationwide. Organized in 1903, by 1921 EDCC had become a “Living Link Church” to four mission stations all around the world. Next year, 2003, East Dallas will celebrate a vibrant one hundred years.
It began when eight dedicated women, who were active in Central Christian Church downtown and felt a need for a Christian church in their community, met in the spring of 1903 at the home of Mrs. Mike H. Thomas on Worth Street and formed a “Ladies’ Aid Society.” They immediately started raising money-their first fund-raising tea in a member’s home netted them $7! The first formal meeting was held in September at the home of the noted jewelry store owner, Arthur A. Everts; a name was chosen, a leader called, and a lot purchased at Victor and Peak Streets.
The men of the church built a one-room “tabernacle” in a month. It was painted grey on the outside, had bright green wallpaper inside and a galvanized tin baptistery under the pulpit area (filled by buckets of water from a nearby home). On November 15 the first service was held, pastored by an organizing evangelist from Mississippi, the Rev. John A. Stevens. This service was a good beginning: there were more than one hundred persons in Bible School and sixty-five adults became charter members.
The church grew and by 1907, with 298 members, they moved their frame building to the corner of Peak and Junius, the site EDCC still occupies. In those days few streets were paved and the men built a footbridge to cover the sea of mud that formed with every heavy rain; no excuse to not go to church!
Two weeks after the church began to function, a Christian Endeavor Society – forerunner of many youth groups in later years – was formed, and six weeks later a Christian Women’s Board of Missions was organized. Contrary to the usual stance of a new organization that it can only support its own program until it is established and out of debt, they adhered to the slogan suggested by Everts, “As much for others as for ourselves.” This was greatly enhanced by the generosity of members: at one meeting the secretary was instructed to “express appreciation to Brother and Sister Everts for their liberal gift that made it possible for our church to become a living link.”
The Rev. Stevens was followed by W.A. Fite as pastor, and other pastors who served the early church were H.R. Ford, Colby D. Hall, Cephas Shelburne, John G. Slayter, and L.N.D. Wells. Dr.
Wells came to East Dallas from Ohio in 1922, and served the church for twenty-five years.
Dr. Wells was the only pastor I ever knew as I grew up in this church. In my mind, he was cut from the same cloth as Dallas’ recently lost Dr. W.A. Criswell. Not only did he have the same beautiful white hair and ruddy face; he also was very emotional, punctuated his delivery with foot stomping and fist punching the air, and made one know she had a solid sermon. We loved him.
He followed the ten-year ministry of Dr. Slayter, who had inspired Wells to enter the ministry in Ohio, and under whose leadership East Dallas membership jumped from 300 to 1,900. Dr. Slayter’s death in 1922 was mourned by the whole city of Dallas; flags on the Municipal Building and other places were at half-mast for two days as the city honored his memory and 8,000 attended his funeral at Scottish Rite Cathedral. He had started and taught a Men’s Bible Class which attracted many businessmen and grew to a membership of over 500. Dr. Slayter was long-gone while I was a member of East Dallas, but the Slayter Men’s Bible Class was going strong.
Early in 1909 the church began to plan for a permanent, larger home, and in May 1912 the first brick building was dedicated. It was outgrown in only eleven years and the current 2000-seat sanctuary and a five-story education building were dedicated in 1925.
The stock market crash hit in 1929 and during the bad years of the Great Depression EDCC opened its doors to feed and clothe almost nine hundred people. World War II also had a profound effect on the church: their service flag held the stars of four hundred and fifty-two men and women who served their country, with nineteen gold stars. After the War numerous expansions took place, including the completion of a Children’s Building, acquisition of off-street parking facilities, remodeling of the main building to add the Upper Room Chapel and the Everts Memorial Prayer Room, the Haggard Memorial Library, parlor, air-conditioning, and completion of the Youth Activities Building. They also bought property at Peak and Worth Streets.
EDCC had an organ from its very beginning, and music has been a commanding factor in the life of the church. The first choir director was Mrs. Stevens, wife of the minister, and cane-bottom chairs for the choir were bought for forty cents each (the congregation sat on benches). The choir has been a very successful, much-loved part of the service, and by 1953 had grown to five choirs. Our organist was Mrs. E.R. Brooke; her son, Ed, was about my age.
One early memory is of Dr. Wells and the “invitation hymn.” After we had sung the prescribed verses, which always-brought many forward, he exhorted us to sing “just one more verse.” Then just one more, and it worked; they kept coming!
Another early memory is of the first wedding I ever witnessed, that of Dorothy Rogers and Robert B. Cullum (I think Robert took her off to the Methodist church). It was a fairy tale in living color for me, with Cinderella and Prince Charming!
Several times through the years the church has voted to stay where it was founded. As the neighborhood changed and the church that was started in the suburbs became a part of the inner city, votes were taken to decide on whether to move with the flow or stay put. As a result, it has played a big role in the welfare of the area. Community activities include the Adopt-a-School Program, benefiting David Crockett Elementary School; Meals on Wheels, with the County Visiting Nurse Association; SHARE food Pantry, serving people referred by various social agencies; Boy Scout Troop 59, involving boys from the surrounding neighborhood; a Head Start Program; English Language Ministry, which teaches English to students and other newcomers; and other programs which touch the lives of residents who are not affiliated with the church.
Some months ago, Rev. Chris A. Shorow, present senior minister of EDCC, was the speaker for the Shepherd Center of North Dallas, and he made me feel very nostalgic for my first church. He put me in touch with Church Historian Jo Bramlett, who sent me all kinds of good material that made me homesick and jogged my memory. More than my contemporaries, I remember the movers and shakers of the Slayter Class. Some who come to mind are Arthur A. Everts, who gave me a strand of pearls for high school graduation, which I still have; Kleber Lipscomb and Lindsley Waters of Tennessee Dairies; banker Dan D. Rogers (father of Dorothy Rogers Cullum), who had the most beautiful singing voice I ever heard; Robert G. Storey, founder of SMU Law School and a jurist who participated in the Nuremberg Trials after World War II; John and Orville Mitchell; Theo Beasley; and grocer M.T. Minyard, for whom the Great Hall of the church is named.
I dropped out of East Dallas when I went way over to Fort Worth to college (TCU), then settled down in far north Dallas and became a charter member of Midway Hills Christian Church. So the only minister at EDCC since Dr. Wells with whom I am familiar is Sloan Gentry, who was senior minister for ten years. Sloan was a graduate student at TCU while I was there.
I have an old hymnal and have had evenings of leafing through it and raising my nasal voice in solitary singing of the lovely old hymns no one sings any more. One of the best beloved was “Little Brown Church in the Wildwood,” and this massive brick structure that fills a city block, East Dallas Christian Church, is, in my memory, my Little Brown Church of my childhood.
By Marjori Sharp for Proud Heritage, Volume III by Dallas County Pioneer Association.