Chronicle of the Savoy Methodist Church
Sitting comfortably on a well-worn pew in the Savoy Methodist Church, you can almost hear the sounds made by generations of congregational members. Surely the men’s low voices, the children’s laughter, and the women’s lyrical soprano tones intermingled through the years in countless hymns, liturgies, studies, and prayers.
The Savoy Methodist parishioners participated in cherished rituals of their faith: weddings, births, baptisms, confirmations, and funerals. Their rich heritage is evident in the flowery script of old church records and in the treasured memories of current members. This is the story of that church, the people who built it, and those that sustain it still.
The town site of Savoy, located in Fannin County in North Central Texas, was purchased by the colorful and flamboyant Col. William Louis Marshall Savoy in 1872 with gold nuggets he excavated in the 1849 California Gold Rush. He then deeded forty acres of land to the Transcontinental Railroad (forerunner of the Texas & Pacific) with the stipulation that the company would help him build a town. The deed was entered in Bonham, the Fannin County seat, on October 29, 1872. With the development of the railroad, the town grew rapidly, so that by the end of the next year, Savoy boasted a mercantile store, saloon, school, a number of houses, several businesses, and of course, a train depot.
The Early Congregation
The Roberts School House was the meeting place for several denominational groups, including the Methodists. The inconveniences of using such a multi-purpose facility were many. Three years after the Savoy Methodist Church was first organized and listed by name in the Methodist Conference Appointments, a quarterly Conference Meeting was scheduled for January 2, 1875. At that time, a committee was appointed to consider a plan for a new church building. The committee was asked to explore possibilities for funding also, and to report back to the group at a later date. On September 15, 1875, committee members J.J. Roberts, G.S. Fitzgerald, and L.A.S. Chittick reported that $650 had been subscribed. The next July, the committee was advised to raise additional funds, and then to build the best facility possible.
The transcript filed by J.H. Oliphint, County Clerk, at 5:00 p.m. on February 21, 1876, indicated that Col. William Savoy donated Lots 10, 11, and 12 in Block Number 425, with the specification that “on said lots a house suitable for the worship of God shall be erected by the aforesaid Denomination of Christians, and owned and controlled by them, and to be opened for worship to such Ministers and preachers as the General Conference or any Annual Conference of said Methodist E. Church South shall approve.”
The original plan for the Savoy Methodist Church called for a build 40 x 60 feet, with a 16 foot roof, one double door, and 12 windows. Plans were changed so that the actual foundation was laid with 40 Bois D’Arc blocks, 16 inches long and 12 inches thick. In the generous spirit of the community, the railroad agreed to haul the lumber for the church building at half price, and the contractor, J.A. Lindsey donated $55 to the project. Members of the congregation made one change in the building plan after actual construction began. They decided to add a cupola, and allotted $60 for its construction.
Adequate funds were a continuous concern. By June 15, 1877, cash reserves were alarmingly low. The Rev. J.M. Binkley of Sherman, who as the presiding elder, was summoned to Savoy to preach and “lift up an offering.” His efforts on June 28 and 29 raised enough money to cover expenses for most of the work that had already been done. However, in order to seal the building, put in windows and doors, and construct seats, a platform, and a pulpit, $350 more was needed.
Progress slowed during the winter months. But when the District Conference was scheduled to take place in Savoy on July 4, 1878, plans were enacted to have the structure finished by that date, using uncollected pledges as partial payment for the workers.
The deadline was met! The completed building was turned over to the church members on June 21, 1878. The final committee report on February 15, 1879 revealed that $1,619.79 was raised and spent in the construction of Savoy Methodist Church.
Two years after the church building was finished, a devastating tornado hit the Two of Savoy on May 28, 1880. Because the building was one of the few structures not destroyed or heavily damaged, it was used as a commissary. Savoy’s storm left 13 people dead and scores of others injured. The downtown area was hardest hit. The Savoy Methodist Church narrowly escaped the tornado’s fury.
A Growing Congregation
In the church’s early years, the population of Savoy increased, as did the church membership rolls. The original Church Register lists 407 members in 1908. Twenty-five baptisms were recorded between March 2, 1894 and October 1, 1905. Six of the children were the offspring of Mr. and Mrs. F.J. Painter.
First families of the church included Mr. and Mrs. Tom Wrenn who rode to services in a horse and buggy, and the W.C. Warrens, whose resourcefulness included going from house to house in their wagon to collect money for the church. In the 1920’s there were several people who had such a lasting impact on the church and the community that the effects of their faithfulness and good works are still felt today.
Earl Reed and Mattie Bows were married in the church and remained active members for many years. Even though remaining family members moved away from Savoy over thirty years ago, their children, Mr. and Mrs. Gene Herd, continued to support the church financially and spiritually.
Soon after Grace Peacock and Max Arterberry were married on August 1, 1926, she transferred her membership to Savoy Methodist Church. They generously gave time and money to the church and the Town of Savoy. Current church members recall that Grace frequently lent money to young college students or to those who were “just down on their luck”. Grace served as church secretary, participated in the Women’s Society of Christian Service, and taught Sunday School for fifty years. She also established the practice of gathering clothes, coats, shoes, and bedding for a mission project in New Mexico.
Because Savoy Methodist Church has always had to share its pastors with one, two, or even three other Methodist congregations on the North Texas circuit, the Sunday School remains the focal point of church activities. While worship services are held at periodic intervals, the Sunday School meets every week. There have been times when the church building accommodated several classes in one room. Various age groups strategically placed themselves in the pews, behind the pulpit, and in the choir area.
“Singing Conventions” drew crowds from Savoy and surrounding communities in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. The Sunday afternoon musical events featured quartets, duets, and group sing-a-longs. The choir director, Cecil Moore, became known as “Mr. Banjo” as he accompanied the singing with his instrumental talent.
The Women’s Society of Christian Service was organized in 1948. Mrs. Irene Brown, a public school teacher and a Sunday School teacher, led the group in many service projects. The church women engaged in many studies, and adhered to the belief that every lesson learned necessitated a positive action. They sent supplies to an orphanage, provided assistance for needy families, and offered contributions to the church.
The Society’s creative fund-raising efforts included loading a chicken coupe in the back of a member’s car and driving door to door asking for one hen from each resident. They sold the hens downtown, and bought the church’s first Communion set with the proceeds. This campaign, which occurred in the 1950’s, was followed by an equally imaginative project in the sixties.
Clifford and Sallie Kennedy donated a calf to the church as an initial step in a process that engaged congregation and town members as the animal was fattened up and prepared for barbecuing. Even the pastor, Rev. Larry Davis, assisted in the culinary gala, which took place at the school gym. The money that was raised went into a special building fund, resulting in the eventual construction of an education wing.
Another group active in the 1950’s and 1960’s was the Methodist Youth Fellowship. Under the direction of the Rev. Larry Raverts, the organization grew to 26 members. Activities were held on Sunday evenings, and several young people attended district meetings.
In 1948, the Reverend Baxton Bryant served the Savoy Methodist Church while he was a student at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He later became a political figure, running for a Congressional seat against an opponent who charged that “a preacher has no place in politics”. The Reverend Bryant also served as a chaplain in the U.S. Senate, where he met and became friends with John F. Kennedy. A man of strong convictions, Savoy’s one-time pastor was active in the civil rights movement, marching with Martin Luther King in Tennessee.
Church member Robert Hodges served as superintendent of Savoy Schools from 1963 until 1985. During this time he worked hard for civic improvements and advocated the beautification of downtown Savoy. He also managed to serve as Sunday School Superintendent during the 1970’s. Thomas DeBerry was mayor of Savoy from 1984-1986. An active church member, Mr. DeBerry’s leadership was appreciated by Methodists and non-Methodists alike.
The Education Building
In the 1960’s, Savoy Methodist Church was faced with a wonderful problem! They needed more room. At a quarterly conference meeting on February 18, 1966, the Official Board met with the Board of Trustees to consider building options. The newly proposed educational wing would house a fellowship hall with a kitchen, an office, restrooms, and Sunday School classrooms. The total cost of building the addition was estimated at $8,500. Since the anticipated amount of available funds was set at $4,000, the loan amount was calculated at $4,500. The education wing, which extends from the west side of the main building, was completed and dedicated in March of 1967.
The Church Today
During the 1970’s, economic hard times, the lure of the city, and increased family mobility took their toll on the numbers at Savoy Methodist Church, but not the spirit. The congregation remains committed to their faith and each other. The prevailing 29 adults and one child continue their ministry with enthusiasm and fervor.
They maintain the traditional ritual of sharing Thanksgiving dinner with each other and members of a neighboring Methodist congregation. A recent revival brought guest preachers and choirs to the church. And the latest addition to the building itself is a beautiful wooden cross made by church members Bob Hodges and Gail Sloan. It graces the entrance to the sanctuary, hanging directly over the massive wooden doors.
The church and its members have played a dramatic role in the development and sustenance of this small, rural community. Savoy Methodist Church stands proudly today; its members strengthened by a memorable past and a hopeful future.
Savoy Methodist Church Pastors
1873 James Graham
1874 Rev. Blair
1875 John Crowder
1876 A. J. Worley
1877 W. F. Clark
1881 Dave Proctor
1882 William Robbins
1884 T. L. Miller
1885 J.W. Reynolds
1887 W. M. Brown
1888 J. F. Alderson
1892 Josiah Godbey
1894 J. B. Goben
1898 J. C. Weaver
1900 T. W. Lovell
1929 W. H. Vail
1934 E. L. Wright
1936 E. F. Lancaster
1937 A. B. Davidson
1938 E. J. Holifield
1941 Roy Bagley
1944 Glendel Jones
1944 Harold Cates
1946 Maurice Holt
1948 Baxton Bryant
1949 Byron P. Cavnar
1950 Paul H. Kapp
1951 Harold K. Davis
1954 Willard L. Douglas
1957 Millard Fairchild
1959 J. H. Simmons, Jr.
1959 Larry Ravert
1962 Larry Bjorkland
1963 Gilbert H. Wade, Jr.
1964 Richard Lockhart
1965 Rodney Nicholson
1966 William S. Collins
1969 Lawrence Smith
1976 Ben Read
1979 R. M. Walker
1982 Larry Davis
1983 S. Lewis Lyon
1984 Dale E. Gillis
1985 Rene Lawson
1986 Paulette Dalke
1988 A.D. Campbell
- Source: Margie Morris, July 14, 1989 ↩