History of Waples Memorial Methodist Church
A Brief History of Waples Memorial United Methodist Church
Waples Memorial United Methodist Church began in 1875 as a mission project of the North Texas Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. The church was a one-room frame style building with a bell tower. Its initial location was at 430 W. Skiddy Street, a street that was a prominent part of Denison's colorful past. Because of its stigma, the street was eventually renamed to Chestnut. Today that site is 430 W. Chestnut and is occupied by the City of Denison's City Hall Annex.
The mission church was granted its charter in 1881 and officially became The Methodist Episcopal Church, South of Denison. The church continued to grow and in 1898 construction began on a magnificent red-bricked structure at 830 West Main Street. On this site, the first permanent residence of Denison was constructed by a Dr. Morrison. Capt. E.B. Waples, for whom the church is named, was an avid supporter of the new church and wrote the first check in the amount of $3,000 to help construct the new church edifice. Shortly before his death, Mr. Waples told his family, "I will shortly lay down the thread of life and if you children do not take up where I leave off and finish this building and support of this church, the Methodist Church South will be set back in Denison and it will take years to overcome." He was not able to see the new church, but he was able to see the foundation poured on Main Street, Waples passed away on October 4, 1898. His children and grandchildren remained faithful to his charge even though most of them did not live in Denison.
The building was completed in 1899 and was heralded as the finest church in North Texas with its tall spires and stained glass. The purity and richness of the stained glass was due to the talents of European glass cutters who designed the windows for the church. The light fixtures were made of heavy brass hoops with seven individual shades attached, and all of the altar furniture was hand carved by local craftsmen. Shortly after it was completed, Bishop Key visited the church and suggested it be named after Mr. Waples for his tireless support of the church. From this point on the church was known as Waples Memorial Methodist Church. This structure served the church faithfully from 1899 to 1965.
The present building was completed in 1965 during the pastorate of Walter L. Underwood. It was deemed necessary to construct a new building after a study in 1962 revealed that the historic church was unsound and beyond feasible repair. The present structure was built on the same site as the 1899 structure. The extension of the educational wing and the addition of the Underwood Memorial Garden were completed in 1990. The building is rich with Christian symbols. The marble walls and slate floor of the Narthex reflect everlasting life and the eternal character of God and the marble altar table is carved with grapes, wheat and chalice (symbols of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper). A sixteen-foot cross hangs above the altar table and on each side are hangings for the liturgical seasons of the year. The hangings were designed by Jane Lundergan Doak and were hand-sewn by women of the church. They are changed to express the various seasons of the liturgical year. On the lectern are the emblems of the four gospels of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and on the pulpit is the Chi Rho, the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ. The communion rail is supported by twelve wooden carvings exhibiting the insignias of the twelve disciples, except for Judas. As far as is known, this is a unique feature not found in any other church in America. On the ends of the pews are inserted carvings of various Biblical symbols.
The stained glass in the sanctuary and chapel was created, designed and fabricated by the internationally famous artist Gabriel Loire of Chartres, France. It is faceted glass, sometimes known as slab glass. It is approximately one inch thick and is known for its unusual brilliance and translucence. It was chipped into various designs and put together with cement epoxy. The colors represent the principle doctrines of the Christian faith. The large window in the sanctuary contains the cross with descending dove, the Star of David, the crown of thorns and the Alpha and the Omega (symbolic of life that begins on earth but ends in eternity). The glass reflects the light, thus causing the colors to spray (at wide angles) across the nave and chapel. The colors can be seen from the outside at night and from the inside by day.
The bell tower and spire rise 90 feet from the center of the roof. It is constructed out of aged copper to compliment the surrounding historic structures of downtown Denison. The bell that hangs in the tower is the original bell form the mission church on Skiddy Street. The church now has a Carillon Bell System that is rung by an electronic device. The cross that crowns out the spire is six feet tall and is covered in gold leaf. The entire bell tower is lit by specially designed flood lights that project a total of 2400 watts so that it can be viewed from several points in the city at night as well as in the day.