By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Next Sunday the First Baptist Church will reach another milestone with the dedication of a Christian Life Center named the Bill and Gwen Arnold Ministry Center.
The first attempt to establish a Baptist Church in New Braunfels was in 1905 when the San Marcos Baptist Association purchased a lot on Seguin St. and built a small chapel for the fledgling group. The New Braunfels church was a mission; however, there wasn’t enough people, money or interest to keep the little church alive.
From 1905 to 1907 two pastors came and went and as a second attempt to interest an audience, a revival was held in a tent on the mission grounds. While the minister, Albert Ahrens was speaking, he was bombarded with eggs thrown from outside the tent directly at him. Nevertheless, the small group of about 12 Baptists gained eight new members through this tent revival.
Ahrens resigned followed by another preacher who resigned. Then the District Clerk of Comal County, C.W. Rice, a lay minister, became the pastor. Rice had six daughters and two sons, so that increased the number of members. Some of you may remember Rice’s children, especially teacher Esther Rice and Judge Clarence Rice. The Rice home on 191 N. Union St. in later years was used often as a church meeting place.
When the San Marcos Baptist Association ceased to provide money for the New Braunfels mission in 1912, and sold the lot on Seguin St., there was no place to meet, so the small mission folded. For ten years there was no organized Baptist church in town.
In 1922 the Baptist State Mission Board decided to reorganize the group even though there was no building. They arranged for Sunday School to be held in a small adobe building in the first block of S. Seguin Ave. and the Methodist Church allowed the Baptists to use their Church for services on Thursdays. Preaching was done by students from the San Marcos Academy. A missionary, J. Ernest Young, was sent to organize the group and he preached his first sermon on August 5, 1923. Once again the small group met in the home of Bro. Rice until they built a building.
After several pastors and several locations, Rev. H.A. Seymour convinced the group to purchase a lot on the northeast corner of Main and Union Sts. in Comaltown. This lot was on the northeast corner opposite the Rice home. In late 1927 a building was erected on this lot costing $2,500, built by my grandfather, A.C. Moeller. Until this building was complete, revivals were held “under canvas”. When complete, the building could house 100 people for a membership of 51 at that time.
Once again the pastor left at the end of the year. The women of the church came to the financial rescue by holding study groups and hosting the Association Annual Meeting at which they fed the delegates noon and evening meals “even though there was no running water or restrooms in the building”. These were tough times financially. The faithful friends of the German Baptist Association decided to appeal to the State Mission Board to help the New Braunfels Mission. The Board sent Bro. R. L. Wittner and for eight years he led the congregation through the Great Depression. In 1931 two Sunday School rooms were added by a church member at no cost and by 1933 membership had grown to 166.
Present lots purchased
In 1945 two lots were purchased at the corner of Cross and Guenther Sts. A rock church was built with a government surplus barracks building right behind it. Meanwhile the church building on Union St. was moved to W. San Antonio St. and eventually was used as the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
The church continued to grow. Baptism by immersion is a central philosophy of the Baptist religion. Before 1948, all baptisms were in the Guadalupe River and some small children were baptized in a small fish pond. Most Baptist churches have indoor baptismal fonts.
Between the late 1940s and 1966, at least a dozen ministers were called. Then in May of 1966, Rev. Bill Arnold accepted a call to First Baptist in New Braunfels. He remained as minister until he retired in 1983.
Bill Arnold, a native of Corpus Christi, had been preaching since he was 19 years old at Jones Chapel outside Brownwood, Texas. Gwen Holleman and her parents attended a church in Brownwood and she was asked to sing a solo at a revival held at Jones Chapel. When Bill Arnold heard her sing, it was the proverbial “love at first sight”. They dated and married in 1950.
Soon after, he graduated from Howard Payne University and then on to the Southwestern Baptist Seminary. After completing this education in the seminary Bill spent three years in Mason for their first church, at which time two of their sons were born, Jim and David. The next church was at Ed Couch-Elsa for one year. After that he became the pastor in Aransas Pass from 1956 to 1966. Their youngest son, Billy, was born there. Arnold used to tell the story of his first funeral on the coast. Standing next to the coffin, the sand gave way and he slipped under the casket. What a beginning!
In 1966 Bill Arnold accepted a call to First Baptist Church in New Braunfels. It was here that he made a big impact not only on the congregation that he served, but on the whole town of New Braunfels. With his charismatic personality, he was a friend to all. It is estimated that he conducted the funerals of over 400 New Braunfelsers who were not members of his congregation. Bill Arnold was active in the Lions Club, Salvation Army, and served two terms on the New Braunfels City Council.
Perhaps what he was best known for was his association with a group of men who met at Krause’s Café every morning, rain or shine, at 7:00 a.m. There, Kermit Krause designated a tabled called a “Stammtisch”, meaning “a table reserved for regular customers”, for these men who were the “self- appointed problem solvers of every problem in New Braunfels”. That was their purpose. They enjoyed each other’s company and, no doubt, enjoyed the self-deprecating humor of Bill Arnold. Besides Krause and Arnold, others were S.D. David, Jack Ohlrich, George Goepf, Leonard Hitzfelder, John Doster, and Mitch Sacco. Incidentally, I don’t know how the Herald came up with the name Stammtisch for their calendar of events, but it sounds good.
Under the leadership of Bill and Gwen Arnold, much was accomplished at First Baptist Church in the area of missions, music, and buildings. That is why the new building is named the Bill and Gwen Arnold Ministry Center. Bill Arnold died in 2008 but Gwen Arnold will be there. Current pastor, Brad McLean, invites all to check it out at 3:00 p.m. Sunday.