By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Methodism is a Protestant religion whose roots can be traced way back to a preacher named John Wesley in England. John Wesley and his brother Charles, while at Oxford University in 1739, began a movement devoted to helping the underprivileged. Fellow students called them “Methodists” for the methods they used to carry out their evangelistic religion. Evangelism is the process of preaching to spread the word of Christianity.
Wesley did not have in mind to start a new religion. Both brothers were ordained ministers of the Church of England but because of their evangelistic methods, they were barred from speaking in most public places. They then resorted to preaching in homes or anywhere they could find an audience.
Another leader of Methodism was George Whitefield, also a minister of the Church of England. Eventually there was a parting of ways between the Wesley brothers and Whitefield over the subject of predestination. Whitefield was an advocate of predestination and the Wesley brothers were not.
In time, several branches of Methodism developed with these in particular: Methodist Protestant Church, Methodist Episcopal Church and Methodist Episcopal Church South. In its long history, by 1930 these three branches united and then merged with another group called the Evangelistic United Brethren. This union eventually led to the formation of the United Methodist Church.
Locally, a man named David Karbach, and a circuit riding Methodist preacher, John Wesley DeVilbiss, are given credit for starting Methodism in New Braunfels. David Karbach had heard the glowing reports about Texas given to newspapers by Prince Carl after he visited Texas in 1844. Due to bad conditions in Germany, Karbach believed his family would have a better life in Texas. So in December of 1845, Karbach with his second wife and their children, set sail on the ship Johann Dethardt and landed in Indianola. With all their worldly goods they had boarded the ship just before Christmas and arrived in Texas in March, 1846.
In New Braunfels, each settler was given one lot in town and a ten acre plot to grow vegetables and feed. It is believed that this 10 acre plot was in the vicinity of the later Locke Nursery near the Comal Springs. A need for expansion led Karbach to buy ranch land on the Hancock Road (present FM 306), about five miles from town. They kept the house in New Braunfels so that the children could go to school and they would join him on weekends. Three of the Karbach children, Fritz, John, and Emilie (later Klingemann) bought land in the area that became known as the Karbach Settlement. With time, this settlement encompassed over 2,400 acres.
While he was still in Germany, David Karbach had affiliated with the Lutheran Church, as many other Protestants did at that time. After arriving in Texas, the family began attending meetings held by the circuit riding Methodist minister, John Wesley DeVilbiss. Due to the lack of ministers in early Texas, circuit riding ministers were those who became ministers on horseback, traveling from one town to another. The New Braunfels Methodists were in a circuit that included Castroville, Cibolo Settlement, Solms, the area above Landa Park hill called Geberge and finally, Schumannsville. DeVilbiss divided his time between these four settlements.
Initially the first Methodist Church held their services in New Braunfels at the home of J. Hirschleben located in the Comaltown area.
By 1858 the group had built a small wooden church on the corner of now Union and Common Streets. Abram Gentry and Conrad Seabaugh, owners and developers of Braunfels Subdivision in Comaltown conveyed two lots to the trustees of the German Methodist Society of New Braunfels.
David Karbach and his family, particularly his son Fritz, became very active in this little church. Sunday School was held frequently in homes in the Karbach Settlement and at the church. Fritz in particular was instrumental in starting the Sunday School. Family tradition has a delightful story about Fritz and his marriage to Emilie Erck. It seems that when Fritz returned from the Civil War, he and Emilie were married in the Comaltown Church. The army band of occupation heard there was to be a wedding and they came and played the Wedding March. Fritz was the superintendent of the Sunday School for 25 years.
By 1890, the Comaltown Church was no longer used and the Karbach Settlement became the center of church activities. A new pastor, Rev. Merkel and his wife, then opened a Sunday School in the unused church and it was very successful, so the church building was once again used. This building served the Methodists for over fifty years until 1913.
Then in 1928, the old first church building was dismantled. Currently a SAC-N-PAC is located on the site with only an oak tree remaining, reminding people of the past.
In 1913 the Karbach Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South was built at its present site on San Antonio St. The Karbach name was included, indicating that family’s involvement in this church. In 1940 another name change took place to Karbach Memorial First Methodist Church. The last renovation took place in 1952 and the church took its present name: First United Methodist Church.
Sixty pastors have served the Methodist church, 45 of which were circuit-riding ministers. The present minister is Rev. Jason Adams. As one of the oldest mainline churches in New Braunfels, it has been a congregation of Christian service to others, no doubt fulfilling the vision of John Wesley. Records show needs being met in the community, all the while tending to the needs of their own members. The church responded to times of tragedy in the community and was very active during the Great Depression and the two World Wars.
Aware of their historical role in New Braunfels history, the church has preserved its records from the start. Although they were written in German, they are being translated.