On Fire With The Spirit
First United Methodist Church in Pflugerville
Honoring Our Past, Building Our Future
First United Methodist’s First Year by Ruby Blackburn
In February 1983, notices had begun to appear in the newspapers: “If interested in forming a new Methodist Church in Pflugerville, call Shirley Shires!” On Thursday evening, February 24, 1983, a meeting was held in the foyer of the Anglican Church on Railroad Street. Twenty-eight people were there.
It was unusual and a little strange to meet with a group of people whom you did not know—one face was familiar—one name you had heard—but you shared a common purpose and a common cause—a need to build a church, literally and figuratively.
On March 6, 1983, 48 people attended the first church service in the Anglican Church on Railroad Street, a location that was too small the very first Sunday. The sermon was delivered by Rev. Phillip M. Riley.
After that the church services were held in the Pflugerville Fire Hall. Sometimes adult classes met next door in Marshall’s Tavern! Several guest ministers led the services. The fire hall had no air conditioning so a small unit was put in a window.
As early as March 1983 organizations within the church were started and growing—Methodist Youth Fellowship and United Methodist Women. A garage sale was being planned for April and softball teams were organized..
On Easter Sunday, April 3, 1983, Dr. Ron Campbell (wife Jeri, son Brent) became the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Pflugerville, and the first communion service was held. This was followed by a covered dish luncheon in Pfluger Park. After lunch there was an Easter egg hunt and a baseball game.
On April 10, 1983, the United Methodist Men held their first meeting. The garage sale at the fire hall on April 15 and 16 raised $3,244. The MYF car wash took in $77.
It was a glorious day—May 15, 1983—when the First United Methodist Church of Pflugerville, Texas, was established with 110 members. Oh yes, it was raining outside, but inside, the sun was shining on every face—and warm hearts and hands touched. There can be no doubt of the enthusiasm and joy of God’s love in the congregation.
The service was conducted by Dr. Ralph Seiler, Capital District Superintendent, and Dr. Ron Campbell, pastor of the newly formed church. The service was followed by a charge conference, the next step toward obtaining a charter. Following the service on May 15 there was a church picnic to celebrate on the land site with volleyball and baseball.
On May 31, 1983, the church was issued a Certificate of Organization by the Southwest Texas Annual Conference (now Rio Texas Conference). The charter was signed by Bishop Dixon. There were 118 people who joined the first week.
The church purchased a 2.5 acre church site from the Pfluger family, with an option to buy more. 2.5 acres were purchased later, bringing the total to 5 acres. There was a sign-raising party and an ice cream supper at the new church site. In June 1983 there was a groundbreaking ceremony. The building program was under way!
The food pantry opened in June 1983. In July, there was the first baptism of Ross Moore, the child of Colleen and Wayne Moore. The United Methodist Men met and worked on the building site in August 1983.
The MYF group and leaders went to camp. A church service for the entire congregation was held at camp.
In September 1983, the building plans were approved by the charge conference with Paul Shires as builder. The congregation met to work clearing the land, mowing, and trimming the church grounds. A ceremony and covered dish luncheon was held on the grounds. An open-air worship was held where the Family Life Center building sits today.
On October 7, 1983, the slab was poured for the new church building!
In November 1983, the United Methodist Men were working to help complete the building. Once the concrete was poured and the steel girders were in place, the congregation went to work building classrooms, offices, and stairways.
The first service was held in the new church. We had the first appearance of the choir, directed by Cynthia Bradley and accompanied by Marilyn Kahan. We had a charge conference and met our new pastor, the Rev. Karen Vannoy Levbarg. We enjoyed a Thanksgiving Day of feast and fun.
A candlelight service was held on Christmas Eve, and the Austin Men’s Choir sang. December 25, 1983, was Rev. Ron Campbell’s last Sunday. The average worship attendance for 1983 was 85.
In January 1984, the Rev. Karen Vannoy Levbarg began full-time duties as pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Pflugerville, Texas.
A District Meeting was held February 14, 1984. The new building (now FLC) was dedicated on March 18, 1984. Bishop Dixon visited the church, and Dr. Ron Campbell was there also.
Church Buildings by Ron Sandford
"We don't really go down there to build a house . . . we go down there because God calls us to love people and share the Word."—Austin W. Newton, July 21, 2017
The Education-Administration Building
In 1996 the Sunday school classes were bulging at the seams. A committee formed to discuss more space, at first imagining a small four-classroom building. However, the group realized the church needed much more space, finally deciding on a 6,000 square-foot educational building with 16 classrooms and offices.
One day, one of the members, Jeff Jones, called me to talk about the proposed building project. He was aware that I had been building apartments, office buildings, and warehouses for a number of years. He and several members of the building committee felt that they were paying too much for what they were getting. I agreed to meet with the building committee.
Although I did not know many of the people on the building committee, we had a good exchange, after which I agreed that they were about to pay too much.
Sometimes I speak without thinking and this was one of those times. After listening to everyone, I told them that I was sure that we could not only build the new facility, but we could also expand the parking lot for less money than originally planned. And I would run the project for free.
Almost everyone was very excited about such a good deal. One who remembered the very serious financial problems the church faced just a few years before thought they should look for a better deal. I excused myself from the meeting and wished them well. That night, I received many calls thanking me and asking me to ignore any negative comments about my offer.
I have been involved in many projects through the years. What always makes this business interesting and fun for me is the genuine goodness in people. From the first day that we started this project, the guy who objected to the program was at the job site every day asking what he could do to help. Through the years, we have worked together on other projects and have become very good friends. It is obvious that he loves the Lord, the church, and his church family.
During the construction a dump truck trailer turned on its side and fell into what was then the sanctuary (now the FLC). The damage was minor, but it took a lot to get the truck upright again.
Although I told the building committee that I would not charge the church anything, I received something worth far more than any fee that I might have charged. I re-connected with the church. I had maintained a close relationship with God. Now, once again, I had a church family.
Ground was broken in July 1997 and completed in March 1998. It was dedicated in July 1998. We finished the education building thanks to the unselfish contributions of many members. We now had more room for Sunday school, places to park, and more room for the kids. The church really began to grow.
While the building of the new educational facility was still in progress, two acres directly to the east of the church went up for bid by the City of Pflugerville. The church members immediately agreed to place a bid for the property, and it was purchased in June 1998.
As the church grew, many members began talking about a new sanctuary. When the relatively inexpensive education building was first discussed, there was some opposition because everyone remembered the financial difficulties the church had faced a few years earlier. When the much more expensive sanctuary was first discussed, there was very little, if any, objection.
I had become very involved in church activities. I served on the Board of Trustees and other committees, and I was now on the building committee. At one of the first meetings, Pastor Frank said he really wanted me to build the sanctuary, but not without compensation. I thanked him, but told him that I was too busy and would not be able to build the sanctuary.
At the next building committee meeting, Pastor Frank told me that he had been praying that I would head up this project. I told him that was cheating to bring God into the discussion. I agreed to build the sanctuary, and I am so glad that I did.
In the spring of 2001, the education building mortgage was paid in full! As that obligation was paid off, the church started a Capital Fund Drive to build a formal sanctuary. Close to $850,000 was pledged toward the total cost of $1.4 million needed to build the 400-seat facility (with the capacity to expand to 750 seats). The groundbreaking ceremony was held January 21, 2001.
The building committee hired an architect, who hired the various engineers. The plans were completed, and we worked our way through the various city departments and secured our building permit. We designed the building to be a little less than 12,000 square feet so that we would not be required to install a fire sprinkler system, which would save several thousand dollars, but we decided to install one anyway, for everyone’s peace of mind.
Because we wanted to span approximately 110 feet in the sanctuary without any interior vertical support, we used a pre-engineered metal building system. When we got through, we knew it would not look like a metal building.
The location of the building had very expansive soil, which was a major consideration. David Coppedge, a church member, did all the dirt work. He removed mountains of clay soil—about 14,000 square feet and five feet deep. It looked like an Olympic swimming pool. We then installed base material which was rolled, watered, and compacted every six inches, and six feet deep, one foot above ground level. The finished pad was rock hard to minimize movement. Because of the soil conditions, we also installed 30 piers. On the northeast corner of the building, we went as deep as 30 feet without hitting rock. We hit rock at about 7 feet on the southwest corner. These were all filled with steel rebar and concrete. The piers and beams were poured first, and then the slab. Because we needed so many concrete trucks for the job, we started the pour at about 3:00 a.m.
The steel erection went smoothly, as did each stage of the building process. At one point as the rocklayers were installing the rock on the front of the building, my grandson, Austin, who was four at the time, was visiting us and went to work with me every day. One day, with the scaffolding up all across the front, the rocklayers busy, and the helpers carrying rock up to them, I was standing with Austin out front, talking to Pastor Frank and his wife, Marian. I looked around and didn’t see Austin. Then I saw that four-year-old carrying one big rock after another to the rocklayers. From that time on, every time Austin was in town and we would go by the church, Austin would ask if that was the church that he helped build. As he got older, he would tell me that it was the church he helped build.
John Wrigley, the AC contractor, installed 65 tons of air conditioning. David Ward, installed the electrical service.
As we got closer to finishing the sanctuary, Ray Renner, a former member, approached me about the altar rail. Ray had built the altar rail in the old sanctuary (FLC). He told me that he would be honored to build the rail, but he could not afford the materials. He told me if we furnished the materials, he would build the rail. That was an easy decision. Ray and his 13-year-old son, Jacob, built the beautiful altar rail that we enjoy today. The large cross that hangs in the sanctuary today used to hang in the old sanctuary.
Before the carpet was installed people were invited to write Bible verses on the wood of the stage. Some children drew pictures there.
We wanted to have a cornerstone. Pastor Frank chose Romans 8:28 to go on the stone. I did not know who might make this, but I thought that Cook Walden Funeral Home might know. They told me that they would be honored to furnish the stone if I would tell them what we wanted on it. That stone with that scripture is right by the main entrance. I had several Sunday school classes and other groups write down their thoughts at the time. I put all of those thoughts in a plastic tube as a time capsule and placed it in the wall behind the cornerstone.
The first service in this new church home was held April 21, 2002. I told my wife that I was just going to enjoy the service and not worry about anything. I knew that some things might not work perfectly, but we would just take care of everything later. I have been involved in many church projects and attended many dedication services where I was asked to speak and introduce people who worked on that project. I had been in and out of our new building every day for many months making sure that everything got done. I was definitely not prepared for what would happen at that first Sunday service.
When Mary Jane and I walked in and found our seats, I could not talk. I truly felt the presence of God. The day before, it was just a building. It was now God’s house, a place to worship. Many people spoke to me. I just smiled and shook hands. Mary Jane asked if I was all right, and I nodded that I was. During the service, George Tolleson recognized me, and I stood and waved, but I could not speak. I had never experienced anything like that.
Stained Glass Windows
By Rev. Jeremy Wester
I’m still not sure how accurate it is to say I "designed" the stained glass, but I am proud of whatever influence I brought to the table. In the process of looking at our new sanctuary space, the interior design committee (to which I was nominated by virtue of my role on youth council) made the decision to try and incorporate the large wooden cross from our previous sanctuary space. That cross was a symbol of the congregation’s faith and practice, and it was important for us to bring that legacy with us as we moved into the new space. I simply took that desire and imagined what it might mean to incorporate the cross directly into the window. The artist who created the window took that inspiration and, though we logistically couldn’t actually use the wooden cross, brought the feel and centrality of the cross front and center in the new worship space. The group also wanted to incorporate a dove in the design to remember that the presence of the Holy Spirit is always with us.
The Sanctuary Stained Glass Windows By Rev. Nancy Mossman, June 26, 2003
On July 13, 2003, Bishop Joel Martinez of the San Antonio area led the congregation of First United Methodist Church in a service consecrating the stained glass windows of the new sanctuary. This service was the culmination of years of hopes and dreams of the members of the church.
The central stained glass window in the sanctuary, "Resurrection Window", was a part of the original plan of the new sanctuary, but the budget was not large enough to include stained glass windows for the side walls. "'Our new sanctuary will have stained glass windows even if I have to acquire a loan' were my passionate words actually spoken during the charge conference," said Colleen Moore, one of our charter members and the person who motivated members of our congregation to contribute the funds to purchase the additional windows, which so beautifully tell the story of God and God's people.
Kathy Shaw had met stained glass artist, Jack Whitworth, at a lay speakers training and arranged for him and his wife, Cindy, to meet with the Interior Design Committee. Whitworth is the owner of one of only three studios in Texas to be accepted as a full-service accredited studio member by the Stained Glass Association of America. He told them "Working in stained glass is my choice—because I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the results of light being refracted through glass! The attention to detail and pleasing clients is a very rewarding and satisfying experience."
The committee asked Jack to be the designer of our windows. Colleen said, "Later, when Jeremy Wester presented Jack and Cindy a rough sketch of an idea for our 'Resurrection Window, the Whitworths' artistry emerged, blending spirituality with an amazing rainbow of colors." Colleen believes that our sanctuary bears witness to Psalm 68:35.
"Awesome is God in his sanctuary, the God of Israel; he gives power and strength to his people" (Psalm 68:35)
Indeed, it is our hope that all who worship in the sanctuary at the First United Methodist Church of Pflugerville will experience the awe of God and be strengthened to be his people.
The central "Resurrection Window" has special meaning for us because it was the first one. The side windows are important, not only for their beauty, but because they help us tell and remember the whole story of God.
The "Resurrection Window"
The empty cross. Jesus said, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." And to his disciples he said, "You are the light of the world. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." John 8:12; Matthew 5:14a, 16
The Side Windows
There are twelve side windows, four of which are not seen in the current configuration of the sanctuary. They are in the choir room and the children’s “Worship and Wiggles” room. These are windows 5-8 below. When the sanctuary is expanded past these rooms they will be in view. Each window has a plate on the sill with the names of those who contributed it.
The windows starting from the central “Resurrection Window” and moving clockwise around the building are the following. Only the top half of the windows are shown.
1- "The Alpha and The Omega"
The Greek symbols for Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of the Greek alphabet, are depicted. Christian faith begins with God, the Alpha and the Omega. The one who is from the beginning and in whom there is no end is the one who created us and breathed into us the breath of life. Revelation 1:8, Genesis 1:26-27, 2:7
2- "The Word of God"
The open Bible. “God revealed God's nature and plan to humanity through God's Holy Scripture, the Bible, which is the inspired Word of God. According to the witness of scripture itself, the sacred writings are able to instruct humanity for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.” 2 Timothy 3:1, 16
3- "Praise & Worship"
A lyre. At the heart of God's word are the Psalms, the original book of worship for God's people. The poetry, the songs, and the music of God's people are offered in praise and thanksgiving for the sovereign God who has given God's own self to the world through Jesus Christ. Praise the Lord, 0 my soul! Psalm 100 and many others
A rainbow with a dove carrying leaves. God sent the rainbow as a sign of the covenant with humanity after the flood in Noah’s time; that he would never destroy the earth by flood again. Since that time, God has been faithful to God's promise and at the right time God promised that all who call on the name of Jesus Christ will be saved. Alleluia! Genesis 8:20-22; Acts 2:21
5- “The Incarnation”
The Star above Bethlehem. At the right time, Jesus, the Messiah, was born to fulfill what the Lord has said through the prophet Isaiah, "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means, God with us." And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon him. Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 7:14, Luke 2:40”
Jesus who was without sin, went to the River Jordan and was baptized for the repentance of sin by John the Baptist. And when Jesus came up from the water, the Holy Spirit, like a dove, descended upon him; and God said, "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." So in our own baptism, God says to us, "You are my child. I love you;" and we are anointed with the Holy Spirit. Luke 3: 21-22; Romans 8:12-17
7- "The Miracles"
A vase pouring water and it turning into wine. Beginning with the wedding at Cana in Galilee, Jesus revealed his glory through miraculous signs. When John the Baptist asked if he was the one to come, Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." John 2:1-11; Luke 7:20-22
8- "The Last Supper"
Bread and cup. On the night in which he gave himself up for us, Jesus took bread, gave thanks to God, his father, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: "Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." When the supper was over, he took the cup, gave thanks to God, gave it to his disciples, and said: "Drink from this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; I Corinthians 11:23-26
The cross and crown of thorns. Jesus taught his disciples: "The Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise." It was the third hour then they crucified him. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. Mark 10:33-34; 15:25, 37
Easter Lily. On the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb. They found it empty and saw two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning, who said to them: "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!" Luke 24:1-8
11- "Holy Spirit"
A flying dove. After Jesus' death and resurrection, God sent his Holy Spirit into the world to be the advocate and comforter for all who believe. The Holy Spirit gives God's people the power to be the body of Christ in the world and to witness to the power of God to give life, joy and peace where once there was death, sorrow and grief. John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15; Acts 2:1-21
12- "The Trinity"
The symbol of three-in-one. God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the three persons in one God, is the God of mystery and surprise, the God of grace and mercy, the God who is the beginning and the end. It is in this God that those who call on the name of the Lord find life everlasting. John 3:16
"The Mission Windows"
These four windows are high and of narrow width. They are named our "Mission Windows" because of their high visibility to drivers passing by at night on Pecan Street. The light from our Mission Windows pours out into the street for all to see. They are a sign of our desire to be in mission to our community and the whole world. Jesus said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Matthew 28:19-20
Education/Preschool Building by Ron Sandford
In the fall of 2006, 4.5 acres of land (the old cotton gin site) became available for purchase. The first time I met with Mr. Cockrum, owner of the cotton gin property, the City of Pflugerville was determined that the church would not buy the property and take it off the tax rolls, so they submitted a contract to counter my actions. They kept the property under contract for some time. Mr. Cockrum ordered and paid for a $20,000 environmental study. The city told him that they would reimburse him, but then stopped negotiations, voided the contract, and did not reimburse Mr. Cockrum. We were now the only interested party.
After three generous monetary gifts amounting to about one-third of the cost of the land, the Texas Methodist Foundation approved a loan for the balance, and we now owned almost five more acres, bringing our total to about eleven acres. At a called church conference, the congregation unanimously voted to purchase the property.
In 2009 we started making plans for a new education building. A charge conference approved it, thanks to the generous pledges of the congregation and the Pecan Street Christian School.
As I worked with the city to get our site plan approved and get the building permit, the city told me that we would have to take the various tracts of land that we owned and create a one-lot subdivision. We named it Lot one, Romans 8:28. That is the legal description of the church property.
We had the plans drawn for a two story, 20,000 square-foot building with an emphasis on classrooms for the preschool and Sunday school classes.
When we built the sanctuary, we had to deal with difficult soil conditions causing us to remove tons of material and take other measures to minimize movement of the building. When we started working on the foundation for the education building, we had to rent a rock saw for every beam. We were on solid rock.
Although the construction of the new education building was going smoothly, we realized early on that we would not be able to afford to finish the second floor. To make the second phase of this project easier, we installed the electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems to the second floor. We will be able to complete the second floor at some point without disturbing the first floor. This will save a lot of money and eliminate a lot of frustration for those using the first floor.
While the new education building was under construction, member John LaSalle came by one day to ask how he could help. I told him that we always need someone to clean up after the guys get through working in a particular area. He showed up every day to sweep, using a very small broom and a small dust pan. I told him we had bigger brooms, but he preferred his own. When we finished the project, I bought a broom, painted it gold, printed “John The Sweeper” on it, and presented it to him when we dedicated the building.
Members Paul LeBlanc, Jack Foreman, and their crew made sure that the communication systems were connected between the buildings. That is why there is a speed bump between the education building and the administration building. That is where the wires run.
The church opened the new Christian Education Center in June 2010.
Family Life Center
The Family Life Center was the original building. In that one building, we had the sanctuary, Sunday school classrooms, office, library, kitchen, and choir room. Part of the altar rail is now in the youth room upstairs.
I was honored to be able to remodel the upstairs for the youth room. This included removing some walls, vaulting the ceiling, and adding more insulation and air conditioning. The kitchen has been remodeled. Rooms have been combined for the food pantry and clothes closet. Not long ago, member Ken Mire headed up a project to add showers for youth programs. We also expanded the church office.
For every building and the prayer garden, member Oscar Rodriguez had his engineering firm do the soil testing, which he donated. Cliff, owner of Texas Good Light, donated the electrical service for the prayer garden as a gift to Mary Jane.
Prayer Garden by Ron Sandford
About 2010, George Tolleson and Jack Foreman asked me if I was interested in building a prayer garden with a columbarium and memorial wall. I told them that I was interested, but nothing happened except several conversations. When my wife passed away in 2012, I became much more motivated. Jack and I visited several prayer gardens at other churches. I visited several when I traveled to New Mexico and other places. Paul and Gloria Shinkawa brought pictures of several that they had seen. We realized that many churches had prayer gardens, and they were all different.
It was completed next to the Family Life Center in 2016. Our prayer garden is very peaceful, and I am glad that I had an opportunity to be involved in that project.