Bracken Methodist Church History


Rev. William Felsing of the Guadalupe Valley Methodist Mission came into this area in 1871. He conducted religious services in the home of Julius and Marie Hirschleber and also under the high oak trees in the yard of the Phillip and Pauline Wahl home. (These properties adjoined and are located approximately one mile from our present site.) A stump served as pulpit and felled trees as pews during these outdoor services. By fall the Zions Methodisten- Kirche had been organized. There were 52 members of this first church, Julius and Marie Hirschleber were the first two members. They transferred their membership from the Cibolo Mission- while most of the members were transfers from the New Braunfels Mission.

One writer has stated that God awakened a need for a sanctuary. one and one- half acres of land were donated for a church by Adam and Katharine Wuest with the stipulation- that Divine Services be conducted in the German- language. Trustees for the first church were: Julius Hirschleber, George Wetz, Adam Wuest, Phillip Wahl, Joseph Hierholzer, William Tieman., and Ludwig Sassmanshausen-. The deed for the donated land reads as follows: “Said Trustees of Zions Church, or their successors in Office, shall erect and Guild or cause to be erected and built thereon, a house, or place of worship for the use of the members of the Methodist Episcopal Church of The United States of America, and of the Ministry of said church, and also used, kept, main-tamed and disposed of, subject to Discipline, usage, and ministerial appointments of said Church, as from time to time authorized and declared by the General Conference of said church, and the Annual Conference in whose bounds the said premises are situate: Provided that the Divine Service be conducted in the German- language,”
A 26′ X 42′ rectangular building of limestone blocks was built, completed, and dedicated in March 1872. Guadalupe Valley, Post Oak, Zion., and Seay were all an outreach of the New Braunfels Methodist Mission. Zion- and Seay Settlement (Wetmore) were known as Cibolo Mission. In 1876 Zions Kirche became self-supporting and Rev. Herman, Homburg was appointed as minister. A small one-room parsonage was built. It had a loft and two small shed-like rooms in back. Christian Bohmfalk, who later became a renowned preacher and district superintendent, was born in this early humble parsonage. Upon his return to Zions Church in 1887, Rev. Homburg enlarged the parsonage by adding a room on the west site and two small rooms out of part of the front porch. It was also at this time that Salem Church at Seers Settlement was founded and served by Zions’ pastor.
By 1893 the population, in the area had grown as many large families moved into this rural farming area. Thus, it came about that the growing congregation needed more room. The north end of the sanctuary was extended by ten feet and a niche was added. A new bell was also secured. The inscription on, the bell reads, “AStuckdede B.F., St. Louis, Mo., 1893, Zions Geminde Bisch, Meth. Kirche, Comal Co., Texas”. Three years later, the congregation erected a circular tabernacle. It is interesting to note various amounts of money were borrowed from church members for this building project. Some members received 7% interest while others got 8%. The tabernacle had open sides – the road side was shielded by window-type shutters. It was a useful and comfortable place for congregational gatherings – especially for camp meetings or revivals. On, the south site there was a raised platform to accommodate the pulpit and chairs for the service participants. In front of this was a “Buzebanki” (mourner’s bench) where repentant souls could sit or kneel until they were able to accept salvation,
Camp meetings usually lasted a week, so many who lived farther away spent all day and some nights. At first the sanctuary was utilized as a dormitory – divided by hanging wagon sheets (tarps); women and children slept on one side, men and boys on the other. Protracted and even day-long meetings prompted numerous families to build shelters that were commonly called “kitchens”. Meals were prepared from food brought from home. Some years a butcher brought fresh meat daily.
Sadly enough, the tabernacle and kitchens were torn down in 1937 when the first unit of the parish house was built. Zions Cemetery was created when Joseph, Hierholzer and his son-in-law, Eduard Pfeil, each donated an acre of land for a God’s Acre in 1891. According to the cemetery constitution, single plots were $1 and family plots $2. In 1928, because access to Zions Cemetery (located between. FM 1003 and the back of what is now Northcliffe subdivision, near Chelsea Rd.) was very difficult, the church bought land from the Wuest famly and established Community Cemetery down the road front the church. Eighteen ninety-six is remembered as the year Annual Conference was held at Zions Church with Bishop Ninde presiding. Coincidentally, this was our twenty-fifth anniversary celebration. Additional land was bought for the church at a cost of $60 for two acres. The deed reads: F.C. Armke to the Board of Trustees of the German Methodist Episcopal Church of Zions Parish near Bracken, Comal County, Texas, September 12, 1908. Our pioneer preachers were always reaching out to new mission fields. So it was in 1903 that Rev, John. Hierholzer conducted a series of tent meetings in Schertz.
This successful venture resulted in the building and dedication of the Schertz Methodist Church in 1904. In the early years the youth were organized mainly as a singing society. In- 1909, the Epworth. League was organized, later reorganized as Methodist Youth. Fellowship and now named United Methodist Youth Fellowship. Nineteen twelve was also a memorable year. Rev. J.W.A. Witt wrote a glowing account of the major additions to and renovation of the sanctuary: a 30’x 30′ west side addition, a stately bell tower, new windows and doors in Gothic style; Florentine and Colonial glass in shades of white, old rose, green and amber; a- pressed metal ceiling painted light blue; and all new inside woodwork of antique oak. The oak pulpit and three altar chairs were donated. The new part and the old limestone block pare of the church were covered with red brick.
Through the generosity of Joseph Hierholzer, in 1912, a well was drilled that is still bringing good fresh water for all to enjoy. When the Annual Conference met here November 22 – 25, 1917, Bishop Thirkield sent word ahead of time that he wanted the altar draped in patriotic bunting (evidently he did not trust the loyalty of these German farmers). Eight young men served in World War 1in 1918; two of these became victims of the fatal flu. Again in 1941, our young men answered their country’s call to arms. We were happy when all returned safely. It was the 1918 influenza and the advent of prohibition that changed our communion from a goblet wine service to individual cups of grape juice.
A new many-gabled parsonage was built during Rev. Buehrer’s 1922 tenure. The church in Fashing had been organized – mainly by former Bracken Methodists who had moved there when vast acres of pasture land became available for fertile farm land. So there was a brief period when the Zion pastor served Salem, Fashing, and Bracken. It was good that the Model T Ford had replaced the horse and buggy. In, 1924 Robert Hierholzer was licensed as a local preacher and his license was renewed each year until his death in 1982. Brother Hierholzer served in the Zions Church congregation effectively for over fifty years, always ready with a sermon in case a minister had to miss a Sunday service.
The ladies of the congregation have always had an influence in the life of the church. Yet, only recently, have they held any church office. Women’s organizations have functioned formally since 1907 under various names: Women’s Missionary Society, Women’s Foreign, Missionary Society, Ladies Aid, Women’s Society of Christian Service, and United Methodist Women. Their programs and studies have given them a feeling of fellowship and unity. Their many and varied lofts at raising funds have included suppers, barbecue and chili dinners, bazaars, bake safes, paper drives, vanilla safes, stationery and card sales, cookbooks, angels, and now the semi­annual rummage sale. For several years the women circulated an apron with many small pockets. Each woman put her monetary donation into a pocket, sewed it shut, and passed it on. When all the pockets were filled, the treasurer received the funds.
Christmas celebrations have always been special times for the children. The excitement began when parts for the program were given out. Then followed play practice, singing, and costume designing. For many years, bad weather often brought muddy roads and sniffling colds – making play practice sessions difficult, but somehow or other, the night of the program was always great. The climax came when each child received a “goody bag” with his or her name on it. (There were always extras for visitors.) The young people had spent about six weeks collecting money for the fruit, nuts, and candy – bon-bons in fringed tissue paper, candy canes, and ribbon, candy. The young men were responsible for selecting, cutting, bringing in, and decorating a huge cedar tree – one with live candles. The evening ended with a collection for the Waco orphanage and the benediction. Then, as now, everyone went home happy.
The sixty-fifth anniversary was observed when the District Conference met here in April 1937 with Bishop Mead presiding. For more than 70 years German was the language used in all Sunday services. But in 1944, the pastor assigned to Bracken said that in spite of his German name, Gammenthaler, he could not preach in German. Earlier, the Epworth League had purchased an English Bible and used English in their programs. Several Sunday School classes had also switched to English. Again there was a great need for Sunday School space, so in 1955 a wing was added to the parish house for classrooms, our first indoor restrooms, and an office. In the 1960’s It became apparent that the sanctuary needed sprucing up. The church interior was renovated and modernized. All furniture was refinished, the ceiling was lowered, the walls paneled, the floors repaired and covered, and new lighting was installed along with a new heating and cooling plant.
Records show that through the years the church was called by several names. It is unclear when Bracken Methodist Church became the official name. The Methodist Church joined with the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968, and at that time our name changed to Bracken United Methodist Church. In 1969, under the guidance of Rev, Donald L. Kuhn who was on sabbatical leave from the Glide Foundation in San Francisco, a congregational task force conducted a survey of family needs in this area – Garden Ridge and Oak Forest, south of I35.
A Mother’s Day Out program and a Young Married Group were started in our church as a result of the survey. The parsonage that in 1922 was said to be the district’s finest, showed signs of good use and much needed repair. In 1977 it was decided to replace it with a more modern structure – our present parsonage. In 1994 a large family room was added and extensive remodeling was done to the kitchen. We are grateful to the Reagan Heitkamp family for their donation of additional land In 1983 in memory of Sylvia Heitkamp. Our church campus is now comprised of about six acres.
In the 1980’s additional facilities were needed because of the increase in membership. At this time a major building program included a new education building, extension of the old Parish Hall, and re-partitioning of the 1955 addition. This gave us a more efficient kitchen and more storage space in addition to the new classrooms. Under the leadership of Dr. David Griffin, the church expanded its ministry. Two morning services became the norm and two weekly Bible studies along with four adult Sunday School classes, six children’s classes, junior and senior high United Methodist Youth Fellowship groups, United Methodist Women, United Methodist Men, Boy Scouts, Mom’s Day Out, Prime Timers, and the Wednesday Lunch Bunch for Seniors made for tremendous growth to membership.
Throughout the history of the church a variety of volunteer leaders led the choir and congregation in hymn singing and played the piano, organ, and other musical Instruments. Around 1986 the Music Director and Accompanist became paid positions. In 1987 the church hired its first secretary. Prior to that time, office duties were handled by the pastor and volunteers. In 1990 a new 15 passenger van was purchased. That same year a- metal building was built to house the van, our lawn equipment, and other Items. Nineteen ninety-two saw the hiring of a- part-time Youth Director and our staff included the Director of Mom’s Day Out. The first 125 years brought many changes: oil lamps to electricity (1937), bales of hay to cushioned pews, wood heat to central heat, probationary membership to catechism classes to confirmation classes, and buggies and wagons to motor vehicles of all kinds. But more change was on the way.
In 2011 Rev. Gerald Goodridge (Pastor Jerry) was appointed to Bracken UMC. Being a native of Barbados, who became a US citizen in 1979, the appointment was considered a cross cultural appointment. The church warmly received its appointed pastor and embraced him as their spiritual leader. More “firsts” would follow as in 2014, the church welcomed their first female pastor, Rev. Christine Bistline. Our current pastor, Rev. Barbara Aziz was appointed in 2019.
In 2020, we along with the whole world, experienced a global pandemic. Given the size of our sanctuary, we stopped meeting in person on March 15 and were blessed to move to on-line worship, Sunday School and Bible Studies. We also met outside, under the beautiful towering oak trees, just as our early ancestors. The church has held strong through it all, showing the resiliency and faithfulness of this membership.
On November 7, 2021, we were blessed to celebrate our 150 year anniversary! Here is a slideshow of that event!
 In May of 2023, Bracken voted to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church and affiliate with the Global Methodist Church. The UMC Annual Conference approved this in June. 
We had a wonderful interim pastor, Rev. Dr. Paula Payne for 5 weeks while our Leadership Council interviewed and met with 3 potential pastors.  We offered the position to a person and he accepted! We welcomed Rev. Russell Baley and his family to our church July 30, 2023. 

From its inception, the grace of God has blessed this congregation with spiritually-minded ministers and lay people who have kept the mission of the church alive and prospering. In the words of Rev. Herman Homburg, May the grace of God continue to give his highest blessing and make this Congregation a mighty people.”