By CATHY MOUNCE, Register Staff Writer
Cooke County —
Saint James Christian Methodist Episcopalian (C.M.E.) Church has been a part of Gainesville for over 140 years.
Pastor Dr. Sheldon Ballatt — who has been with Saint James for the past seven years — said he’s thrilled to preach his message inside the stately church.
“ To be part of this wonderful old church is such a blessing to me,” Ballatt said. “It is such an inviting building with the gothic facade and stained glass windows that have been in the building since it was built.”
The church began as a small house of worship, he noted.
“Celebrating the 140th anniversary last year, the church was originally established in 1873 and the original one room house had nails hammered in the walls to hang coats and hats on,” Ballatt said.
The Saint James sanctuary that exists today was originally built in 1904 under the leadership of Rev. G.W. Benson, Rev G.C. Ralston and Bishop C.H. Phillips. The architect was Henry Hendricks.
The land the current building occupies was reportedly purchased at a cost of $400 in which $10 monthly payments were made until the balance was paid in full.
Although showing some wear and tear now, the quality of the interior remains regal. The interior includes the pulpit and pews from the original church as well as the tower bells.
“Saint James was an important part of happenings in town through the years and had two bell towers,” Ballatt said. “The bell that is in the church today is one of the original two bells purchased for $600 each.”
According to the Saint James website, the first bell would welcome people to the church for Sunday worship and the second bell notified residents when someone died. The church had official bell ringers.
Church lore states that the bells could be heard as far away as Lindsay.
Ringing of the bell was also part of celebrations such as baptisms and weddings.
A centerpiece of the church is its stained glass windows.
“The two large windows on the west and north side were purchased at a cost of $500 each and were imported from Europe,” Ballatt said. “Other windows were donated by church members in memory of family members. The costs were a lot of money back then.”
Evidence of days gone by are outside the historic building as a concrete hitching post is located in front of the building.
“I love this church and the people that attend,” Ballatt said. “We have approximately 90 people in our congregation. Some descendants of the original founding families still attend Saint James C.M.U. today. Some of the younger ones have grown up and moved away for employment or school opportunities. We are not a big church in size but we are big in heart.”
Ballatt, a recently-retired assistant principal from the Dallas Independent School District still lives in the Dallas area. He commutes over 82 miles for services every Wednesday evening and Sunday morning.
He and his wife have six children. Three have graduated from college, one is a junior at the University of Houston, another daughter attends Tarrant County Junior College and one is a 17-year-old high school student.
“I am the person and parent I am today because of my relationship with my Lord,” Ballatt said. “ I rejoice in my congregation as well as my children. “
Current plans to renovate the church are underway and the building committee has been formed.
“It is so important that we take care of the integrity of the building because it is a reflection of our past,” Ballatt added.
Discussions with an architect are taking place to determine what structural renovations are required.
“It may need a little fixing up,” Ballatt said. “But the beauty of the building is still evident to all who walk through the door. It is a legacy we have been given and we cherish our responsibility. It is our church home but it is God’s House and He lives here.”
Once architectural studies have been made, Ballatt is confident that God will provide answers and funding in His time table.
“When facing decisions in life I tell my congregation to just be still and listen,” he said. “What is unseen is more powerful than seen.”
To find out more about the renovation of Saint James C.M.E. or to help with the project contact Ballatt via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (214)533-2406.