The pastor of the historic Lonesome Dove Baptist Church and I got off on the wrong foot. How could we not? He fired me from the Cemetery Association, an annual old-fashioned Texas gathering I had attended for nearly 30 years. My last will and testament stated that I was to be buried there. Not anymore.
It’s nothing personal. Pastor Jason Stover says I can still be buried in one of the oldest cemeteries in the West if I pay $8,995 per plot. And by doing that, I can buy a Lonesome Dove t-shirt that boasts “Established 1846”.
I don’t know what kind of heckling Stover feared during his takeover of the cemetery association in September (he became president) when three uniformed police officers from Southlake were called in for protection. It made no sense. Older people who attend a cemetery association meeting are most definitely the non-violent type.
And I admit I was taken aback when an old man stood up to protest in the church sanctuary. To calm him down, the pastor said, “Man, you need a Snickers.” (Put that on a church t-shirt.)
When that didn’t work, the pastor warned, “Shut up or I’ll have the Southlake police escort you.”
Bad comments aside, I have to give credit to Pastor Stover, 43. He took a historic 19th century church (yes, Larry McMurtry borrowed the name from his epic) and propelled it into the 21st century.
The other night, Southlake City Council approved their plans to build what I jokingly call a mini-mega-church. Lonesome Dove is set to get a new $2 million worship hall with 376 seats and 100 new parking spaces.
The 13,000 square foot building is not considered a true arena mega-church, as it would probably have to hold at least a thousand seats. But for an old church (the original burned down a century ago), it’s a big step forward.
Enchanted by its history
As a beginner in Texas nearly three decades ago, I fell in love with this historic treasure and, along with others, tried to be a watchdog for this hallowed ground in hopes of preserve as an important piece of our past.
Stover and his staff run an aggressive and tightly organized operation. He knows how to attract followers to make positive comments in favor of the church. They crowded in for the takeover graveyard meeting in a modern attendance record. He did the same at Southlake City Hall, where he won the required zoning waivers despite near-universal disapproval of the project from his closest neighbors.
Stover is not your typical Baptist preacher. I will never see a Snickers bar without thinking of it. But he has a much-needed attribute—an attribute required by any preacher who wants to increase church attendance in today’s competitive church market. Stover is a good talker.
He knows how to sell, whether it’s church T-shirts, cemetery plots, or a $2 million building on hallowed ground.
And you never know what he’s going to say. When he appeared before the council during his presentation, he was wearing a flannel shirt (not tucked in) and a down jacket. He made a joke about parishioners drinking alcohol.
As he explained to council members and a cable television audience, “On a typical Sunday, I try to let everyone out early so we can beat the Methodists for [restaurants] Dragon House and at Kincaid. If I’m long and the service is a little rough then our neighbors head straight to Yates Corner Grocery for a 12 pack and hopefully it’s a Dr Pepper 12 pack but no guarantee.
I asked the pastor about his style. He replied, “Meetings like this can be long and tense. I’m just trying to bring a little levity.
When I asked about his informal clothes in front of the council, he said, “I’m just trying to hide the 15 pounds I gained on vacation.”
Attract new families
The style works. He has fans.
It doesn’t yet need a 376-seat sanctuary when it only draws 175-200 on Sundays. But as Kelly Starks argues in a memo to the town, the expansion “is something we’ve needed for some time and it will bring new families into our church.” If you build it, they will come.
Supporter Paige Applegate told the city, “Our desire as a church to expand does not outweigh our desire to always be a church where no one goes unnoticed and where everyone knows everyone. .
Neighbors were concerned about drainage, fencing, lighting and how the exterior of the new building does not match the old church building, which will be saved.
Neighbor Danielle Schug told me: “I personally feel cheated because our deal to let the historic cemetery grow from a small, quiet country church has now helped fund the monstrosity they plan to build. .”
There’s over a quarter of a million dollars in the cemetery fund. I checked with the pastor. “There is no cemetery fund involved in the project,” he said.
Modernization of the church
Personally, I am coming to terms with the loss. I realize that every church, even the first, deserves a chance to move forward into the next century or two. A long-dormant country church attracts new members. This is a good thing.
I still remember in 1993 reading an ad in the old vine sun newspaper that the Lonesome Dove Cemetery Association was holding its annual meeting. The public is invited, he said.
I went for old Texas before the suburbs existed. I found him there, in the small communion room, where my family and I were welcomed.
Each year I would learn a story of life and death that had taken place the previous year. Graveyards are full of stories, and it was a fun way for me to learn about them. The stories were beautiful in their life lessons and universal truths.
From the men who voluntarily cut the grass in honor of their own deceased buried there to the youngsters who buried a relative, you never knew who was going to show up for the annual potluck. All you knew was that it wasn’t like the real world on the outside.
OK, so it’s over now. I understand. I wish the Dove all the happiness in the world. I hope the church helps thousands of people.
Speaking at a zoning hearing, Pastor Stover quoted a line from a Rocky movie: “If I can change, you can change.”
I looked for it. In fact, Rocky’s cornerman said, “If I can change and you can change, everyone can change.”
I guess I’ll say amen to that.
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