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GOD & TEXAS: The Brush Arbor

Texas, during the 19th Century, was not a God-forsaken place. Amidst the warfare and poverty, many preachers were drawn to the undeveloped mission field of Texas, to win souls for Christ. As settlers from the East populated the ancient lands of the Native American, they brought with them a spiritual fervor that changed Texas forever.

Because there were few church buildings, the brush arbor became a favored venue for worship services. Thomas U. Taylor, a trained civil engineer, was born in Parker County in 1858. He became interested in the study of the historic brush arbors and called them a “rare architectural design.”

Taylor said that a typical brush arbor started with several dozen green posts that were twelve feet long. The bottom end was cut sharp and driven into the ground about three feet deep. The top part was cut to a fork. The green posts were placed in rows about ten feet apart. Cross posts of cottonwood trees were placed horizontally across the top creating a perfect latticework for the placement of “brush” composed of weeds, grass, hay, broomcorn, etc.

In due course, many free-standing churches were built near the place where the brush arbors were erected. In the early 1850s, area slaves secretly met under a brush arbor in Freestone County, and eventually formed Shiloh Primitive Baptist Church and School in the hamlet of Kirvin.

In 1867, a small group of recently freed slaves erected a brush arbor in Houston, at what is now the corner of Rusk and Bagby streets, on the edge of the Buffalo Bayou. Their efforts provided the founding of Houston’s first Black church, Antioch Baptist Church.

In 1868, Rev. W.A. Mason held a brush arbor service in Cleburne, and within a few years, the First Baptist Church was founded. Other churches that started in a brush arbor and still minister today include First Baptist Church of Bronte (1887), Grandview Church of Christ, (1856), First United Methodist Church of Euless (1889), and Rock Springs Cumberland Presbyterian Church near Waco (1876).

Brush arbors are very well known in our culture. Even Country singer George Jones used to sing:

“I remember them so clearly, Mom and dad loved them so dearly.

Old brush arbors by the side of the road. Where I learned about salvation,

From the book of Revelation. And in arbors by the side of the road.

Chorus: Old brush arbors by the side of the road,

Where a sinner could lay down his heavy load.

It was in those old brush arbors,

Troubled souls found peaceful harbor.

Brush arbors by the side of the road.”

Jesus said in Matthew 18:20 (NIV), “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” This includes majestic cathedrals or lowly brush arbors. As it says in Hebrews 10:25 (NIV), “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

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