‘Church at the Crossroads’ in Moss Hill celebrates 90th anniversary

Moss Hill United Pentecostal Church is celebrating its 90th year as a church and its 10th anniversary with the current pastors, Rev. Michael and Tamara Mahaney.

By Vanesa Brashier, editor@bluebonnetnews.com

For 90 years, Moss Hill United Pentecostal Church has been leading souls to God in Liberty County, Texas. The church was founded in 1931 and has had only three pastors throughout its history – Rev. John Esker Dillon, and wife, Letha (1931 to 1981), Rev. Jerrol Wallace and wife, Glenda (1981 to 2012) and Rev. Michael Mahaney and wife, Tamara (2012 to present).

“In April 1931, Rev. Dillon preached a revival in a small union building used by different denominations. Four souls were born to the Kingdom of God. The people from the Batson Church, whom he was pastoring, were a great help in establishing this new work,” according to a church history published in the 1960s. Prior to Moss Hill and Batson, Dillon pastored churches in Port Arthur and Cleveland, Texas.

The “small union building” was used by the Moss Hill church until a new building was erected in December 1937. As Moss Hill was still very rural at the time, the new building, measuring 40-feet by 28-feet, was kept warm by wood heaters and illuminated by gasoline lanterns. Dillon preached the first sermon in the new building in 1938. The Dillon family, which later included daughter, Judy, lived in two small rooms on the back of the church. In later years, they moved into a brick parsonage next door to the church.

On June 25, 1938, the Moss Hill church became affiliated with the Pentecostal Assembly of Jesus Church, which later merged with the Pentecostal Church Inc., becoming what is now known as United Pentecostal. At the time the church was organized, the deacons were L.E. Wiggins, George W. Hill, L. Daffern and A.J. Hopson. Afterward, additional charter deacons were Mrs. H.H. Wiggins, Mrs. Gracie Vanya, Mrs. A.J. Hopson, Mrs. L.E. Wiggins, Mrs. L. Daffern, Mr. and Mrs. Leon Ray and Mr. Jim Jacobs.

In the early years of the church, Sunday School classes originally met inside the sanctuary. Heavy curtains were used to divide the room into classrooms. Later on, as the church began to prosper, they added on four Sunday School rooms and a fellowship hall, and enjoyed the modern advancements of electricity, butane heat and an attic fan.

In 1960, the church began raising funds for a new church building, and by 1963 the church was holding services inside a new brick sanctuary with two wings – one for Sunday school rooms and offices, and one for a fellowship hall. Approximately 500 people attended the first service in the new sanctuary, which is still in use today.

Old-timers who remember those early days of the church will recall the baptistry originally being located behind the choir loft and pulpit.

“The baptistry is framed by red velvet drapes and an old painting of the River Jordan,” according to the history.

In 1981, the Dillons announced their retirement, and church members began selecting a new pastor with the assistance of the Lufkin District of UPC. Several ministers were recruited to the church to hold services, but none stood out more than Rev. Jerrol Wallace, his wife, Glenda, and their three children – Rilea, Tamara and Derrick. The Wallaces were not only vibrant ministers, their entire family was musically gifted. Glenda served as a music minister, leading the church choir and playing the piano and organ. The Wallace children all participated in choir and performed solos.

Rev. Wallace, a graduate of Texas Bible College in Houston, came to Moss Hill by way of Llano, Texas, where he pastored for two years. Before that, the Wallaces, who originated from Nacogdoches, Texas, and met when they were small children, started a home mission in Winston-Salem, N.C., that grew to the construction of an actual sanctuary called Heavenview United Pentecostal Church, built in 1977.

“We started Heavenview Church through home missions, holding services in our living room. We then went into an old community church where we were allowed to use the building with the agreement that we would keep up maintenance on its cemetery,” said Glenda Wallace.

After eight years in North Carolina, the Wallaces, anxious to come home to Texas and be nearer to their families, took positions at Bethel Tabernacle in Houston. Rev. Wallace was an assistant pastor at Bethel, and the Wallaces both worked at the church’s private school.

When the Wallaces came to Moss Hill, church membership was on the decline, but saw a revival in those early years. The church enjoyed a vibrant youth group led by Dorothy Brashier and Geneva Sisk, and others. Brashier, now 76, is the longest-serving consecutive member of the church and the Sunday School director. Sisk, at 85 years old, is the church’s oldest member.

The Wallaces led the church through a renovation project that was sparked by Hurricane Ike’s destroying winds and rains.

“The building was damaged when the whole roof was ripped off and everything inside was flooded,” said Glenda Wallace.

While renovations were under way, a hallway was added behind the choir loft and the baptistry was moved in order to create the hallway. This connected the Sunday School wing and the fellowship hall, which were previously accessible only through the sanctuary and exterior doors. The entire parking lot was paved, too.

In 2012, the Wallaces stepped down and began serving as bishops. Church members voted to install Rev. Michael Mahaney and wife, Tamara, as the new ministers. Tamara is the Wallaces’ daughter.

Michael and Tamara met as students of Jackson College of Ministries in Jackson, Miss., and married in Moss Hill in 1992. Michael is a native of Little Rock, Ark., and is the son of Rev. Charles Mahaney and brother of Rev. Nick Mahaney.

Michael served as a student-pastor and assistant pastor, and Tamara served as a music minister for several churches before starting a UPC church in Big Spring, Texas, in 2003, where they remained until the Moss Hill church needed new spiritual leadership.

The Mahaneys’ children are following in their footsteps: son Hunter is a minister, serving as a student-pastor in Odessa, Texas; son Kyler is a student-pastor serving in Moss Hill; and daughter Mykal is a music minister and a registered nurse, serving as a first responder during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the Mahaneys’ leadership, the church’s brick exterior has been painted and modernized, and new doors have been installed on all entrances to improve the overall look of the church and the safety of parishioners. The church also expanded its parking lot and purchased the land where the Dillons once lived in the church parsonage and four adjacent acres for an expansion project.

“Once it is in its full extension with a completed second floor, the new church building will be 15,000 square feet. The old sanctuary will be used for Sunday School classrooms and events,” said Rev. Mahaney.

Currently, church members are donating toward a building fund. Rev. Mahaney said the goal is for construction to start next spring.

At a special anniversary service on Sunday, Aug. 21, the guest speakers were Evangelist Nick Mahaney and Rev. Ken Smith, bishop of Church That Cares in Tarkington. In attendance were UPC pastors from Batson, Sour Lake and Hardin, Texas.

Smith gave an impassioned speech about Moss Hill UPC being a “Church at the Crossroads,” symbolic for the fact that the church is located near the northeast corner of SH 105 and SH 146 and is moving toward the next stage in its history with construction of a new sanctuary.

“The chief architect, the chief designer, put it all together. God knows what he’s doing and God does a pretty good job of building a church,” Smith said. “Moss Hill, you are needed. Moss Hill, you are essential. Moss Hill, you are a church at the crossroads.”

This artist’s rendering shows the design of the new Moss Hill United Pentecostal Church sanctuary. Construction is expected to begin next spring.

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