By CRISTIN REECE
PALESTINE — Visitors to Palestine's First Presbyterian Church will get the chance to fill the air with a joyful noise during this year's Hot Pepper Festival on Saturday — 125 joyful noises, actually.
The church is celebrating 125 years in its historic sanctuary this year and to mark the occasion, church members have planned a host of historic activities for Hot Pepper Festival-goers to take part in all day Saturday.
“Our church organization here is almost as old as the state of Texas, has endured hard times, most notably the Civil War, and, like Palestine, has risen from them (coming of railroad) to newer heights,” said Barrett Broyles, longtime church member and one of the event's organizers. “We have mirrored the ebbs and flows of Anderson County for a long time.”
Event organizers said descendants of original church members and visitors to the church on Saturday will get to ring its historic bell, starting at 1 p.m., until it's been rung 125 times that day. The bell has served the church since its inception in 1849. Prior to building its sanctuary on Avenue A, the Presbyterian congregation shared the church building located at Murchison and Church streets with the local Methodist, Baptist and Campbellite congregations.
The history of the church, which was formed a scant three years after the City of Palestine was established, is explored in depth in local author Jack Selden's book, “Seven Score and Ten: A Hundred and Fifty Years of the Presbyterian Church in Palestine, Texas,”
According to the book jacket, “Selden grew up in the church and (Palestine). His love for both is evident in his writings. (His book) is the story of how both the church and the city are irrevocably intertwined; of how the same people and events played key roles in both institutions.” The book is available for purchase at the church. After the tolling of the bell, congregation members and visitors will sing “Happy Birthday” to the sanctuary and cut the birthday cake, from Brookshire's bakery. Slices will be available for free to church visitors.
The church also will be open for tours all day Saturday.
“We're trying best we can to get people interested enough to come back, or at least enjoy it for its historical significance,” Richard Reed, church member and event organizer, said.
Tours will highlight the church's original Tiffany stained glass windows and the organ Andrew Carnagie helped the church purchase, which will be played throughout the day by local organist Aaron Jackson.
Church members also will hold a garage sale at the church and sell Frito pies and beverages at the Stock Pot. Proceeds of both fundraisers will benefit the church's many community outreach projects.
The First Presbyterian Church is located at 410 Avenue A, in Palestine.