John Coker, a man with an adventurous nature, traveled to Texas from South Carolina in 1834 and joined in the fight for Texas Independence. He served with Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto, joining the men who destroyed Vince’s Bridge which trapped Santa Ana and helped defeat his army in 1836.
There being no money to pay the men who served in the Texas army, the Texas Legislature in October 1845 awarded John Coker with a land grant of one third of a league of land as payment for his service. John, a lifelong bachelor, wanted to share this large tract of land with his family and sent word for his brother, Joseph, to join him in settling the land.
Joseph and the families of his sons and daughters left Alabama to join John, or “Jack” as he was often called, on Salado Creek. They traveled some 15 miles a day but always rested on Sundays to worship. As the settlers established their new homes they continued to feel the need for a place to worship. They first met in groves, grass arbors and later in homes. They built a schoolhouse which also served as a place of worship. The first spiritual guidance was provided by laymen, both church appointed and self-appointed, and then later by circuit riders.
The first minister actually discovered the Coker Community as it was called. One day, Rev. A.E. Rector rode up to James Harrison Coker and suggested that the Coker church be added to his circuit, which included Boerne, Selma, and Salado. This was joyfully accepted and the church became part of the Methodist Episcopal Church South.
The first services were held in the only public building erected, a small brown structure made from lumber, in approximately the middle of the current Coker Cemetery. It had shutters rather than window glass. In summer months the services might be held outdoors.
Rev. Rector realized the need for a more permanent church building and in conference with the church leaders his idea began to take hold. The legal papers were drawn up on September 19, 1885. Donations came in, lumber was ordered and arrived at Indianola. The building was erected debt-free in 1885. It was a one room structure with a wooden floor and shingle roof. The furnishings included slatted pews made by a member, a potbellied stove with lanterns for light at night. Stone steps were hewn by Amos Jones from rock cut from the Salado quarry.
Salado Methodist Episcopal Church South was served by more than twenty pastors during the next forty years. After a few years, the walls of the wooden church began to show signs of weakening. To brace the walls, steel rods were placed across the center of the church to push the walls back to a vertical position. Curtains were hung to separate the church to provide for a Sunday School. This building served the congregation for many years.
From 1885 to the 1930’s, the United States underwent many changes and problems including World War I and the Great Depression. Men went off to war or elsewhere to find jobs. People lost their homes and savings overnight.
From 1929 to 1936, there was no pastor or connection to the Conference. Three women mobilized to keep the church doors opened. They were May DeKunder, Bertha Coker Jones, and Clara Greene Gordon. Rarely was there a sermon but Sunday School was always held. Clara led the opening and closing song service, Bertha played the piano, and May performed as Sunday School Superintendent.Coker Community was divided on the future of the church. Some advocated closing the doors, others joining the Full Gospel Group, and still others wanted to return to the Methodist Conference. Arthur Rector came to the aid of his beloved church and enlisted Rev. Al H. Bankert, to preach to the Coker congregation.
Under the leadership of Rev. Bankert the church began to recover. Though the pastorates were of short duration and the program of the church was limited, the church was a powerful force for good. It was established with the conviction that no society could be a good society without being God-oriented and that Christ must be the central integrating force in personal life as well as in community life. The church building was the outward symbol of the preeminence of God in human life. The church made that faith real in terms of fellowship and aspiration toward the divine.
The little framed church with all its problems through the years fulfilled the dreams of the Coker family in establishing a place of worship on Salado Creek.
The wooden framed church was replaced by a rock church in 1939 which had been a vision of Rev. Bankert who started a fund for this purpose and,,, as you will read in the next article of Cokerpast, was fulfilled.