By Russell Slaton
The News Correspondent
TRINIDAD–A flap over the future of the First Baptist Church of Trinidad found itself before the city council during the March 17 monthly meeting. Current church membership has dwindled to a handful, and services have not been held since November.
Tensions started during the public comments portion of the meeting, when Hugh Roberts and his wife, Charlotte, who live in Log Cabin, asked about city zoning regulations that might stand in the way of the couple converting the church to a faith-based, state-licensed children’s home under private control.
The idea of a Trinidad children’s home drew the ire of Kenneth Carter, who formerly served as Trinidad police chief and a Henderson County deputy. Carter said his experience with a children’s home came from the former St. Paul Industrial School, located in Caney City. Carter said such children’s homes “always mean trouble” and that he “worked day and night” dealing with those who lived there. “If it’s such a good place,” Carter said, “why don’t you put it in your back yard, and not mine?”
Other options discussed included conversion to a Hispanic outreach mission or to turn over leadership to another group that would continue church services. Joe D. Cooper of Key Ranch Estates, who said he has more than 40 years’ experience in the ministry, offered to keep the church going. Cooper also stated that he believed church bylaws and the deed he said was gifted in 1991 state that the property must remain a church.
Online records of the Henderson County Appraisal District for 2014 show a one-acre parcel of land with a 10,000 square-foot structure with a market value of $800,000, and an adjacent half-acre lot valued at nearly $4,000. Both properties are owned completely by First Baptist Church-Trinidad, according to the 2014 records.
Former FBC-Trinidad pastor Jim Lamb said there were four members of the church when he stepped down from the pulpit and handed control to Wayne Pitchford of Log Cabin. Lamb said the handoff was a handshake deal to turn the building into a Hispanic outreach mission. Since then, water and electric service has been discontinued, and rumors swirl that the building has had its locks changed. Those opposing the children’s home also stated that plans include tearing down the church sanctuary, which Pitchford denied.
Pitchford said there are now three members of the church, which is located at 302 Lawrence Street. While services haven’t been held since late last year, church members continue to hold monthly business meetings, Pitchford said. It was during those meetings that church members agreed that a children’s home would be a better option than the outreach mission.
Also in question is control of the church’s bank account. Lamb said the original deal called for more than $10,000 remaining in church coffers to be transferred to a Seven Points congregation. Pitchford said the account remains in First Baptist Church-Trinidad’s name at a Malakoff bank in that same amount.
Lamb and others fear that if a children’s home is established, the state of Texas will eventually end up in control of the church through the state Child Protective Services (CPS). Lamb and Cooper stated they opposed the intermingling of church and state.
Pitchford said he, too, opposes government control of the property, and that any children’s home would be governed by a nonprofit board of directors. Pitchford added that he has been threatened with two lawsuits since the controversy erupted.
Council member Roy Stanfield voiced support of the children’s home, pointing out it would increase enrollment in Trinidad schools. Mayor Larry Don Estes said while he had no vote on the issue, the controversy “wasn’t a (City of) Trinidad matter, but a lawyer matter.” The Trinidad City Council took no action on the First Baptist Church issue.
Also during March 17’s meeting, Utility Service Group offered the city a deal to rehabilitate and maintain the city’s two ground water storage tanks. Each of the first three years of the contract would cost the city about $57,000, which would pay for repairs. After the initial three-year contract, the agreement would revert to an annual one, costing Trinidad about $15,000 per year. The city’s elevated water storage tank was not factored into those figures, but could be if the city desired to do so, Almond said. Council members took no action on the matter.
In other business, the Trinidad City Council approved a $65,000 deal with AAA Sanitation to replace two manholes and approximately 600 feet of sewer line on McEntire Road (FM 764); voted to demolish a garage April 24 at 511 McEntire; eliminated parking along Oak and First streets; reduced the speed limit on Oak Street from 25 mph to 20 mph; accepted resignations of Bette Lehmann and Heather Burton from the Trinidad Economic Development Corp. board; and revised the city’s noise ordinance to prohibit trucks from using motor engine brakes within the city limits.
In addition, the Trinidad council voted to table a request by Trinidad ISD Superintendent Corey Jenkins to acquire fencing from the city-owned baseball field behind Dillon’s Park for school use.