by KIM HILSENBECK
Sitting in the middle of a large plot of land just on the outskirts of downtown Buda is a white building. Long wisps of grasses and weeds surround the structure.
It is the future home of the Antioch Church, a non-denominational place of worship.
But when that will happen remains unknown. Inside, the work remains unfinished – a hollow shell waiting to receive a new breath of life.
As we entered the front doors of the structure on Old Black Colony Road, Minnie (Harper) Nelson and Winnie (Harper) Moyer, 75-year-old twin sisters who have lived in the Antioch Colony most of their lives and who are active in the congregation, explained the plight of the church and its historical significance in the Buda community.
The church is part of the Antioch Colony, also known as the Old Black Colony. Joseph F. Rowley sold some of his land to the Freedmen after the Civil War to build a church and cemetery, as well as homes for their families.
“People have come and wanted to help us, but they want to take over, want to change the name. This is history,” said Nelson, who serves as the church’s board president and bookkeeper.
Antioch Church is part of a long history in Buda and the sisters say it has to remain as is.
The original Antioch Church was near the cemetery, about a half-mile up the road from its new location, back in the woods. The last one was around the front, near the cemetery. Those buildings are no longer standing.
With the interior incomplete on the new location, lacking proper electricity, water and sewage hook-ups, as well as walls, pews and bathrooms, the church quietly awaits its new tenants.
The biggest challenge, Nelson said, is “funds and finding someone to do the work.”
The congregation of about 60 people has scattered to other churches until they have the funds to finish the job.
For a while, they were meeting at Nelson’s home.
Through a combination of donations and fundraisers, the church had a good size nest egg to help with the construction. The land was donated and is tax exempt.
But Nelson said the building cannot be used for anything, due to city of Buda rules; church members are not allowed to hold meetings or services inside until they have the proper electricity and restrooms and water. They can’t even meet on the property without renting a portable bathroom.
“But we’re paying $304 a month for insurance,” Nelson said.
The sisters said the church wasn’t always in this bleak situation, but they’ve had a string of pastors and incidents that have prevented them from completing the work.
“When one of our pastors died, we had $30,000 in the bank. We got this preacher out of Austin, Rev. Arthur Sneed. He came and he was going to raise money and we was going to get the church. He ended up leaving and taking $15,000 with him,” Moyer said.
According to the sisters, Sneed, who worked at the church for about two years, held an election to replace Nelson, who was the church secretary at the time, with his relative.
“They were around for about a week after the election,” Moyer said.
Asked whether she thinks Sneed and his relative stole the money, Moyer replied, “We didn’t give him the money.”
The pastor who died in 2008 was Rev. Johnny Byrd.
According to Nelson, a lot of donations came in under Byrd’s oversight. The new church was constructed in 2009.
They later found out that Byrd wasn’t paying the workers who put up the building.
For a while prior to that, they had church at the Buda senior citizens center with Pastor Gregory Stick.
“He worked hard to resurrect this place and the community,” Moyer said. “But he had bad heart disease and he passed away in about 2001.”
It seems the church has not had much luck with its recent pastors.
Moyer gave a laugh.
“The Bible says trust no man,” she said.
Looking forward, Nelson said she would like to see if they can raise the funds to complete the church and get the congregation back together.
“We’re looking at $200,000 to complete all of this,” Minnie said, waving at the interior of the church.
As a group, the congregation could do some of the work, such as the insulation, but the electrical, plumbing and other work has to be done by licensed contractors. And they would need to work under General Contractor Floyd Chambers.
The sisters have had little luck with securing potential donors.
Pastor David Sweet of Hays Hills Baptist Church is supposed to help with a donation, but Moyer said she’s not sure what his congregation will be able to donate.
“We couldn’t get no loan because of our age,” Nelson said, explaining why they haven’t turned to a bank.
They now have a young interim pastor who has never been a pastor before. “He wants to be the minister,” but Moyer said, “He needs to learn something about the non-denomination.”
“He tried to help and he got quite a few little donations…$20, $100, then $1,000 from the church he goes to,” Nelson said.
She and others give their tithe to pay for bills such as electricity.
The church, once complete, will have a sanctuary for 150 people, an altar, a baptismal pool, a choir room, a pastor’s study, classrooms, a kitchen and fellowship area, three bathrooms and a pantry.
All of the windows were donated by congregation members. They also received donations of other things, such as all the doors, a toilet and sinks for the kitchen.
The concrete floor, heavy with dust, is now showing cracks. Water runs off the hill on the western edge of the property; the sisters said they need to create a diversion for that water because it’s caused damage to the foundation.
“The general contractor said it would take about two months to complete all the work,” Nelson said.
The parking lot still has to be paved.
Moyer said, “John Thames told me he would do the parking lot, but that was two years ago.”
The sisters said the church has done several fundraisers in the past to earn money for the work.
“We raised money. Every year at Budafest I sell baked goods. We had a barbeque out there in the front [of the church property] and then we had a fish fry out there in the front,” said Moyer.
The sisters are planning at least one upcoming fundraiser – Budafest, the first week in December.
“We’re trying to get the younger members of the congregation to lead fundraisers,” Moyer said.
“The harvest is plenty but the labor is few,” Nelson said, paraphrasing a Bible passage from Matthew 9:37.
To give a tax-deductible donation to help complete the Antioch Church, contact Minnie Nelson at (512) 295-7053.