BROWNSVILLE — Getting ready for the 170th anniversary of the First Presbyterian Church that will be celebrated on Feb. 23, members recently shared their fondest memories of all the years they’ve been part of the church, including marriages, baptisms, Sunday school, and many more.
June Dittman, longest member of the church, will turn 90 years old this summer and said she remembers trips to Mexico to help other Presbyterian churches there, getting married and growing up being involved in the church with her parents.
“My parents were married by the minister of this church in 1927 right after it was dedicated,” she said. “And my dad was a member of the old church, too.”
Dittman was baptized at that church and eventually she got married there. She is the mother-in-law of the pastor of the church Sheri Dittman and one of the first female elders.
“Everything that has been important in my life happened here,” she said.
The early history of the First Presbyterian Church of Brownsville commenced with the Rev. Daniel Baker. He arrived on a vessel sailing from Galveston to Clarksville near the mouth of the Rio Grande. He arrived in Brownsville in a “chariot” with a drunken driver sometime in December of 1849, the historic marker application for the church reads.
“We are the first protestant church in Brownsville,” Sheri Dittman, pastor of the church, said. “Because there were Catholic missionaries coming but Daniel Baker was protestant so he started the first protestant churches along the Rio Grande.”
On Feb. 23, 1850, the first protestant church on the Rio Grande was organized, the First Presbyterian Church of Brownsville; there were 19 members and one elder, the application reads. Daniel Baker was closely followed by another missionary, Hiram Chamberlain, who became “the real father of the First Presbyterian Church in Brownsville.”
When the Chamberlain family arrived in Brownsville, they could not find a house so they set up a residence on the tub “Whiteville,” a river boat. Chamberlain held his first preaching services on Wednesdays and Sundays on the vessel, the application reads.
“Rev. Chamberlain must have battled tremendous odds in first gaining converts. The population of Brownsville at the time was composed of adventurers who had come from all parts of the world and they considered themselves free from any religious restraints,” it reads “But his great faith and unceasing labor gained him a substantial number of converts for the church.”
Elizabeth Medrano, who is part of the anniversary committee, said the church is full of history and it is really interesting to her when she finds documents that contain more history.
“One of the things now, reflecting back and after reading all this, I was just sharing with Sheri that this whole experience that I’m experiencing now with this committee and all that we’re doing, it has just enlightened me and touched my heart so much that I feel the diligence and the perseverance that these people had all these many generations prior to us,” Medrano said. “That has really touched my heart.”