WHO WE ARE
West Isle Presbyterian Church began as a mission of the Brazos Presbytery and Galveston’s First Presbyterian Church to bring the Word of God to the West End. In 1964 the city limits of Galveston ended at 103rd Street; west of the city there was a community of permanent residents, many of whom, born and raised right there, earned their living fishing, ranching or farming. Some community development had begun, such as Jamaica Beach and Sea Isle, but Galveston Island State Park did not exist.
John Hamilton, a native of Galveston and a member of First Presbyterian Church of Galveston and his wife, Marie, lived on the West End on Stewart Road near 12 Mile Road. He saw a need for a local church to serve the long-time residents and, with the development on the West End, he thought sufficient means could be found to fund and sustain such a mission since there was no church west of the city limits.
The Reverend Tom Currie, Executive Presbyter of the Brazos Presbytery, and a representative of the Committee for Church Extension, attended a church supper at First Presbyterian Church of Galveston one evening in 1963. He addressed the congregation on the extension of the church. This gave John Hamilton an excellent opportunity to articulate his vision for the West End in an especially effective forum. Currie then challenged the members of First Presbyterian to provide a Christian ministry to the newly developing West End of the island.
The response to this challenge was a summer mission, staffed by theology student Emory Glover, under the direction of First Presbyterian Church, Galveston. Initially, the worship services were interdenominational, and they met in three locations: Sea Isle, Jamaica Beach, and near the Crash Boat Basin. First Presbyterian Church of Houston donated chairs, tables, hymnals, and the Communion Table still in use. For many years following, theology students continued to serve the church.
Some of the Sea Isle services were held under a cabana on the beach, the singing accompanied by a small field pump organ of World War II vintage. Occasionally, beachgoers, hearing the music and the preacher’s ringing voice, joined the small congregation. When the weather turned too cool to meet outdoors, congregants offered the use of a building on their property and people filled it every Sunday.
Encouraged by the success of this first summer mission, the Hamiltons offered the gift of a plot of land 75’ by 100’ fronting Stewart Road, for the purpose of building a permanent place of worship. The only condition on the offer was that it be accepted within two years. The gift was accompanied by the first 2x4 needed for construction.
Through grants, loans, and fundraising they raised the money to build West Isle Presbyterian Chapel, an octagonal building sitting on raised ground near the intersection of Stewart and Twelve Mile Roads. The dedication of the Chapel took place Saturday, July 31, 1965, at a groundbreaking ceremony with more than 200 present. Later, others raised funds to build a concrete ramp, instead of stairs, up to the entry.
Occasionally, construction help came from unexpected sources. When they needed to raise the large support beams for the church and did not have the proper equipment to do so, the workers stopped a man driving a crane along Stewart Road and asked him for help. He called his boss, who came to the site and, after talking to the workers, sent out the necessary equipment and workers to help.
The first meeting in the Chapel occurred September 5, 1965, at a special service conducted by the First Presbyterian Church Session, and the first members’ names were added to the WIPC roll.
The Presbytery purchased an adjoining lot of land, west of the chapel, along with a house on the property. The house, built originally on other land and then transported to the lot, had been badly damaged during Hurricane Carla in 1961. They moved it to the back of the chapel, repaired it, and made it the Sunday School building.
Over the next several years, theology students continued to minister to the West Isle community in the summer months and the various Stated Supply Pastors filled the pulpit. Sam Lanham, a lawyer studying for the ministry, came in 1966 as the summer assistant. After graduating from seminary he became the industrial chaplain for American National Insurance Company and continued to serve West Isle Chapel for the next five years, leaving a significant legacy behind.
The congregation grew sufficiently to consider organizing as a fully-fledged church body. The church duly organized April 12, 1970, with 46 charter members. The following Sunday, the members selected the name, West Isle Presbyterian Church, and formed the first Session: John and Marie Hamilton, Paul and Helen Nash, and Harry and Josephine Taylor. Groups continued to meet in Jamaica Beach and Sea Isle until the summer of 1976.
They erected a blue neon cross on the pinnacle of the church roof in October 1971 and, for almost 20 years, boaters in West Bay and the Gulf reported the thrill of seeing the cross clearly at night. When the light went out, the Coast Guard called in a repairman, as it also served as a great landmark for boaters. In 1990, after a number of unsuccessful attempts to repair the wiring, Session decided to remove the cross because it created a serious fire hazard. A stately Celtic cross, crafted by Les Farmer, now stands on the church roof.
The church grew, experiencing normal fluctuations in finances and attendance, but there was always a sense of a strong, loving Christian fellowship among the congregation.
In the summer of 1974 the church adopted a special Summer Mission project, specifically to support the Brazil Agricultural Missionary program. After the church’s earlier difficulties it felt good to be able to help others. The Summer Mission project became a tradition at West Isle, and continues to this day. The church has supported other projects, including the Salvation Army, the Second Mile (a medical missionary program of the Presbyterian Church), the Seaman’s Center, The Jesse Tree, Wycliffe Bible Translators, and Manna Mission.
The two branches of the Presbyterian Church unified in 1980 and reorganized. West Isle became a member church of the union presbytery, the Presbytery of the New Covenant.
After Sam Lanham’s departure in spring 1971, West Isle continued to be served by a number of Stated Supply Ministers until June 1981, when the members called Asa Hunt. He served as Stated Supply Minister until July 1985, when the church called him as its first full-time minister.
As the church grew, a new problem arose. The sanctuary was crowded and it became obvious that Session must consider solutions. In 1985, Session established a building fund and appointed a building committee which recommended a rearrangement of the sanctuary. Membership growth soon outstripped this modification to the interior of the church, and Session approved a plan in January 1988 calling for extending the sanctuary into the space available between the church and Sunday School building.
Although the construction took three months to complete, worship services continued without a single Sunday missed. On several Sundays the congregation enjoyed worship under open skies, including one Sunday morning when a bird, perched above Asa Hunt as he preached, chirped its own message. On October 8, 1988, they dedicated the new extension.
Rev. Hunt resigned a few months later to take a position with the Presbytery, and Session voted to search again for a full-time pastor rather than a Stated Supply Minister. During the process of finding a new full-time pastor, a number of interim pastors served, each contributing to the church in a unique way. In January 1993, West Isle called Joe Hause, who, with his wife, June, served for the next 17 years. They worked to further the strong sense of a close church family among the members and visitors.
Perhaps the most difficult challenge during this time occurred in 2008 when Hurricane Ike struck the island. The church had some roof damage from Hurricane Alicia in 1983, but Ike’s damage was much more serious, flooding the building and necessitating massive restoration. For the next several weeks, Joe Hause conducted services in a poolside cabana in League City. During the week he, Frank Kay, and other church members, worked on the church restoration, contracting out what they could not do themselves. The first Sunday in December, less than three months after the storm, Joe welcomed worshipers once again to the church. The Hauses retired to Mississippi in 2010.
Dr. Bob Bullock answered the call to West Isle in June, 2010, when he and his wife, Beth, arrived to begin serving the church. Dr. Bob’s enthusiasm and ideas offer, once again, renewed spiritual life to the church that began as a summer mission project to the West End.
In 2013, West Isle left the PCUSA http://www.layman.org/island-church-leaves-pcusa/ and joined the ECO http://www.fellowship-pres.org/eco/ . The church family looks forward to this new chapter in its history.