As the song service begins to celebrate the 108th anniversary of League City’s Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church, the quartet breaks out into rhythmic blues. There are no hymnals, no PowerPoint lyrics. Everyone here knows the choruses which have been sung for a decade or more in a place which five generations of some families still call their church home.
As a guest leader prays testifying to God’s goodness, the entire congregation adds their sentiments—exactly echoing his words or adding strong ‘amens,’ giving thanks for preserving this place through floods and trials. The waves pour out in rapid crescendos and decrescendos.
Preaching and singing are always interactive here. No one dozes off. The pews are contributing after every line delivered from the stage in a corporate enthusiasm with heartfelt, on-going personal commentaries.
The celebration service continues with intense syncopation as three ladies lead the congregation in an almost seismic session of song for this month-long anniversary event. When the choir begins its weekly special music, half of the congregation is on its feet singing and clapping just as fervently as the praise team. It’s worship as an aerobic activity. Chords from the bass guitar shift from blues to jazz and the pews themselves resonate with the joy of the moment.
In 1911, the church, then known as Mount Carmel Baptist Church, began in a building closer to downtown League City, but in 1941, a storm destroyed that building, leading the congregation to relocate to their current address, 2730 Oklahoma Ave., which includes a newer, paid-for sanctuary and room for expansion.
The church claims to be the original home of the Friends and Family service, a tradition which has become widespread in both Texas and Louisiana. Members trace this special event to one initiated here in 1979.
The Rev. Milton Guillory, Jr. rises to preach with a hand towel. His sermon will burn as many calories as the singers have shed. Later, his deacons will provide him with a pastor-appreciation gift: a new, embroidered preaching towel. In the choir, ladies are busy fanning. If there are sedentary spectators in the church, they aren’t here on this anniversary morning in late October.
“I’ve had some stresses, I’ve had some problems, and I’ve had some pressures, ladies and gentlemen,” Guillory said at the start his sermon. “I’ve been distressed and had some delays. Even when I was distant and distracted, I thanked God that I could go to the Rock.”
As Guillory preaches, additional ministers, the ‘deacons of barbecue’ are finishing hundreds of pounds of brisket, sausage and fixings in the parking lot for the congregation to share after services.
Spiritually, a gospel foundation pictures the Christian church as a whole as being built on a rock, but locally, all church buildings are physically set on a wide salt marsh. Thus, Mount Carmel has been decimated by at least four storms over its century-plus time of service.
Hurricane Harvey was the latest to fill the space here with floodwaters, but recovery is virtually complete now. As in many local churches, the rebuilding work was mostly carried out by congregants and volunteers from other churches.
“All this was totally washed out,” recalled James Walton, one of the deacons here of the sanctuary. “Pastor was able to rally us to flush it out so we’d have a place to worship.”
Church member Andrew Jackson is one of the barbecue aficionados. He drives to Mount Carmel every Sunday with his family from his home in Missouri City, a distance approaching 50 miles if you don’t take the toll road.
“It is a fine brotherhood,” he said. “We have a strong bond of fellowship. The Lord told me to come here and I met the Spirit at the door.”
Next week in Our Faith: What do clergy give thanks for?