At AFC, we have the honor of transporting many members of church groups around Texas. So this week we’ll take a look at five historic places of worship in Houston. Our city has so many spiritual places, it was difficult to pick just five.
Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral was founded in 1839 as Houston’s first religious congregation. It still occupies its original building. Colonel William Fairfax Gray, an early Houston citizen, led the effort to build Houston’s first church. It served as a multipurpose place of spirituality for early Houstonians, hosting weddings for the Jewish community, funerals for Catholics and catechism for kids. The Right Reverend Alexander Gregg, Texas’ first bishop, did not believe in segregated churches, so blacks and whites worshiped together, which was progressive for those days
People interested in religious history can tour the church. Group tours are available by appointment.
Antioch Baptist Church
Former slaves organized Antioch Baptist Church in 1866. The congregation shared space in two white Baptist churches until 1875, when African American contractor Richard Allen designed a red brick church. This new church became the first in Houston owned by African Americans.
The church provided many services to former slaves. In addition to feeding their souls, church leaders assisted their congregants with starting businesses, buying property and developing educational opportunities. The church was also a major social center.
During the 20th century, Antioch worked hard on the civil rights front. The city has grown up around Antioch – skyscrapers now surround the church. But it hasn’t forgotten its mission of uplift. Antioch assists the homeless and hungry in the neighborhood.
Congregation Beth Israel is Texas’ oldest Jewish congregation. Jewish settlers arrived in southern Texas in the early 1800s. They established the first Jewish cemetery in 1844, and Congregation Beth Israel in 1854. Visitors interested in Texas Jewish history can browse a timeline with old photos on Beth Israel’s history walls and admire artifacts like a mezuzah that voyaged to the moon. Beth Israel has a library, meditation garden, and coffee bar.
Saint John Church
Swiss and German immigrant farmers built the Gothic Revival style Saint John Church in 1891. Congregation members constructed the cypress plank pews by hand. The altar – complete with black, white and gold pulpit – is oriented so that the sun rises over it. Visitors will notice the original tinted glass wall lights and a 1910 organ.
Services were conducted in German here until at least the 1930s. You’ll still see German writing on the wall that translates to, “Blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it.” Saint John is no longer consecrated but is used for events, weddings and an annual Christmas service.
Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Hindu Temple
As Houston’s Indian-American population has topped 150,000 in the last few years, the Hindu community has built more temples. Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Hindu Temple, opened in 2004, is an impressive example of temple architecture. The temple includes more than 33,000 pieces of stone that were hand-carved in India and assembled in Texas. It was built by devotees of Swaminarayan, an ascetic and yogi who lived from 1781-1830.
The mandir, or place of worship, welcomes the public to learn more about Hinduism through its “Understanding Hinduism” exhibition. Visitors learn about India’s contributions to math and science, as well as important Indian religious figures. Audio tours and group tours are available. A souvenir shop sells books, herbal health products, CDs and DVDs.
We Get You There
We hope we’ve whetted your appetite for exploring Houston’s many fascinating places of worship. If you need transportation for your church group, or are attending an event at one of Houston’s religious sites, we at AFC would love to get you there safely and stylishly. Contact us if we can be of service.