In the 1840s, a handful of settlers were gathered outdoors to talk about forming a church when they heard a mourning dove cooing in a nearby tree.
As the meeting progressed, the cooing continued.
They said the dove sounded lonesome and it was the perfect name for a new congregation.
“They said they should build a church there and call it Lonesome Dove Baptist Church,” said Debi Meek, great-great-great-granddaughter of a circuit-riding preacher, the Rev. David Myers, whose story about the dove was passed down through generations.
Their vision became a reality.
That vision was celebrated Feb. 21 when about 200 people gathered for the 170th anniversary of the church, nicknamed the Dove Church, which is in Southlake and borders Grapevine.
Among the speakers at the anniversary celebration was Grapevine Mayor William D. Tate, whose great-grandmother, Martha Ellen Tate, attended the church.
“She went there for several years before they moved to Flower Mound,” Tate said in an interview with the Star-Telegram.
Tate, who attends another church, said he was honored to speak because of the link to his family.
“I’m proud to be an American, I’m proud to be a Texan and I’m proud to be here as part of your celebration,” Tate said.
He spoke of the church’s history, which began with about a dozen families who had been meeting outdoors and in private homes for worship services.
“These [settlers] came here for a new beginning, a new start and for their children,” the mayor said. “These people were tough. They were courageous. The only thing they feared was God. They were dependent on God’s graces. They wouldn’t come every Sunday. They came when they could.”
He spoke of Lonesome Dove’s importance in Tarrant County’s formative years, saying, “This church has been part of the fabric of Tarrant County. This land here is rich in American history.”
‘A Bible, a shotgun and some food’
According to former pastor Coy Quesenbury, 80, the story begins in 1844 when a large group left Platt County, Mo., to make a new life in the Republic of Texas. This group of pioneers settled in the “Crosstimbers” area, now the Grapevine-Southlake vicinity.
The pioneers met in various homes for worship. Others were coming to settle in the area, many from Missouri. Soon there were enough for the founding of a church. On the third Saturday of February 1846, they met at the log cabin home of Charles Throop.
There they formed Lonesome Dove Baptist Church.
Joshua Hodges was chosen as the first pastor and Myers filled the pulpit on occasion.
“When he [Myers] rode off to preach, he had a Bible, shotgun and some food,” Meek said of her kin. “When he met the Indians, they would point to the sky as if to say ‘man of God’ and let him pass without harm.”
According to church history, at the time of its founding there were no other churches within many miles, and no other evangelical church between this area and the Pacific Ocean. Many walked for miles, and brought guns because of the dangers of the frontier.
A laid-back congregation
Today, the congregation numbers about 100 members. They have a beautiful sanctuary built in the 1970s and remodeled a few years ago.
“Every time I tell people the name of our church, they ask if it was named for the Lonesome Dove book,” said church administrative assistant Cherie Johnson, referring to famed novelist Larry McMurtry’s work.
Pastor Jason Stover said it is a laid-back congregation. The normal attire for services is jeans, T-shirts and tennis shoes.
“When you visit, just come as you are,” the pastor said. “Upon visiting, you can expect a very graceful and inviting atmosphere. Worship here is contemporary. Worship is followed by a sermon.”
Stover, who became pastor in January from a list of 130 applicants, said he is proud to be connected to a church with so much history.
“Today, God is using Lonesome Dove to change many lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but its story began 170 years ago,” he said.
Marty Sabota, 817-390-7367