Sept. 23, 2006
By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
One hundred years ago, the Czech community in Seaton worshiped in a schoolhouse on a muddy road.
Today, Seaton Brethren Church is a Protestant place of worship for any ethnicity with its facility modernized and the road paved. It's on State Highway 53, headed east out of Temple.
The congregation and several guests from the Temple community celebrated Seaton Church's 100th anniversary last weekend with a service, the dedication of a historical marker, a homecooked meal and a concert last Saturday, Sept. 15. Brighter Vision is the vocal group that performed Saturday evening; its members are the Rev. Joe Emerson, his wife Christi and Tammy Pechal.
'Our church as a whole has a wonderful history,' said the Rev. Emerson, pastor at Seaton Brethren Church. 'But it has an even brighter future in life and ministry, for God will do great things.'
Representatives of the Bell County Historical Commission and members of the church's 100th anniversary committee agree the church's history is rich. They said that's why they wanted a Texas Historical Marker to recognize it as a state landmark.
The processes of application and verification of authenticity took 18 months to complete. The marker was unveiled during a dedication ceremony.
Ron Gates of the Bell County Historical Commission presided over the dedication. His brief speech relayed the importance of local tradition and history.
'It's so special for Seaton Church to receive state recognition during its 100th year,' Gates said in an interview after the ceremony. 'I was quite glad to be part of the program.'
Gates attended the unveiling in place of David Evans, chairman of the Bell County marker commission, who was unable to attend. Evans, along with Dolores Skrabanek, chairperson of Seaton Church's 100th anniversary committee, spearheaded the effort to erect the marker.
'These markers document the early history of Texas,' Evans said. 'They will be there for people another hundred years from now. Our kid's kids will see the marked historical places and continue to appreciate their importance.'
Tourism also profits from the Texas Historical Markers.
'They draw travelers,' Evans said. 'Everybody knows what they look like and what it means.'
The marker at Seaton Church describes the arrival of Moravian Czech immigrants in Seaton and surrounding areas in Central Texas during the mid-19th century.
The majority of these settlers were descendants of the Czech religious movement known as Jednota Bratrska, or Unity of the Brethren. The movement was based on the teachings of Jan Hus, a philosopher who lived from 1369 to 1415. His ideas forecasted a similar religious upheaval known as the Protestant movement led by Martin Luther in the mid-1500s.
By 1902, the Czech immigrants had formed a strong community in Seaton, having established a school, general store and post office. In 1906, Seaton residents formed the Seaton Czech Moravian Brethren Church. Services were conducted in the Czech language until the early 1960s when church leaders began holding worship in English as well.
The early Seaton church held Sunday services in private homes and in the schoolhouse until 1907 when the first sanctuary was built. The original church stood on the land at State Highway 53 where the Seaton National Cemetery now is. Due to a growing attendance rate, the church moved to its new location at 12561 State Highway 53 in 1925.
Clarence and LaVerne Pechal of Temple, two members of the church's 100th anniversary committee, said they were quite proud of the Seaton Church and its newly-erected marker. After the anniversary dinner, the couple stood outside, photographing themselves beside the plaque.
'This (the marker) is for the community that founded the church,' said the Pechals' daughter, Linda Machicek of Temple, who attended Seaton Brethren Church throughout her childhood but converted to Catholicism at marriage. 'It reflects a really strong foundation, ethnically and community-wise.'
The Pechals say they know no other church. Church, to them, is the Seaton Church, and it's where Mr. and Mrs. Pechal go every Sunday.
'I've been a member all my life,' Mrs. Pechal said. She was born in 1936. Mrs. Pechal was confirmed and was married to her husband at Seaton Brethren Church by the same minister, the Rev. F.J. Kostohryz. She also went to Sunday school there in her youth.
But the Pechal family is just one family of families at Seaton Brethren Church.
Antone Machalek of Temple, 88, is one of the church's oldest living members and the head of a family that can fill one of the church's classroom to capacity. He and his wife Martha have two sons, one daughter, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren plus cousins, in-laws and lifelong friends.
Machalek, a former Sunday school teacher and a former member of the Board of Elders at Seaton Church, was baptized in 1918 by the church's first pastor, the Rev. Antonin Motycka, and was married to his wife in 1939 by the second pastor, the Rev. Kostohryz.
Over the years, a slew of Machalek babies were baptized at the Seaton Church, several of whom also married there.
The Rev. Simcik, 72, the oldest living former pastor of Seaton Brethren Church, said with the new generations and each new day, the Seaton Church still grows.
Simcik emphasized the idea of growth during 'Ministry Through the Word,' the sermon he delivered last Saturday at the 100th anniversary celebration.
'Even though things have changed in a hundred years, the church still has its memories and 'the memory of the righteous is blessed' like it says in Proverbs Chapter 10,' Simcik said, recalling the highlights of his presentation. 'Remember, we are assured that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.'
An important task for Seaton Brethren Church, now, is 'not to concentrate on problems,' Simcik said.
'Instead, we should focus on success,' Simcik said. 'Do this by looking for today's opportunity to serve - in the church and outside the church.'
Having attended Seaton Brethren Church as a congregation member since his teenage years, Simcik is well aware of the growth and positive influence that has already come.
'I am so, so glad that the church is alive for Christ, serving and preaching,' Simcik said. 'I'm glad to see a lot of changes, from a little church on a mud road to what it is today.'