Fletcher Taylor likes to joke that he and longtime friend Janice Clark were born on the front row of the Cochran Chapel United Methodist Church .


They haven’t stopped attending since.


“We were baptized together and all that, and we have been friends for 87 years,” Clark says.


Today, Taylor and Clark, both 87, are two of about 300 members of what is not only the oldest deeded Methodist church in Dallas County , but also one of the oldest remaining churches in the area.


“I remember the church when it was a little white chapel,” Clark says. “It was just wooden, and our air conditioning was fans from a (funeral home). There was a center aisle, and wooden pews on each side.”


The church, at Midway and

Northwest Highway

, dates back to 1844 (it was deeded in 1856). It has grown quite a bit since founders William and Nancy Jane Cochran moved to its current site, where they built a home, the first chapel, and set aside some land for a cemetery.


All three still exist. The Cochran home received a historic marker in 1994, and the cemetery is the final resting place for many parishioners and their families.


Among those buried there are Taylor ’s father, also named Fletcher Taylor, and his grandfather, William B. Taylor. It was the latter who brought the family west from Virginia after the Civil War, during which he served as a courier for numerous Confederate generals, including Robert E. Lee.


Taylor ’s father served for years as the superintendent of the church’s Sunday school.


During the decades Taylor and Clark have been parishioners, Cochran Chapel has added the sanctuary, built in the 1920s, and the current chapel, which was constructed in the ’60s.


“Back in the olden days, we were several miles out of town, and this was the only place (to come),” Taylor says.


“We’ve always been a small church, and most of the time we had ministers who were students at SMU, because we didn’t have any money for them. When the city grew out this way, we grew, and we got up to about 1,500, I think, or something similar to that.”


That’s quite a leap from the church’s humble beginnings in 1844, when the Cochrans began allowing Methodist circuit riders to conduct meetings at their cabin in Peters’ Colony, which included what is now Farmers Branch . There is debate as to whether Cochran Chapel is the oldest church in Dallas County, says Cochran Chapel’s Rev. Joseph Stabile.


“It started out as family. We came here in 1917,” Clark says. “My dad called it ‘cousins’ chapel,’ because we were the only family in here that wasn’t related to every other family.”


While Dallas’ expansion initially increased the size of the congregation, it also brought with it other Methodist churches, such as

Lovers Lane

, Walnut Hill and University Park , and those eventually siphoned off much of Cochran Chapel’s membership.


Yet the church has survived and thrived, Stabile says, for many reasons, one of which is that its history keeps people coming back. Also, the church has opened its doors to all, he says.


“It’s family-oriented, but it has opened itself to be a multi-cultural church,” he says. “We have the initial Anglo families who live here, but we have a large Filipino community that worships here. We have some Hispanics who are part of our congregation, some African-Americans.”


However, Stabile says Cochran Chapel’s biggest asset is that it’s blessed.


“I really believe that this is holy ground,” he says, “and I believe there is a uniqueness to the presence of God, the power of his spirit that is on this property, because of the desire of the Cochran family (more than 100) years ago to see that there was a church, and there was a chapel in a place there wasn’t one.”


Cochran Chapel still has parishioners from areas such as Mesquite, Richardson, Duncanville and Irving , Stabile says, adding that he would like to see Cochran Chapel extend its reach into more local communities, such as Bluffview.


“I think it has a great future,” he says. “I believe we offer, in this day and age, something in this part of the city that people can’t get, which is the smaller, family-oriented sort of country feel to a church that you can’t get at a (big church), where you can find that sense of belonging in the Sunday school class or in that smaller group you might belong to.


“I think the people here find their sense of belonging in the church itself,” Stabile says, “rather than in any one particular group, because of the size of the church.


“I think that in the years to come, we have a real opportunity to offer an alternative in this northwest part of the city.”


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