An Anchor in Plano’s Historic Douglass Community
On November 10, 2019, the Rev. Isiah Joshua, Jr. crossed the street to ring the church’s historic bell, a relic from the earliest days of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church.
“Back then, they would ‘tone the bell’ when someone in the community passed away,” Rev. Joshua said. “But this time it was for a joyous occasion.”
That occasion: the 135th anniversary of the historic congregation, founded in 1884 by residents of Plano’s historically black Douglass Community. Some two thousand people turned up that Sunday in November to celebrate and worship.
Details on the church’s origins are hard to track down, but according to the historic marker near the bell, the congregation was organized as the Mt. Zion Colored Baptist Church, led by the Rev. Z.T. Stuart. Charter members were Ammon Drake, Lula Drake, Minnie Drake Stuart and Kanzetta Bowen. Several direct descendants of those founders are active members today.
The congregation has worshipped in four buildings over the years, all built on land originally donated by one of Plano’s Anglo pioneers, Joseph Klepper. The first sanctuary, a small structure, was lit by coal oil lamps and heated with a woodburning stove. Unfortunately, much of the church’s history was lost after the one of the earlier buildings burned down.
The church’s membership rolls have included prominent citizens of the Douglass community, including L.A. Davis, who arrived here in 1910 to work as a sharecropper. Despite harsh Jim Crow laws, he managed to become wealthy through his investments in stocks and real estate and purchased land to establish the L.A. Davis Cemetery in 1945, reserved for African American residents from the Douglass Community.
Embracing the Community
Picture the four corners of the Douglass Community, and Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church stands at the corner facing downtown. The cross atop the building presides like a ship’s figurehead, representing the Douglass community while extending arms of welcome to all. That’s by design, says Rev. Joshua.
“We prayed that this church would become a beacon of light on this corner,” he said. “We wanted people to drive by this church and to see a hub of the Douglass community as well as the entire city of Plano.”
Today, that hub is busy every day of the week, with Bible studies, choir rehearsals, a mentoring program, a legal aid clinic, a food pantry, Sunday and midweek worship, youth group and children’s ministry. Often Shiloh serves as host to funerals or weddings, including those of members of other nearby churches that don’t have enough space to accommodate large gatherings. At Christmas, members run an Angel Tree program for needy children in Collin County and also purchase gifts for children of incarcerated parents. Worshippers come from Plano and adjacent cities, and as far as Decatur, Fort Worth, Arlington and Tyler.
“We have members who drive an hour and a half to get here every Sunday, because they feel they receive so much,” Rev. Joshua said.
He added that the church enjoys a good relationship with the Plano Police Department, which is headquartered right across the street. “I have a little saying,” he said. “They keep you safe, and we keep you saved.”
The church has served as an anchor as well as a place of safety and respite over the years.
“When blacks weren’t allowed to go elsewhere, the church was the one place where they could come and be expressive,” he said. “Anytime something went awry, the church is where they came together and prayed and trusted God. The power of this local gathering of people is so important. We gain so much strength from each other.”
The church also celebrated another milestone in November: the 25th anniversary of the leadership of Rev. Joshua and his wife, First Lady Linda Joshua. When he first joined, the church had only 125 members; now it welcomes up to fifteen hundred on Sundays. Rev. Joshua credits the church’s motto – “Where Community Becomes Family” – and leaders’ and members’ efforts to create a place where people from all backgrounds feel welcome.
“I’m about everybody being family and everybody being important,” he said.Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church >