This May, a new permanent exhibition will be installed in the chapel at the Taylor County History Center in Buffalo Gap. It will detail the remarkable life and work of its founder, a woman named Rev. Mary Lee Cagle.
Cagle organized and formed this congregation under the denomination of the Holiness New Testament Church of Christ in 1898. The chapel was built in 1902 to accommodate the growing number of parishioners that attended Cagle’s services. Its original location was at the corner of Mulberry and Oak streets in Buffalo Gap, a block away from the present-day Stewart’s Grocery. Many of the original architectural features of this chapel remain intact, including the hardwood floors, pews and pulpit that were constructed by members of the original congregation.
Cagle was an influential member of a group of female preachers that began traveling and organizing evangelical meetings throughout the South in the 1890s. Her story is not widely known beyond religious scholars, but the impact of her work was significant.
She oversaw a growing network of congregations and became a co-founder of the Nazarene faith after the Holiness New Testament Church of Christ merged with the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene in 1908. This new denomination eventually became the modern Church of the Nazarene, which is an evangelical Christian denomination whose mission is “to make Christlike disciples in all nations.”
Born in rural Alabama in 1864, Cagle felt called from a young age to pursue ministry. Her family did not support her aspirations, but she persisted and continued on despite
encountering much resistance from the many people who did not believe women should preach. With all of the opposition she faced in her birthplace of Alabama, she found her element in West Texas, where the culture was a bit more accepting towards unconventional women. Cagle established a permanent home in Buffalo Gap in 1899.
Although Cagle’s home was in Buffalo Gap, she and her second husband, Henry, traveled extensively throughout the United States to preach and were away from home more often than not. She was able to form at least 28 congregations on record and continued to travel despite her declining health. She preached her last sermon on her 89th birthday. Cagle passed away a short time after and is buried in the Buffalo Gap Cemetery.
Kelci Campbell, a student at Abilene Christian University and intern at the Taylor County History Center, assisted in creating this exhibition.
“I am a history major with a minor in Bible, so I particularly love religious and church history,” Campbell said. “Getting a chance to assist in telling Rev. Mary Lee Cagle’s story and making it accessible to people is an honor and a privilege to me. She was truly a ‘pioneer’ in her field, and my hope with this new exhibition is that we are able to properly honor her legacy and bring her unique story to light.”
The Life and Work of Rev. Mary Lee Cagle will open in the chapel on Saturday, May 29. This exhibition has been made possible with support from the Community Foundation of Abilene and Taylor County History Center members.
Contributed By The Taylor County History Center