Beyond the classroom: Staff preserve history through restoration of downtown church

Dr. Lane Murphy and Dr. Amy Murphy worked with local leaders to restore the Second and Clay Church. The church is a historic landmark of the Black community. Photo Courtsey : Trey Crumpton

By Rory Dulock | Staff Writer

An old church sits on the corner of Second Street and Clay Avenue in downtown Waco. What was formerly known as St. James Methodist Church is now just known as Second and Clay — the restoration project of two married Baylor staff members.

Lane Murphy, director of marketing and communications for the School of Engineering and Computer Science, and Amy Murphy, lecturer in the School of Social Work, bought the church building to try to preserve it as a historic landmark of the Black community. Lane Murphy said he and his wife have been the owners and renovators of Second and Clay for seven years.

“When my wife and I first walked in, we just felt like it could be preserved and that it had a purpose moving forward to not only honor the past of the Black community, but its location really is a nice contrast to all the new things that are happening downtown,” Murphy said. “It would be an opportunity for people who may have never been into a church built by the Black community, that they could have some exposure to it and maybe learn some things. I think really having had this experience has really changed my perspective in a lot of ways.”

Lane Murphy said Second and Clay is one of very few churches still standing downtown that have any architectural or community significance. He said they got it placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is the only church in the county and the only Black history site in the county that is on the list.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the building and the 150th anniversary of the congregation that started it — a group of mostly formerly enslaved people in 1874.

Murphy said they stored the archive from the congregation in the church for a long time, but they recently donated it to the Texas Collection at Baylor. The library will preserve and digitize the records so people can access them from anywhere.

“There’s not many places you can come in a building still and experience a little bit of what life was like 100 years ago in downtown Waco, especially for the Black community,” Murphy said. “I guess those are the main ways [of preserving the church] — through preserving the archive and the building itself so people can experience it in the future.”

Since Second and Clay is located right at the edge of campus, Murphy said it is a great resource for Baylor faculty, staff and students.

“We would love to have other groups and professors who maybe have a subject that ties into something that may have more impact being told [at the church],” Murphy said.I’ve had students say in their reviews, ‘We had a field trip here when I had my English classes, literature classes,’ and coming here and having a lesson in the space was the most impactful thing they had the whole semester from a learning experience.”

The Woodlands sophomore Ashlyn Kennedy was in an American Literary Cultures class that Murphy taught her freshman year. She said the class was a study of famous authors throughout history in America and how a lot of their works translate to prominent themes today, such as racism and feminism.

“The books we were reading about and talking about in class were about racism and things that were happening in history at that time [of the church],” Kennedy said. “He got to talk about a lot of the history that specifically pertains to Waco. It was really cool that we did get that opportunity to take what the themes and topics we were talking about in class and kind of see them firsthand through the history that was in the church and how it also relates locally.”

The Murphys want Second and Clay to be a community space.

“We don’t want it to be ours and nobody ever sees it,” Lane Murphy said.We want everybody to be able to use it, whether they were former members or community members or Baylor folks or whatever, just because it is really an asset that has a lot of potential for all kinds of things, but especially education.”

One challenge throughout the restoration process has been trying to figure out how to draw people to the church without destroying its original charm, Lane Murphy said.

“I think the big transition for us was learning how to preserve what’s here and not just strip it out and do something totally different, but try to think about the things that bring people together,” Murphy said. “A lot of people in Waco care about faith, but our churches are still pretty segregated.”

Lane Murphy said he and his wife hope to draw visitors to Second and Clay by holding events with food and music, as “those are the two foundational elements that will bring life to this place again and bring people in.”

“[People] may be coming for a meal or to hear some live music, but maybe absorb some of the atmosphere and the meaning and maybe want to be curious and want to learn more,” Murphy said.But ultimately — I’m a bit idealistic — but I would like for this to be a place of unity and shared experience across lines that typically divide people.”

Rory Dulock is a freshman from Lindsay, Texas, who is majoring in journalism with an emphasis in news-editorial. In her first year of the Lariat, she is excited to collaborate with the other staff members and learn how the publication process works. After graduation, she plans to get her masters in journalism and go on to write for a news agency.