The Oak Cliff church destroyed in a fire this week once set a trend among Dallas churches for charismatic preaching, faith healing and attracting congregations the size of Alvarado.
The Rev. Howard Conatser brought a charismatic style of preaching to Beverly Hills Baptist Church in 1970. It soon grew into a megachurch whose congregation could pack the bygone Bronco Bowl with as many as 3,500 believers.
Conatser’s church practiced faith healing and speaking in tongues. Lulu from Hee Haw was saved there in 1973. And in 1974, the church ranked 12th among 40,000 Southern Baptist churches in number of baptisms.
That’s also the year that the Dallas Baptist Association asked Conatser’s church to resign from the organization. It was the only Baptist church openly practicing a charismatic ministry at the time, although there were “several charismatic Baptist prayer groups in the area,” according to a Dallas Morning News story.
The Baptist organization had passed a resolution against Conatser’s brand of “neo-Pentecostal” preaching, stating they deplored “the practice of those who express or imply an attitude of spiritual superiority by their misrepresentation of certain so-called charismatic gifts (faith healing, speaking in tongues, prophecy and wisdom of interpretation).”
Conatser refused to withdraw from the organization. He told the newspaper that his church had given $35,000 to the Dallas Baptist Association in the first nine months of 1974.
The church had an annual budget of $350,000, he told the paper, and Conatser had plans for a $1 million “World Cathedral” on 17 acres. He never achieved that dream, however. The faith healer died of cancer at age 52 in 1978.
Beverly Hills Baptist Church, in the 800 block of Westmoreland, was built for $51,675 in 1948, amid a church-building boom in Dallas. It most recently was home to Iglesias del Cristo Camino de Santidad. The church’s sanctuary appears to have been destroyed, but firefighters were able to prevent the fire from spreading to an adjacent community building.