ABBOTT, Texas (AP) _ Hoping to save a piece of hometown history, Willie Nelson has bought the Methodist church where he honed his musical skills as a boy.

Nelson, 73, celebrated the church's preservation at a Sunday service that brought together longtime parishioners, friends and family _ including his sister _ for prayers and gospel music.

``Sister Bobbie and I have been going to this church since we were born,'' Nelson said. ``Now, you're all members of the Abbott Methodist Church, and you will be, forever and ever.''

In between blessings from guest ministers, Nelson performed with his sister and guests including Leon Russell. They sang hymns such as ``Uncloudy Day,'' ``I'll Fly Away,'' ``Will the Circle be Unbroken'' and ``Precious Memories.''

The congregation listed 600 members at its high point in 1886, according to the inscription on its historical marker. But the steepled building, which itself dates from 1899, closed in May after its last service as part of the United Methodist denomination. The dwindling congregation merged with a larger one in Hillsboro.

Abbott, along Interstate 35 about 65 miles south of Dallas, is home to some 300 people.

Donald Reed, a boyhood friend of Nelson's, called Nelson when the church came up for sale. Reed said he will coordinate the church schedule for services on the first Sunday of each month.

Nelson greeted old friends in the sanctuary after the service.

``This has been quite an experience, all these people,'' he said. ``We went to school together, played ball together, dated together.''