Saturday, August 17, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History  August 18

Continuing with our series celebrating the 175th year of Methodism in Brenham. . .

When the Civil War finally ended, everyone knew that the old social order based slavery was forever destroyed.  Few could anticipate how tumultuous the religious scene would become during the era immediately after the war. 

The first and most obvious change was that African Americans were now free to organize their own religious lives without having to conform to the wishes of the people who formerly held them in bondage. 

Before the war at least a quarter of Texas Methodists were African American.  Washington County holds the distinction of having the only Methodist African American licensed to preach before the Civil War whose name we know.  A man named John Mark was licensed by the Washington Circuit Quarterly Conferences beginning in 1852.  Joseph P. Sneed recorded in his diary hearing him preach and commented favorably on his sermon.  Sneed also reports that when the man who held John Mark announced his intention to move further west, Methodists in Washington County bought John Mark so that he could remain and preach here.  Alas, I have not been able to corroborate this statement with any other document.

After emancipation African Americans had choices that did not exist before the war.  They could join the MEC which was known for its anti-slavery stand in 1844.  They could join the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) or African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) churches, both of which were totally controlled by African Americans.  They could also remain in the MECS, but since that denomination had been founded on a defense of slavery, that option wasn’t particularly appealing.  In Brenham’s case, it really wasn’t appealing since the Brenham pastor was Franklin C. Wilkes who had been a colonel in the Confederate army. 

Robert Alexander, though, had another idea.  He attended the 1866 General Conference of the MECS which met in New Orleans, and while there visited with representatives of the AME denomination.   Shortly after returning home, he visited with Richard Haywood who had been licensed as exhorter by Orceneth Fisher way back in 1840.  Alexander suggested that Haywood affiliate with the AME and start a church in Washington County.   He did so and when the Texas Conference of the AME was founded, 3 of its fifteen churches were in Washington County.  John Mark, who had been licensed by the MECS, switched to the AME and served Independence. 

African Americans continued to leave the MECS and join the MEC, AME, and AMEZ churches, and eventually the MECS organized its remaining African American members into a new denomination, the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, later renamed the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church or CME.  In the case of Brenham and Washington County, it was too late.  The AME and MEC were far ahead of the CME in organizing churches there. 

Saturday, August 10, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History  August 11

Last month’s historical sketch related how African Americans in Washington County left the Southern branch of Methodism.  This month we will see that German speaking Methodists also found a new home in another denomination after the Civil War. 

The first and most important German settlement in pre-Civil War Texas was Industry, just to the southwest of Brenham.   Industry's founder, Friedrich Ernst, wrote letters home extolling the beauty and fertility of the land.  After the formation of the Adelsverein to promote German immigration, Industry became a crucial stop on the way to the land grants in the Hill County.  

The stereotypical view of German religion—Catholic in the South, Lutheran in the North—obscures a more complex reality.  German immigrants to Texas also included a large number with a pietistic inclination, and they were ripe for the message Methodist circuit riders were bringing.  On the eve of the Civil War both the Texas Conference and the Rio Grande Mission Conference (today’s Rio Texas) of the MECS had German districts.

The end of the Civil War presented Germans with same problem it presented African Americans—to stay in the MECS or join another denomination.  The Presiding Elder of the Austin District of the MECS, which included the Hill Country German churches, convened a meeting and told them basically that the denomination was flat broke and could not continue mission payments to the churches.  The MEC, on the other hand was relatively well off and had a vigorous publishing concern in Cincinnati that produced German language Disciplines, Bible commentaries, tracts, Sunday School literature,  and newspapers for the German speaking conferences that stretched from New York to Iowa.  Even before the war, MECS Germans were using publications from the MEC. 

The MECS pastor at Industry, Carl Biel, took the lead and changed his church’s affiliation from MECS to MEC.  When the Texas Conference of the MEC was formed in January 1867, it consisted of about 70 African American preachers and 3 Germans—all of whom were from Industry.  More Germans were to follow.

As the German Methodists prospered, they had a problem.  The closest German Methodist school where aspiring preachers could go for ministerial training was in Iowa.  In 1883 that problem was solved with the creation of Blinn Memorial College at the 4th Street Church.   The college began with the pastor, Carl Urbantke, and three students, but from those modest origins came a mighty force for education and evangelism.

The founding of Blinn shifted the center of Texas German Methodist from Industry to Brenham.   Young men studying for the ministry could attend classes all week and then go serve a church thanks to Brenham’s rail connections.  The efforts of the student pastors and transfers from the northern conferences led to the establishment of German MEC churches in all directions from Brenham.   The 4th Street Church became a favored site for holding Annual Conference.   Thanks to Blinn Memorial College, Brenham became the only town in Texas in which the MEC and MECS churches were roughly equal in size an influence. 

Assimilation of German speakers into the English speaking world and the anti-German sentiment associated with World War I diminished the need for Blinn’s historic role.  When the Depression hit, the church lost control of the school, but Washington County voters created a special district to turn it into a public institution. 

Saturday, August 03, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History August 4

Continuing with our series on the history of Methodism in my home church. . .

1844—the year our church was founded, Methodists faced their greatest crisis.   The General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, meeting in New York City, was roiled with the refusal of some northern conferences to accept the episcopal supervision of a slave-owning bishop, James O. Andrew of Georgia.   The parties were not able to compromise so Methodism was split into northern and southern branches that would not reunite until 1939.

John Wesley hated slavery and passed that hatred on to the denomination which he inspired, but as time passed, General Conferences made small accommodations to human slavery which eventually amounted to embracing the institution by most southern Methodists. 

Anti-slavery Methodists finally had enough!  They announced that they would not accept Bishop Andrew as the presiding officer at their annual conferences.  Methodist bishops have “general authority.”  That means that any bishop is authorized to conduct the annual conference of any annual conference. The split at the 1844 General Conference reverberated all the way down to Washington County and the newly formed town of Brenham.

Bishop Andrew presided over the Texas Annual Conference of December 1843, held at a campground in southwestern Walker County.   His time spent there earned him the friendship of many Texas Methodists.  Only six months later he was in New York City at the center of the dispute.  When the General Conference finally voted on the issue, only one delegate from the South voted with the North.  That one delegate was John Clark of the Texas Conference. 

At the next meeting of the Quarterly Conference of the Washington Circuit in August 1844 a resolution was introduced to condemn Clark’s vote.  The committee to write the resolution consisted of John W. Kenney, Enoch King, and Jabez Giddings.  They composed the resolution and submitted it for publication in the New York Christian Advocate. 

Clark had remained in New York upon the adjournment of the General Conference and took an appointment to a local church.  He sent for his wife and children who had stayed in Texas and never again set foot in Texas.  He decided to defend his vote and did so by replying to the letter in the New York Christian Advocate.

That reply touched off a barrage of letters back and forth between Clark and Robert B. Wells, the Brenham preacher.  Wells continued to condemn Clark for voting with the anti-slavery forces and Clark continued to defend that vote.

The exchange of letters might have been just one more insignificant tiff in the bigger picture were it not for Robert B. Wells.   Out of this exchange of letters Wells decided to start his on edition of the Advocate as a vehicle for the exchange of news items.  It took a while but in 1847 Wells brought out the Texas Christian Advocate and Brenham Advertiser as a weekly publication.  It lasted in Brenham only one year when Wells turned the operation over to his father-in-law Orceneth Fisher who moved it to Houston and dropped the “Brenham Advertiser” from the name. 

The newspaper had its ups and downs but by the 1880’s the Texas Christian Advocate had a circulation of over 10,000, putting it in the ranks of the most widely distributed publications in Texas—religious or secular.  The paper moved to Dallas in 1887 and went through several name changes until it published its last edition as the Texas Methodist Reporter in 2013. 

Brenham FUMC can thus claim to be the source of Methodist publishing in Texas and home to the first religious newspaper of any denomination in Texas. 

Saturday, July 27, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 28

My home church, Brenham FUMC, is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year.  I am contributing articles for our Newsletter.  For the next few weeks I will share these articles on this site.

The origin of First United Methodist Church of Brenham may be traced to 1844 when a group of worshipers met in Hickory Grove School House, but in a real sense, the origins lay deeper than that—at least 20 years before that.  Many of Austin’s colonists who began receiving land titles in what is today Washington County were Methodists and provided a warm welcome to Methodist preachers coming through the region.  There is evidence that Henry Stevenson preached to the family of Amos Gates in 1824.   In 1834 William Medford, who entered the Missouri Conference on 1818 and came to Texas after assuming the local preacher status, set up an informal four point circuit which included the Walker House on New Year’s Creek.

 The camp meetings of 1834 and 1835 that resulted in the petition to send missionaries to Texas occurred on a branch of Caney Creek, just to the southeast of Brenham.   Those meetings were quickly followed by others just to the north at Yegua Creek.  The grandest Methodist ambition of all in the neighborhood was Centre Hill, David Ayres’s attempt to create a Methodist town just a few miles south of the Caney Creek meeting site.    When Centre Hill lost out on the location of the Methodist university to the new town of Rutersville in Fayette County, the town fizzled. 

The Texas Mission was established by the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1837, and by 1839 the Washington Circuit which consisted of Washington County and a few adjacent preaching points, was considered the strongest circuit in “Western Texas”, and ambitious preachers vied to be appointed here.  In an era in which congregations met in school houses, court houses, and private residences, Washington County had a church house at Washington on the Brazos. 

The practice of the day was  for preachers to ride circuit among possibly as many as a dozen or more “preaching points” so much of the task of keeping the church active between those circuit rider visits fell to laity.  Each preaching point would have at least one class leader who led the flock in the weeks when the circuit rider was not there.  Most churches also had a Sunday School Superintendent to make sure that everyone---both adults and children attended to the study of Holy Scripture.  Another lay position of the era was “Exhorter.”  Whoever held that position was official recognized for gifts of fervent prayer and persuasion.   In 1844 Brenham was fortunate to have strong lay leadership, chief of whom was Jabez Giddings.  Much later his nephew, James Sloan Giddings wrote about the origins of the church.

In 1844 there were about six houses situated near the place where Brenham now stands. 
There was a log school house a half mile NE of the present court house.  It was called Hickory Grove.

The first teacher was Jim Mitchell, and he was a Methodist.

J. D. Giddings married that year, and built a log house about one hundred yards north of the school house. He married Miss Ann Tarver. 

The Methodist church was organized in that school house in that year 1844.  A Sunday School was started with Edmund D. Tarver as supt.  

Four years later the church had grown enough to buy a building lot.  Giddings described it

It was about 30 by 50 feet.  It had two doors in front—three windows on each side two on the north side-one on each side of the pulpit, which was high, reached by two or three steps and was boarded around.  When the preacher sat down, he was almost out of sight of the congregation.  It had a steeple and a bell.  

That church building served the needs of the congregation until 1879 when it was sold to the Christian denomination and a new, larger church made of brick instead of cedar logs was built on a different lot.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History  July 21

A Thank You to MEC District Superintendents for Their Frankness

The United Methodist Church that we know is the result of mergers of various denominations.  The largest of these were the MEC and the MECS.  Those denominations separated after the 1844 General Conference of the MEC but remained very similar in doctrine and polity.  The lack of divergence made unification in 1939 easier.  Both denominations had changed, but had changed in similar ways. 
One way the MEC and MECS diverged was in the editing of their journals.  The MEC included two features in its journals that are of tremendous help to historians that the MECS did not.  The first is that the entire pastoral record of every conference member is printed in the Journal every year.  Open up a Journal and see the appointments the preacher had served, a real convenience for historians.
The second was that District Superintendents (the term when the MECS still used “Presiding Elder”) gave a short report on every church in the district.  Even better, the DS’s were frank, brutally frank—for which historians are grateful.  Here are a few examples all taken from the 1917 Texas Conference of the MEC Journal.

Onalaska Circuit:  Brother Manning was assigned to this work but failed to look after it, which led to his suspension. 

Trinity Circuit:  We were unable to get a wide-awake local preacher to supply this mission with two points. . .
Woodville Circuit:  Brother Wm. Brooks is our pastor at this place; it is more a name than anything else.  He will make his report.

Rev. L. H. Barrett has done the best he could at Mallalieu Heights.  Mallalieu is located in a white settlement and has absolutely no future, but a few members there cannot be prevailed upon to sell and move into a neighborhood of their own people, and the struggle must go on and some preacher must serve them.  (Mallalieu continued into the 21st Century but is closed)

Rev. J. O. Williams has had an uphill pull at Trinity. He has been seriously handicapped on account of inadequate income to pay the debts as they came due. 

Rev. P. L. Jackson closes his fourth year at Spring. This is a poor charge but Brother Jackson has supplemented his meager income by raising a good garden and fine crop of corn.

Gilmer:  The Rev. J. R. Carnes was assigned to this place. . .He was told at the start that he had no members at this place, saving one, the others having deserted the church, and further that the church was in a lawsuit.  He said that if people were there, he would live.  All he wanted was to be where there were people.  But I think Bro. Carnes has changed that.  He has not been able to do anything there this year. 

Harleton Circuit:  Bro. P. P. Phillips, a local preacher, was assigned there.  He preached one sermon and returned to the farm.  

Caldwell Circuit has felt the drought that came on this area very, very keenly, for it was on this circuit that some of the leading farmers made just one-half bale per acre. . .and scarcely any corn at all.

Hearne:  It seems as if Hearne has already enjoyed its best days. .they seem to have become discouraged and lost interest.

Jewett-Buffalo is pastored by Rev. W. W. Randall.  While the people here are in no wise been in heartfelt accord with the pastor, he has succeeded against the odds. 
Franklin:  the Rev. G. M. Stewart was assigned to this place, only to keep up his conference relationship.  There being neither house of worship nor any members, he has not done anything.  Only he reports some benevolence money given out of his own pocket. 

I salute the MEC District Superintendents who wrote so frankly and honestly that the reports are a gold mine for historians.   Journals can be cold, impersonal (except for memoirs), and statistical.  The details included in the DS reports show the churches as multi-dimensional, complex organizations, not just a collection of statistics.   

Saturday, July 13, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 14

Travis Park Honors Former Pastors Who Became Bishops  July 23, 1939

Trivia Question:  Which Texas Methodist church can claim the most pastors who were elected bishops?  Houston First? Dallas First? Highland Park?  Polk Street?  El Paso Trinity?
Actually I haven’t bothered to go through the records to find the winner.  Perhaps a reader of this blog already has.  Conditions of a previous era made it more likely that one church would be served by several preachers who later elected bishops.  The first condition was that there was a four year rule.  Itinerancy once meant itinerancy.  Preachers moved often.  At the end of the 4th year  the pastor had to move.  An informal circuit of the large membership, high salary churches developed.   An elite group of preachers known for their pulpit prowess rotated among the highest paying churches. ---Trinity, El Paso, First Houston, First Dallas, First Birmingham, Boston Ave. in Tulsa, Polk Street in Amarillo , among others.

A key to being elected bishop both before 1939 when General Conferences elected them and after 1939 when the jurisdictions elected bishops, was garnering support from several conferences besides one’s own.  Episcopal candidates needed visibility in several conferences to get enough votes for election.

   In the 19th century the visibility beyond one’s own conference was achieved mainly by college presidents and staff members at the denominational newspapers and boards such as the Board of Missions.  College presidents traveled among the conferences raising funds, and denominational officers duties also took them to the conferences on official business.  

In the early twentieth century that tradition lingered –as with the election of Bishops Ward and Tigert-but increasingly the candidates were “giants of the pulpit’ who served the big churches in several conferences and thereby forged connections in several conferences.  I would place the Smith brothers, W. C. Martin, Arthur Moore, and many others.

Travis Park, San Antonio, was on the circuit, and in July 1939, it celebrated its former pastors who were later elected bishop.  They were John M. Moore (1898-1902),  Edwin Mouzon (1904-1908),  Arthur Moore (1920-1926), and Paul Kern (1926-1930).  Mouzon was deceased.  Bishop John Moore preached that day and a marble plaque was affixed to a wall and dedicated. 

The election of Travis Park pastors to the episcopacy did not end in 1939.  Kenneth Copeland was elected in 1960.  

In the later 20th century and burgeoning bureaucracies in all the conferences, delegates began favoring pastors with management experience over pulpit prowess.  The four year rule was discarded so the “giants of the pulpit” who once rotated among the large churches tended to remain at the same church for 20 years or even more.   Service as a District Superintendent or perhaps the Provost office became more valuable to episcopal candidates. 

Saturday, July 06, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 7

Josef Dobes Informs Texas Methodists about Conditions in Czechoslovakia   July 1939

In 1938 and 1939 Hitler’s aggressions increased, and the small nations of Czechoslovakia and Austria paid the price for those aggressions.  In 1938 Hitler had incorporated both the Sudetenland and Austria into his empire, and on March 15 1939 the rest of Czechoslovakia surrendered.    Although England had promised to protect the integrity of  Czechoslovakia, the British sold them out.  Hitler was emboldened, and in a few months the invasion of Poland ushered in the most destructive 6 years Europe had ever seen.

Texas Methodists had a personal connection to the tiny nation of Czechoslovakia in the form of missionaries who had received their education at Southwestern University, Josef Dobes (1876-1960) and Joseph Paul Bartak (1887-1964) about 1910.  They both became Methodist preachers and were appointed as missionaries to Czech Texans.  Dobes entered the Texas Conference by transfer from the Central Texas Conference in 1912 and lived in Marlin where he could work among the Bohemian farmers of the Brazos Valley.  

After World War I the nation of Czechoslovakia was created from the wreckage of the Austrian Empire.  One of the emphases of the fund raising Centenary Campaign was to provide missionaries to Europe.   Dobes and Bartak volunteered and arrived in Europe in 1920.  They first provided humanitarian relief, but when that effort ended after five years, they continued to establish churches.   They continued corresponding with their Texas Methodist friends, and in 1925 Advocate editor, A. J. Weeks went to Europe and visited them in the company of Bishop Darlington.  

Their job was not particularly easy in either Europe or Texas.  Most Czechs were Roman Catholic, and those who weren’t were mainly Brethren.  

Nazi occupation made their task even more difficult.  Bartak had become a naturalized American citizen, so he was interned the day Germany declared war on the US.  He was later exchanged in a prisoner swap.  He served Texas appointments in Texas during the war but returned to Prague after the war, but then Communist regime forced him out.  He moved to Vienna. 

Dobes became a major interpreter of the war years 1939-1940 through letters to the Advocate.  In 1940 he returned to Texas and preached in many Texas Methodist churches, taught at Schools of Mission, and always found a ready audience.  Among the pulpits he filled were First Fort Worth, First Temple, First Houston, and Tyler Street, Dallas.   In one Advocate article he concluded his remarks thus:  Let us not forget our young daughters—Poland, Belgium, and Czechoslovakia—in your prayers.  Let their burdens also be our burdens and their joy will also be our joy. 

Dobes spent his final years in Houston where he attended First Methodist.  He died in 1960 and is buried at Forest Park Cemetery.