Saturday, April 22, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History  April 23

Martin Ruter Writes Nathan Bangs from Texas, April 26, 1838

Probably the last letter Martin Ruter wrote was to Nathan Bangs on April 26, 1838.  His last letter to his wife, Ruth Ruter, in New Albany, Indiana, was written 3 days before.  Nathan Bangs ran the Publishing House in New York City, edited the Advocate, and handled mission correspondence for the Methodist Episcopal Church.  The two men knew each other well.  Ruter had headed the Cincinnati Publishing House from 1820-1828, and they knew each other from General Conference sessions. 

The “last letter” mentions the illness that would kill Ruter within only three weeks from the writing, but also contains a prayer for spiritual welfare of Texans.  Here is the letter.

My health was uniformly good until the first of the present month.  Since that time I have been afflicted with a fever, which I hope is now nearly subdued.  It is supposed to have been produced by fatigue, and by riding too much in the sun.  My travels on horseback have exceeded two thousand miles, and may have been in some instances, too great for my strength.  My object has been to visit as much of the country as practicable, and supply with occasional preaching all the destitute places my time and strength would permit.  And when we consider the change of climate, new state of country and the privations with are unavoidable, it is surprising that my health has been thus far preserved.  It has pleased the great Head of the Church to smile upon our feeble efforts, enabling us to say,  “We know that our labor is not in vain in the Lord.”  Even here, in the land where hostile armies recently met in dreadful conflict, and where the thunders of battle were heard, where we still hear of war and rumors of war, the Prince of Peace is extending his peaceful kingdom.  And let it extend!  O let it spread rapidly here, and in other regions until the angel shall proclaim that the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdom of the Lord

Saturday, April 15, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History April  16

Tragedy Strikes Opening Night of 1968 General Conference, Rev. and Mrs. D. L. Landrum, Jr., Killed in Plane Crash   April 21, 1968

Sunday, April 21, 1968 was the opening of the historic General Conference that would result in the creation of the United Methodist Church through the uniting of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church.   Unfortunately as the delegates recessed from the evening session, they learned that a tragic plane crash has killed the Rev. and Mrs. D. L. Landrum, Jr. of First Methodist Wichita, Kansas.  The pastor’s father, D. L. Landrum, Sr., was a delegate to the conference and the District Superintendent of the Palestine District of the Texas Conference. 

The younger Landrum was born in Houston in 1928.  He attended Southwestern University and Perkins School of Theology.  He served pastorates in the Texas Conference including Milano Circuit, Calvert, Joaquin, Brookshire, and in 1958 was appointed to organize a new church in west Houston, Memorial Drive.  That church grew rapidly and soon became one of the largest churches in the conference.  In May 1967 he transferred to First Methodist Wichita. 

Wichita is known for its aviation industry and the large number of private citizens who own airplanes.  One of the church members offered his private plane for D. L. and Betty Landrum to visit friends in Houston for a weekend, and then stop in Dallas to visit other friends at the General Conference.  Their two children, Laura Lee (11) and Lawrence (10) remained in Wichita.   They were only seven miles from Wichita when the plane crashed. 

There were two services.  Bishop McFerrin Stowe led a service at First (now United) Methodist Church in Wichita.  At Memorial Drive UMC Rev. Charles Williams, who had replaced Rev. Landrum, Bishop Stowe, and Bishop Paul Martin conducted another funeral service. 

Saturday, April 08, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History April 9

Bishop Paul Martin Participates in Ecumenical Food Aid Project in Galveston,  1966

Surrounded by clouds of grain dust, cranes, and Galveston dock workers, Bishop Paul E. Martin participated with other church leaders in blessing a cargo of 21,000 tons of wheat being shipped to Bombay, India where it would be distributed by Indian churches.  The Rev. Jester White, Galveston District Superintendent, was there along with about 45 Methodist preachers and spouses.  The Rev. Norman Sundwall, director of CROP was there as well as Msgr. Daniel O’Donnell of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Galveston.  Canon Gerald McAlister, President of the Texas Council of Churches was also on the docks that day. 

The wheat was donated by the U. S. government through the AID program, but the transportation and distribution were paid for through Church World Service and Catholic Relief Services.  Bishop Martin and Canon McAlister stood beside a 500 pound sack of wheat, and Bishop Martin said, “Perhaps this is one of the most sacred moments you and I have ever known.”

Saturday, April 01, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History  April 2

Ellen J. Downs Robinson Urges Creation of Woman’s Missionary Society Units

The April 4, 1885, Texas Christian Advocate contains an appeal from the North Texas Conference WMS President, Ellen J. Downs Robinson of Paris.  The WMS was a relatively new organization, having been established in 1880.  Robinson’s goal was to have a chapter “at every appointment on every circuit.” 
“Aunt Rob,” as she was called, was born on Christmas Eve, 1824, in Canada to James and Freedom Rider Downs.  She and her whole family were converted to Methodism and were all baptized on Christmas Day, 1837.  Ellen taught school for about ten years in New York, but then responded to the call for missionary service. 

In October, 1856 she left Champlain, New York, for New York City.  She then travelled to New Orleans were she was met by Bishop and Mrs. Kavanaugh.  Then she travelled by steam boat to Shreveport and a smaller boat to Jefferson, Texas, which was the main entryway into northeastern Texas.  She then made her way to Daingerfield, and then north to Bloomfield Academy in the Chickasaw Nation.  Bloomfield Academy had been founded by the Rev. John H. Carr and the Chickasaw Nation in 1852.  It was a female boarding school. 
Funds for the Academy dried up during the Civil War so she moved to Paris, Texas, where she lived the rest of her life—until 1910.

She taught Sunday School for 40 years, was president of the Paris WMS for thirty years and served seven years as President of the North Texas Conference WMS.  She was buried in Old City Cemetery after services at Centenary Methodist Church in Paris.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History  March 25

Ladies Aid Society Sponsors Spelling Bee At MEC Church in Dallas, March 26, 1875

Methodist records of the late 19th century are full of fund raisers sponsored by Methodist women.  There are bake sales, ice cream socials, progressive dinners, craft sales, and so on.  Methodist societies never sponsored cake walks or raffles since those events included chance, and chance meant gambling.  Bake sales and craft shows are still popular and widely appreciated, but what about a spelling bee as a fund raiser?

The Rev. Lewis Carhart, (b. 1833) was the leading MEC preacher in North Texas in the late 19th century.  He is most famous as the founder of Clarendon, named for his wife, Clara Carhart and for his more famous brother, John Wesley Carhart.   (see post for April 5, 2008 for more on J. W. Carhart, preacher, physician, inventor)

On March 26, 1875 he filled the tabernacle of the MEC Tabernacle in Dallas with a spelling bee fund raiser.
Instead of raising money by selling admission tickets, Carhart had a better idea.  This is how it worked out.  
He announced the event and managed to fill up the building.  He had previously solicited the services of Judge J. C. McCoy to act as umpire of the event.  Naturally McCoy was supplied with a large unabridged dictionary.  R. G. Venable and R. W. Allen were named captains of the opposing teams.  The captains then chose audience members as children choose athletic teams, by alternate selections.   The teams eventually numbered twenty on each side for a total of 40 contestants.

Then the fun (and fund raising) began.  The rules were tweaked so that a contestant who misspelled a word could pay a dime and try again, and again, and again. . . as many times as the contestant wished. 
The Allen team eventually beat the Venable team, and prizes were awarded.  The winner received a napkin ring.  A Webster’s primary dictionary went to the runner up, Clara Carhart, and there was also a booby prize for the worst speller.  Mr. Nichols received a primer. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History March 18

Martin Ruter Licenses Robert Crawford to Exhort, March 18, 1838

On March 18, 1838 Martin Ruter, the head of the Texas Mission, licensed Robert Crawford to exhort at Washington on the Brazos.  That licensing was the first step in full ordination for a man who would spend the rest of his life in Texas Methodist ministries in four different conferences.

Crawford was born in Abbeville District, South Carolina, in 1815.  He was orphaned by the age of 15 and at age 19 was converted from his Calvinist faith to Methodism.  About the same time as his conversion he also experienced a call to preach and was preparing to enroll in LaGrange College to prepare himself for the ministry when he was inspired by the stories of the Texas revolutionaries.  He chose the Texian Army over college and arrived in Texas in time to fight in the Battle of San Jacinto. 

Less than one year later, came the licensure.  In September 1839 he was licensed to preach by Joseph P. Sneed and admitted on trial in the Mississippi Conference and appointed to Montgomery when it met the following December.  He attended the organization of the Texas Conference the next December and was appointed to Nashville.  At the Texas Annual Conference of 1843 he was ordained elder.    When the Eastern Texas Conference was organized in San Augustine in 1845, he went with that conference.  He served various circuits in East Texas and was elected delegate to the 1850 General Conference of the MECS.  

When the North West Texas Conference was created in 1866, he cast his lot with that body.  He was thus present at the creation of the Texas, East Texas, and North West Texas Conferences.   While in the NWT Conference he supervised missions in Robertson, Leon, Falls, Limestone, and Freestone Counties.  He died in November 1888 at his home in Franklin.  His memoir praises his pioneer work and admonishes the reader, “Let us not forget these old men.”

Saturday, March 11, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History March 11

Robert Alexander Reports on First Round of Quarterly Conferences, Mar. 16, 1840

By December 1839 Methodist work in Texas had grown so much that it was able to organize two districts in the Mississippi Conference.  Littleton Fowler was Presiding Elder of the East Texas District which consisted of the churches east of the Trinity River plus Montgomery with the exception of the churches in Northeastern Texas which were part of the Arkansas Conference.  Robert Alexander was Presiding Elder of the Rutersville District which consisted of the churches in western Texas.  They included Rutersville where the conference had opened a college in January 1840, Austin, Victoria, Houston, Galveston, Matagorda, Nashville, Brazoria, and Washington.
The duty of the Presiding Elder was to visit each  appointment 4 times per year to hold a quarterly conference.  At the end of his first round of visits Alexander sent a report of that round to Nathan Bangs in New York City.  Bangs was head of the Publishing House in New York City.   You have seen the iconic image of the circuit rider reading as he rode his horse with saddlebags.  The book he was reading was from the Publishing House and the saddlebags were stuffed with tracts and testaments from the Publishing House.  There was another Publishing House in Cincinnati because shipping costs to the West were so high.
The Publishing House also published the denominational newspaper, the Christian Advocate.   The two publishing houses were only buildings owned by the whole denomination.  There were no conference offices, no headquarters buildings for agencies, commissions, or boards, so correspondence of denominational nature went to the Publishing House, and Nathan Bangs often printed that correspondence in the Advocate. 

Here is an excerpt from Alexander’s report from March 16, 1840

.. .The preachers in their respective circuits  are truly in he spirit of their work, and do not seem to regard the difficulties and privation with which they have to contend, but rather esteem it a privilege to range these wilds in search of the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and regard the swimming of creeks and rivers and sleeping alone in the prairies, surrounded by howling wolves and beasts of prey, as very trivial circumstances, while the people appear hungry for the bread of life.