Saturday, July 14, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 15

Polk Street Amarillo Opens New Building, Pays Off Debt, July 1907

Polk Street UMC in Amarillo was founded in 1888 and has worshiped in several buildings in its illustrious history.    Here is the text from the THC historical marker, awarded in 2015

The congregation of the Methodist Episcopal Church, south was organized on November 23, 1888, by Rev. Isaac Mills, Rev. Jerome Haralson and eight members. The church held title to Parker’s Chapel, the first church building constructed in Amarillo in 1889. The building initially housed several denominations that later organized and moved into their own buildings. The Methodist congregation grew significantly and, less than ten years later, it was clear that a much larger building was needed. In 1899, Rev. J.A. Whitehurst arrived in Amarillo and deeded a lot on Polk Street to the congregation. A gothic revival white-frame church was constructed by W.J. Beck in 1902. Known as the “white church,” it served the congregation for five years before it was moved across the street to make room for construction of a new, two-story Romanesque Revival Style brick church. In 1908, the church changed its name to Polk Street Methodist Church. As attendance grew to over 2,000, the church outgrew its third campus. The Reuben Harrison Hunt Company designed this Gothic Revival Brick structure on Polk Street six blocks south of the previous church. The new building opened in 1928 with additions in 1953 and 2012. Details include pointed arched openings, parapeted gables with limestone coping, lancets, pinnacles and pedimented buttresses. Built with Tudor details, including stained glass windows, the church is designed to be more than a house of worship. Theological education classes are held in the building’s many classrooms and community organizations utilize the large meeting halls. This beautiful, historic landmark was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.

As you can read from the marker text, the 1907 church was replacing a building that was only 5 years old and it would last only 20 years itself. 
There were about 3000 persons present at the July 1907 opening, and the $33,000 building was still $8,400 short of paying for construction costs.  Naturally Rev. C. N. Ferguson called for pledges to pay off the debt, and over $9,000 was pledged.  It was a grand day for Methodists in Amarillo.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 1

Martin Ruter Provides Instructions for Littleton Fowler’s Journey to Texas, July 5, 1837

The letter Martin Ruter wrote to Littleton Fowler on July 5, 1837 reveals Ruter’s gifts of organization and spiritual leadership.  As the head of the Texian Mission, and an older, more experienced preacher, Ruter was able to offer some good advice to his junior colleague.  He was also misinformed about Texas geography.

In July 1837 Ruter was still in Meadville, Pennsylvania, where he had just resigned the presidency of Allegheny College.  As he was packing his belongings and preparing to take his family down the Allegheny River to the Ohio and then to New Albany, Indiana, he found time to write Fowler.
He got right to the point about financial support.  Texas was a foreign nation, almost bereft of solid currency.  Even the smallest financial transactions were handled with I.O. U.s and promissory notes.  Texas was also full of scoundrels, counterfeiters, and con artists who had flocked to the Lone Star Republic to take advantage of those conditions   Ruter instructs Fowler to take all the validating documents he could—the letter from Nathan Bangs, of the Missionary Society that promised funding from that source, the letter from Bishop Morris who had appointed Fowler to Texas, and character reference letters from friends in the United States who were known in Texas.  And, by the way, be sure to have your parchments (license to preach) with you all the time.   Texas merchants were accustomed to providing goods to travelers on promise of payment, and Fowler's credentials would be among the best most Texas merchants would ever see. 

Ruter then advised Fowler to go to Memphis and take river transportation down the Mississippi to the Red and then to Natchitoches, then overland to Texas.  He told him not to go to New Orleans and then by ship because of the danger of being captured by Mexicans in the Gulf.Be sure to take a horse from the United States since mounts were more expensive in Texas.   I guess that Ruter did not know that Fowler knew more about Texas than he did, having been there to visit relatives in the settlements along the Red River in what is today Lamar County.  Fowler ignored Ruter’s advice about the route, and went by land from Memphis to Fulton, Arkansas and then to his family near Paris.  

When he got there, Ruter told Fowler to look for the immigrants who had been Methodists in the United States and to organize them into classes and establish preaching points (circuits) for them.  He told Fowler to avoid San Augustine where there were many rough and wicked people loitering day and night. 

As he organized the classes of Methodists from the United States, Ruter cautioned Fowler to be very careful about who he admitted to the classes.  Many will be our friends and members of our congregations who are not prepared to live a cross-bearing life.

Ruter then closes the letter with a practical matter.  Ruter had managed the Cincinnati Book Depository from 1820-1828 and was an author of some renown,  His final instruction to Fowler was “When you get to Texas, write me and tell me where I can send books.  I will bring some and ship others.” 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History   June 24

John Wesley Hanner Considers Volunteering for Texas---If He Can Get Land, June 29, 1838

Littleton Fowler, one of the first three appointed missionaries to Texas, became head of the Texian Mission upon Martin Ruter’s death in May 1838.  When Texas was added to the Mississippi Conference in December 1838, he became Presiding Elder of the Texas District.  
Fowler volunteered for the Texian Mission while serving as agent for LaGrange College in Alabama.  “Agent” meant fundraising.  Fowler’s job was to travel Alabama and Tennessee soliciting funds for the college which at the time was headed by Robert Paine who was to be elected Bishop of the MECS at its first General Conference, 1846. 
Fowler was one of several agents, and based on letters in the Fowler Collection at Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, SMU, the colleague with whom he was closest was John Wesley Hanner (?-1898).    Hanner appeared to be Fowler’s advocate at LaGrange after Fowler moved to Texas.  Agents for the college did not receive a salary, but were expected to draw a salary from the collections they received from their fundraising efforts.  When Fowler volunteered for Texas, LaGrange owed him for his work, but could not pay him.  Hanner pressed the case for payments in Fowler’s absence.

Hanner also expressed an interest in joining Fowler in Texas—especially after Ruter’s death left the Mission short-handed.  In a letter for June 29, 1838, just a month after learning about Ruter’s death, Hanner wrote the following:

I wish to learn this Country, & go to South Ala., the Caido country between Red River & Sabine, or Texas. Tell me, can I now get that 1000 acres so cheap as you offered me, if I would be there last April? Provided I would come next Oct. & bring what the college owes you. Can I get a mission there? Would it be better to have an appointment from the Bishop, or Superintendant of the Mission? Or would neither be best? I am resolved on preaching somewhere; and that in no measured ways. I did not buy land of Crawford as I expected when I wrote you last; because he kind of bobbled in the contract. What sort of folks have you in Texas? There is more rascality, and underhanded meanness in this country than I have any use for. But it is a species of refined dishonesty & fraud. An honorable kind of injustice & oppression—rather have a little more bare-faced, & then one could know without philosophy, what it means.
How Hanner knows about the sophisticated rascality in Texas, we do not know, and perhaps the “Crawford” refers to Robert Crawford.  (see post for last week).
Hanner goes on

What would it cost to board my family in San Ausugtine? If I be a missionary or otherwise? When will any one who choses, be permitted to enter lands vacant, as here, -- & what the government price? I guess the chance for speculation has well-nigh passed away. How long do you expect to live in Texas? I conclude it is a sickly country, from the number & frequency of deaths. Bro. Ruter is no more! Alexander, I learn, has married, and gone into speculation. It is said they threatened him, for abusive preaching; and that none of you are doing much, in the way of gospel.

Less than two weeks later Hanner wrote again
My Beloved Fowler
The Quarterly Meeting here has just closed. Brother Pitts was present. We had a talk about going to Texas as missionaries. Your pressing appeal to Bro. [Robert] Paine, in behalf of this cause, calling for Pitts as a laborer drew his attention, and enlisted his feelings. This morning he mailed a letter to Rev. N[athan] Bangs, stating that if no appointment has been made in view of the vacancy occasioned by Dr. Ruter’s death, he & myself were willing and ready to go in company to that Republic as missionaries, at any time. We concluded that you had written to the appointing power, recommending certain persons, perhaps Pitts, among the rest. He requested Bangs to answer him immediately, perhaps he will get it in Aug. If we are appointed, we think of leaving our families here, for the first six, or twelve months, until we can get something of a home for them there. We believe that Texas is destined, at no distant day, to become one of the first countries on the globe.

Fountain Pitts did come to Texas but Hanner spent most of the rest of his life in Tennessee.  He continued to correspond with Littleton Fowler until Fowler’s death in Jan. 1846.  

Saturday, June 16, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History June 17'

Robert Crawford Hints that Appointment is Chastisement for not Embracing Separation   June 17, 1845

Some appointments are more desirable than others.   That was true in the 1840s and is still true today.   Preachers obligate themselves to go to whatever appointment the bishop thinks best and most cheerfully comply with that obligation.  When a preacher received an appointment which he considered a demotion, he sometimes asked himself, “what have I done to deserve the demotion?”  
In the early days of Texas Methodism there were not enough desirable appointments to give everyone what he wanted.  On the other hand, each appointment would last only one or two years, the disappointed preacher could just wait for annual conference and move. 

Robert Crawford expressed his sentiment that his appointment to Clarksville was chastisement for his not embracing the separation of the MEC soon enough.  Let him tell it.
June 17, 1845
. . .
The people here are all in favour of a separate organization, I think. I was opposed to a division and would not hear to it until I saw that it would take place & I was never fully satisfied of this until about the time of our con[ference] & a little after—and I accordingly labored to keep down excitement on the subject – but when I discovered that nothing else would do I said let it come -- & have done all I could to produce unanimity on the subject – for if a separate organization does take place it is important that the whole South be united – and that none be left to hang as waits to it, or produce a jar or scism in our ranks. I am aware that my hanging back after so long (& when others thought Division would take place) caused strong thoughts, and some of my friends to treat me a little harsh: but Frenologists say I have the bump of cautiousness verry strongly developed & probably it was a little too strong – but then I have, go aheadiveness very strongly developed – and so when I am fully satisfied I go it – Notwithstanding the explanation which you gave me in reference to my appointment, (and Bro. Alexander & Wilson give me the same) yet the thought would rush on my mind that the appointmen[t] was [p. 4] designed as a kind of chastisement for the opinions I held & the course I persued. Though I would repel the thought it would come rushing like a tornado upon me and paralize every nerve. I could not do violence to my conscience. I could not be draged – and I had thought that some brethren had tried to drag me. I ever gave evidence that I was altogether Southern but this did not do some with whom I talked. Thank God the storm is all over. And thank you for your kindness to me. I had no temptation to blame you in reference to my appointment. I have never mentioned this to any one before. You will not name it. Your brother
Affectionately R. Crawford

Robert Crawford, a South Carolina native (b. 1815) came to Texas and served in Sam Houston’s army at San Jacinto.  Although he had been raised Calvinist, he experienced conversion to Methodism and was licensed exhorter by Martin Ruter.  Hew helped build the church at Washington on the Brazos and served as a pall bearer for Martin Ruter. He was admitted on trial when Texas was still part of the Mississippi Conference.  He moved to Rutersville to participate in the establishment of Rutersville College, but when the Texas Conference was split, he cast his lot with the Eastern Texas Conference and served as secretary of its first session.  

Robert Crawford assumed important positions in his conference, serving as delegate to the 1850 General Conference of the MECS, but locating soon after that.  He was in and out of the ministry.  For a time he lived in Fannin County and then started Cedar Mountain Methodist Church in southwestern Dallas County.  He taught school in that church.

When he was already elderly, he attended the medical school in Galveston.  He eventually moved to Franklin.  His land grant for his military service was in Robertson County.  He affiliated with the Northwest Texas Conference, which at the time included Robertson County. 

Robert Crawford---member of the Mississippi Conference, Texas Conference, Eastern Texas Conference, Northwest Texas Conference, San Jacinto veteran, teacher, . . .the list could go on. 

  He died there in 1888.  He was buried at Mt. Vernon Cemetery in Calvert.  

Saturday, June 09, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History   June 10

Methodists Respond to Martin Ruter’s Death, June 1838

Martin Ruter died in Washington on the Brazos between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. on May 17, attended by physicians Abner Manley and W. P. Smith, both of whom were local preachers. 
Robert Alexander and Abner Manley both wrote the widowed Ruth Ruter, who was waiting for her husband’s return in New Albany, Indiana.  Both letters gave an account of the death and Alexander’s discussed the disposition of Ruter’s worldly goods.  Ruth Ruter was so distressed that she could not write responses so she asked her daughter Sybil to write for her.  A letter to Littleton Fowler from Sybil Ruter dated June 7 and postmarked Matagorda still exists.  In it Sybil Ruter acknowledges that they must submit to the will of Providence and regrets only that Martin Ruter died away from his family.

The news of Ruter’s death spread quickly throughout the denomination.   He was one of the best known Methodists of the era.  He was an author, college president, and from 1820-1828 in charge of the Publishing House in Cincinnati.  He had been a delegate to General Conferences and had served in prominent cities, Boston, Portland, Philadelphia, New York, and Montreal.   He had enjoyed a wide correspondence with Methodists on both sides of the Appalachians.  One finds letters from Raper, Bangs, Stringfield—names well known to Methodist historians. 
Bishop Hedding was in charge of the Texian Mission, and he quickly told Nathan Bangs to write Littleton Fowler and ask him to assume the head of the mission until annual conferences convened.   At the Mississippi Conference that met the following December, Texas was attached to the Mississippi Conference. 

Meanwhile, Ruter’s fiends in Texas were busy tending to his temporal affairs.  Robert Alexander took his horse, saddlebags, etc. so he could sell them and remit the proceeds to Mrs. Ruter.  Martin Ruter had acquired land warrants for 350 acres of land since his arrival.  John Wesley Kenney took them, surveyed two tracts adjacent to his own league in northern Austin County and then perfected the titles to the two tracts to the benefit of “Heirs of Martin Ruter” as the tracts are still known.  When I go south from my house, my road takes me through one of those tracts 1.5 miles from my residence. Kenney was County Surveyor. There was no better person to handle the task for Ruth and her children.  

William Winans of the Mississippi Conference was authorized to buy a monumental tombstone in New Orleans and ship it to Washington.   The real monument to Dr. Ruter, though, was to be a Methodist university.  Almost immediately after the death, Methodists formed a corporation, bought a league of land in Fayette County, surveyed it into town lots and out lots and began selling those lots for the establishment of the town of Rutersville and the University of the same name. 

Littleton Fowler stepped back from these activities.  He had decided to cast his lot with Methodists in East Texas rather than move to Rutersville.  In June 1838 he married the widow Missouri Porter and began the process of acquiring a farm that would produce income while he was away on church business.  The wedding ceremony was performed by a recent volunteer from Kentucky, Lewellyn Campbell who had volunteered for the Texian Mission and was helping with the preaching while waiting for a formal appointment.    He and Sybil Ruter later married.  

June, 1838, saw a whirlwind of Methodist activity in Texas, much of it due to Martin Ruter’s death. 

Saturday, June 02, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History  June 3

Bishop Morris Offers Health Advice, “Go to Arkansas or Texas.”

As we approach moving day, our thoughts naturally turn to preachers who received new appointments.  Perhaps it would be well to think about Bishop Thomas Morris’s advice to preachers in an era when at least some then sought comfortable appointments. 

This letter is already too long, yet I beg indulgence
till I make one small addition. In most of our older
conferences we have some good brethren in delicate
health, who seem to think themselves unable to endure
the toils and exposures of an itinerant life, and under the
influence of mistaken notions of self-preservation, incline
to linger about those places where roast beef, plum-pud-
ding, and preserves abound in the greatest luxuriance; so
that it would not be marvelous if they were to decline
under the wasting influence of dyspepsy, hypochondria,
and nervous debility. Now, for the benefit of all such
young preachers, though not a professor of the healing
art, I venture to make this prescription: Let them form
themselves into companies of two, three, or four, and vol-
unteer for the work in Arkansas or Texas conference, not
to float down the river pent in the cabin of a steamboat,
but to travel in light wagons, such as will carry them-
selves, tents, and baggage: let them camp out; kill, roast,
and eat wild meat; study their Bibles; pray; and sleep
with their feet to the fire. A few blankets are easily car-
ried; and as for feathers, every oak and elm produces
abundance of such as would be most healthy for them,
and which they can have for the trouble of gathering,
One such campaign, with the blessing of Providence,
would make them sound men, buoyant in spirit, and ready
for a frontier circuit, or mission, where they might have
the honor of preaching the Gospel to the poor, and of
aiding a noble band of brethren in their efforts to save
souls. Who will get ready and make the experiment next fall?
 Healthy brethren are not excluded from the priv-
ilege of coming.

Miscellany: consisting of essays, biographical sketches, ..1853

. Morris, Thomas A. (Thomas Asbury), 1794-1874.

The similarities to Theodore Roosevelt’s advice for the rugged outdoor life as a means for achieving health are obvious.  What about the results?  Did the vigorous outdoor life of riding circuits in the Republic of Texas lead to improved health?

Unfortunately, not for some.  

The first Methodist preacher to die in Texas was Martin Ruter at age 53.  The second was John Denton at 35, but we cannot attribute the death to disease.  He was killed by Native Americans.  Moses Speer died in 1840, but he was fairly elderly when he came to Texas.  Ike Strickland was only 30, and less than a year in Texas when he died at Bell’s Plantation on the Brazos.  The first preacher to die after the organization of the Texas Conference was William O’Connor who was only 27 when he died at Marshall.  Littleton Fowler was only 42 when he died in January 1849.  He is buried at McMahan’s Chapel.  Also at McMahan’s Chapel are Daniel and Jane Poe who died in 1844   He was 35.
It is no coincidence that we still sing, And Are We Yet Alive?  at Annual Conference.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History May 27

SU Hosts First Summer Institute, May 1901

Methodism has had continuing education programs since its origins.  Unlike prevailing Anglican and Roman Catholic practice, both of which required years of formal education before embarking on a clerical life, Methodists accepted relatively uneducated men into their ranks and sent them out riding circuits.  That system helps explain the rapid expansion of Methodism across the United States.  Lowering educational requirements created a much larger pool of prospective laborers in the vineyard.  

The expectation was that preachers would pursue theological and Biblical studies as they rode their circuits.  The practice was formalized in the Course of Study which still exists.  As the denomination created universities, summer institutes arose to provide continuing education.  It was a win-win situation.  The universities were able to provide meals and lodging in dormitories that would otherwise be vacant.  Preachers could continue their education.

Southwestern University offered its first Summer Institute in 1901 immediately after graduation.  The program featured a Who’s Who of Texas MECS preachers.

The Dean was Seth Ward from Galveston.  He was in the process of uniting St. James and St. Johns after the hurricane less than a year earlier.  In 1902 he would go to Nashville as Secretary of Church Extension and then in 1906 be elected Bishop—the first native born Texan to achieve that station. He also taught the course “History of Methodism.”

There were other future bishops on the faculty.   John M. Moore (elected 1918) of Travis Park San Antonio taught Church History.  E. D. Mouzon (elected 1910) of First Fort Worth taught Homiletics.  J. J. Tigert (elected 1906, died 1906) lectured.  Bishop Eugene Hendrix (elected 1886) and TCA editor George Rankin were also on the program. 

There were also professors.  H. C. Pritchett, President of Sam Houston Normal (today Sam Houston State University lectured on psychology.  John Allen and R. B. McSwain, both of Southwestern, taught philosophy and Evidences of Christianity respecxtively.  James Kilgore, then at Cameron, but later to move into university service, taught Morals of Christianity. 

About sixty students enrolled for the classes.  Many more, including townspeople, came to hear the lectures delivered by such a brilliant lineup.  SU certainly started its Summer Institutes off with a bang.

Personal note:    Although the name often changed, some form of a Summer Institute continued for decades.  In 1967 I was living in Georgetown during the Summer Institute.  The keynote lecturer was George Buttrick (1892-1980)—a superstar of the era, known for his editorship of the Interpreter’s Bible.  I attended the evening sessions which were open to the public without fee or registration, and my father enrolled.  One of my great memories occurred on Tuesday night.  After the lecture, a watermelon party was scheduled on the grounds.  It was the night of the Major League Baseball All Star game.  Buttrick, a baseball fan, asked if a TV were available.  There was in the corner of the Student Union Building.  Buttrick, my father, and I skipped the watermelons to watch the game, just the three of us---talking and conversing about the plays and players.