Saturday, July 22, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History July  23

Holding Institute Suffers under Increased Border Security  1918

File this one under “I’ve Seen this one before” category.

Principal J. M. Skinner’s report for Holding Institute complained that enhanced border security reduced the mission school’s enrollment so that it now has difficulty in achieving its goals.

Holding Institute was founded in 1881 in Laredo to serve the needs of Mexican children.  It soon became a project of the Woman’s Missionary Society and prospered.  It offered both residential and commuter students both primary and specialized education. The report for 1918 showed 75 commuters and 241 boarders.  It trained students for Christian vocation and also prepared Mexican students to become teachers.   By the 1910’s the minutes of the Woman’s Missionary Society reveal it received more financial support than any other Society institution. 

The Mexican Revolution threw the borderlands, including Laredo, into turmoil, and Holding Institute was naturally impacted.  On the one hand teachers in Methodist mission schools in Mexico had to leave, especially after President Madero's assassination in 1913. Many missionary teachers  chose to sit out the Revolution along the border in Laredo and El Paso.   Some Mexican families sent their children to Holding to protect them from revolutionary violence.
On the other hand, as the Revolution dragged on, the Mexican economy suffered and families could no longer afford the tuition for boarding school.  

The U. S. government also enacted stricter border security.  The concern was genuine.  The borderlands were a dangerous place.  Revolutionary organizations raised troops and bought supplies in the relative safety of San Antonio and El Paso, and some revolutionaries such as Pancho Villa brought their troops into the United States, most famously at Columbus, New Mexico.  Pascual Orozco, another revolutionary general, was killed in the Van Horn Mountains of Texas.

Before the Revolution crossing the Rio Grande to attend Holding was simple.  Students even had a crude footbridge for access.  They regularly swam in the river for recreation.  The border tensions resulted in a crackdown, and here is how J. M. Skinner reacted

Never before have passport restrictions been so severe nor enforced with such tenacity.  Many of our patrons in Mexico, after several efforts proved fruitless, gave up in despair. Some secured passports, but were not permitted to use them because of a slight technical error in filling the same.  As we have always enjoyed a good patronage from the republic, we feel this loss very keenly.  However, now that the war is over, we are expecting a return of prosperity in the way of an increased attendance.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History  July 16

St. John’s Houston Cornerstone Laid, July 16, 1917
On Monday, July 17, 1917,  Presiding Elder, R. W. Adams of the Houston District, led the service of cornerstone laying at St. John’s Methodist Church in downtown Houston.   A worship service preceded the ceremony.  Speakers at the service included O. E. Goddard, pastor of First Methodist Galveston and the editors of both the Houston Post and Houston Chronicle.  

The pastor of St. John’s was the Rev. John E. Green, and this was, remarkably, the fourth church he had built in Houston.  The Rev. Green was what we would call today “a second-career preacher.”  He was a locomotive engineer when he received the call to preach and felt a keen sense of brotherhood with railroad employees all his life.  After serving rural churches, he moved to Houston to pastor the “railroad” church, Washington Avenue.     

In doing so, he was participating in a common trend.  As Texas cities grew and required more Methodist churches, the second one built was often built in a neighborhood inhabited by railroad employees.  To take a larger perspective, Methodism was in the process of separating itself by class.  The “railroad” churches appealed to the working class more than the professionals.   Other cities such as Tyler, Paris, Texarkana, and Palestine all owe their second church to the railroads.

The early 20th century witnessed a boom in Houston’s population that is still in progress.  Because of its excellent rail network (Its city motto was “Where 17 Railroads Meet the Sea.”) it had a leg up on its competitors to become the center of the new petroleum industry.  The storm of 1900 eliminated Galveston as a serious rival as the main city of the Texas Coastal Plain.  The stream of new arrivals needed Methodist churches so from 1900-1910 the Texas Conference planted churches at a fantastic rate.  Some of them such as St. Paul’s and Grace, continue, but several of them were built near the Ship Channel and have since closed.    John E. Green was front and center in this church planting and described it in his memoir, John E. Green and His Forty Years in Houston (1928).  

Although this event occurred 100 years ago, Rev. Goddard’s message resonates today.
He said this church and every Methodist Church should be founded on 4 principles:
·        A true conception of God
·        An aggressive evangelism
·        Holy and scriptural living
·        Active missionary policy

St. John’s continues with its special ministries serving the whole community, including the homeless who are often ignored.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History  July 9

Daniel and Jane Poe Die in San Augustine  July 11, 1844

In the mid-19th century death was a constant companion, and religion provided much comfort to dying patients.  A conventional “good death” narrative grew up among Christians of the era.  A “good death” was one in which the dying person remained true to the assurance of eternal life even though the body may be wracked with pain and fever.  In July 1844 Daniel and Jane Poe died on the same day, Thursday the 11th

Littleton Fowler had just returned from the General Convention in New York City and brought with him a letter from Adam Poe, Daniel’s brother.  Adam was a prominent preacher in Ohio and is best known to us today for his editorial work on many MEC publications of the era.  

In 1854 James Finley wrote Sketches of Western Methodism and included the “good death” scene.  Here it is
When he closed his sermon, he gave out the 
first two lines of a hymn, and stepping down from the 
stand, approaching the Doctor with his hand on his tem 
ple, he said, " Doctor, I feel as if my head was bursting." 
The Doctor perceiving that he had a violent fever, 
assisted him to his carriage, and took him to his house, and 
by prompt attention, through the afternoon and night, he 
thought him better next morning, and took him home. 
On Sabbath afternoon his wife was taken worse, and his 
two eldest children were violently attacked with the 
same fever. On Tuesday evening the Doctor told him 
his wife must die. About the same time Rev. L. Fowler, 
having returned from New York, where he had been at 
tending General conference, brought him a letter from 
his brother, and spoke to him of the probable division of 
the Church. He read his letter, and laying it down ex 
claimed, "0, must Methodism be rent in twain!" He 
was unable to see his wife, as they were lying in separate 
rooms, and said to Brother Fowler, "Tell Jane to
 commend her soul and her children to God. If I live Fll do 
the best I can for them, if I die I want Adam to come 
and get them." He grew rapidly worse, and on Wednes 
day morning he was told that he too must die. He 
immediately commenced giving some direction about his busi 
ness, requested Rev. Lester Janes to write to his brother, 
and request him to come and settle his business, pay all his 
debts, and bring his children to Ohio. In the midst of 
these efforts, his mind wandered, and he complained of 
excruciating pains in his head and of choking. In this 
condition he remained till morning, when brother Fowler 
returned and found him dying. He took him by the 
hand and said, " Daniel, you are going !" He answered, 
in a whisper, " Yes I" Brother Fowler asked, " How do 
you feel?" He replied, "Happy, very, very happy!" and 
expired. His wife had conversed, after being informed 
that she must die, with brother Fowler on her spiritual 
prospects, and asked him to pray with her; and while he 
prayed she was powerfully blessed. She then had her 
children brought to her, and commending them to God 
in a few words of prayer, gave them her last kiss, and 
handed them to friends standing around her bed, saying, 
"Take care of them till their uncle Adam comes for 
them." She knew their father was dying too ; and though 
she was one of the most affectionate mothers we ever 
knew, she seemed to give her children to her heavenly 
Father without a single distrustful fear; and then in 
bright and joyous vision of her home so near, she shouted 
glory ! till her voice sunk to a whisper; and she breathed 
out her happy spirit into the arms of the Blessed, who 
waited to bear her to heaven. They died within forty 
minutes of each other, and were buried in one coffin, 
immediately in rear of the Methodist church in 
San Augustine. "Lovely and pleasant were they in their lives, 
and in their death they were not divided." .  
Adam Poe came the following January to get the Poe orphans and take
them back to Ohio.  He was accompanied by Bishop Edmund Janes who
was coming to hold the Texas Annual Conference in San Augustine.
This was the conference at which the Texas Conference was divided at the 
Trinity into the Western Texas and Eastern Texas Conferences (later the 
Texas and East Texas).  The Janes in the passage above refers to Lester Janes, 
nephew of Bishop Edmund Janes and president of the short-lived 
college Methodists had started in San Augutine.
I have written elsewhere that in the 1930's Rev. C. A. Tower exhumed a few 
leg bones, presumably those of Daniel and Jane and reburied them in
McMahan's Chapel Cemetery.  Over twenty Methodist ministers 
attended that service, and after the service they laid plans for a new 
church building at McMahan's. 


Saturday, July 01, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History   July 2

Bishop Martin Receives Space Mementoes from Astronaut Thomas Stafford, July 6, 1966

On July 6, 1966, Astronaut Thomas Stafford and his pastor, the Rev. Conrad Winborn, Jr., came to the Methodist Building on South Main in Houston to present space memorabilia to Paul E. Martin, resident bishop of the Texas Conference. 

Stafford had taken three items into space.  The first was a bronze medallion honoring  the bicentennial of Methodism in America.  The second was another medallion, this one showing McMahan’s Chapel which honored the establishment of Methodism in Texas.  The third was Martin’s personal copy of John Wesley’s Psalms and Hymns which had been published in 1741. 

The original plan was for Stafford to present these items to the Texas Annual Conference as it met the previous June 6-9, but Stafford’s flight was postponed so that he was making his flight during Annual Conference. 
Stafford and his family were members of Seabrook Methodist Church where Winborn was the pastor. 

The decision to locate NASA on a large tract of coastal prairie on Clear Lake between Houston and Galveston was momentous in many ways.  Houston changed from the “Magnolia City” to “Space City.”   The impact of new industries including aviation, aerospace, space medicine, remote imaging, and so on cannot be denied, but NASA’s presence also changed the Methodist landscape.   There had been little development in the Clear Lake area before NASA.  There were some recreational and fishing settlements, but the arrival of tens of thousands of new residents prompted a wave of church building.   Seabrook, already mentioned, was a main beneficiary as were churches in Clear Lake. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History

 June 25


Instead of the usual post I have decided to share the eulogy I gave at my father's memorial service at First United Methodist Church, Dallas, on June 23, 2017.   This is the manuscript.  Naturally the eulogy as actually delivered varied somewhat from this text.


The family would like to thank you for all the expression of love we have been receiving from so many friends.  Your love and prayers have buoyed us in these difficult times.   Thank you to the choir and other worship leaders and those of you who have traveled to be with us.  We do have a regret---that is that we cannot have long, deep meaningful conversations with each of you—you know.  The kind of soul-to-soul conversations you had with John Wesley.    A man who could have such conversations deserves the most intimate eulogy possible so my remarks will be based on father-son conversations. 

1.  late winter, 1977    Finis finally talked me into it.”  “Talked you into what?”   “I’m going on a district.”  “Well, Daddy, I know a lot of preachers who would consider that a step up.”  No, Bill, the highest and best position any Methodist preacher can have is being a local church preacher.   I know sometimes they are called to appointments outside the local church, but they should always consider those temporary sacrifices they are making until they can get back in the local church.”

The starting point for understanding JWH was that he considered himself first, last, and always a local church pastor-----and what a pastor he was!    His idea of pastoring a local church was really very simple----convince the unchurched that their lives would be much better if they were in a church and convince the established members to increase their involvement in the church.  He had a small metal file box on his desk with index cards with each family in the church on a card.  “What’s that?” I asked.  “That’s my system for visiting every family at least once a year in their homes.”   “Is that really necessary?” I asked.  “You can’t really minister to people if you don’t know their needs, and you don’t know their needs unless you visit them in their homes.”  Those visits were mainly to increase involvement.  If the family attended and nothing else, the visit was to try to get them to Sunday School or choir.  If they attended church and Sunday School, the visit was to get them to teach Sunday School or serve on a committee.  If they served on a committee it was to assume a leadership role—and on up the ladder of involvement.   He didn’t succeed every time.  I was looking at the index cards and saw the initials BPO, and asked him—“:What does that mean? “Oh, those are ones who want their names on the roll but never come.  It stands for Burial Purposes Only.”

2.  Summer, 1980---“The most important leadership is moral leadership.”  JWH had been elected bishop and was packing in Baytown and moving to Oklahoma.  He seemed to want me around to talk.  I was in his office.  There were three stacks of books.  Two stacks were the last 10 years of Journals of the two conferences in his area.  By the time he got to Oklahoma, he knew the appointments for the last 10 years, the membership, lay delegates, pastor’s salary, and whether each church had paid apportionments.  The third stack was business management books.  He’d read them too, but waved them away---“They’re all about technique.  Technique without character leads to disaster.  In church, business, education, or government---a moral vision is what counts—not technique.”

3.  February 1984---I was wakened by an early morning phone call.  Well, Bill, we’ve just had one more demonstration of the temporary nature of the things of this world.”  He and Mother had just been the victims of arson—escaping with their lives and night clothes and nothing else.  He’s calling with a borrowed telephone wrapped in a Red Cross blanket---.  They rebuilt and on Labor Day holiday, the arsonist came back and did it again.   We all felt the family needed to be together so we all convened in Virginia at Christmas.  As my father and I talked about the events of 1984, he kept talking about the blessings he and Mother had received.  Finally I said, “Name one.”  He said, “I’ll name two.   The outpouring of love we have received from the Methodists of Oklahoma means more to us than all the furniture, cars, clothes, everything.”  He went on.  “All my life I have been the one bringing comfort.  The fires made me learn that sometimes it can also be a blessing to be on the other end.”

4.  After moving to SMU—“Bill, don’t you find it odd that I’m part of a seminary.  I’m no scholar.  I’m no theologian.  Yes, but he could supply something to Perkins no one else could.  My imagination takes to a seminary class on Methodist doctrine.  The subject is “sanctification.”  A student raises a hand.  “Professor, is sanctification an ideal we always strive for or a state we are supposed to achieve?”  The professor says, “You need to get to know John Wesley Hardt.  He’s the closest I’ve ever seen.”  Yes, JWH embodied sanctification---It was as if divine love so filled his heart that there was no room for anything negative.  In my entire life, I never once heard him utter a mean-spirited word against another person. 

His favorite time of the academic year was summer, because that meant “Course of Study, and that meant non-traditional students would be on campus.  He would say, “Bill, take me to Chapel.” And we would go.  I’ll tell you a secret.  He didn’t pay attention to the service.  He scanned Perkins Chapel making sure he knew everybody in the room.  If he didn’t know someone, he would make a beeline to the unknown student, introduce himself.  “Where are you from?”  “oh, a little town in East Texas.  You’ve never heard of it.”  ---Ha!  I knew what was coming.   “Well, I’ve been in East Texas, where was it” It didn’t matter if it was Center or Centerville, Douglass or Douglassville, the reply was the same.  “Well, I held a revival there in 1950.” Then he would recite the names of the church leaders whom he had met, and the student would walk away amazed.

5.  I wonder why I’m being allowed to live so long.”

 That’s easy.  God kept finding new ways John Wesley could be in ministry.  I would visit at CC Young. After dinner he would announce.  “So and So is released from the hospital over in rehab.  I’m going over for a visit.”   I would watch in suspense as he hobbled down that sloping sidewalk, hoping that he would not fall.  In a few minutes he would be back—and glowing—He was back from just one more bedside prayer, one more consoling visit to a family---the flame that burned in that pastoral heart could not be dimmed even by infirmity.

I’ll close with a story. (You didn’t think you were getting out of here without some Methodist history did you?)   Right after the Civil War some Southern Methodist leaders thought that since the north-south split had been caused by slavery and slavery was now abolished, there were possibilities of reunion.   They decided on a plan.  They would send an ambassador to the MEC General Conference of 1868.  They knew that such an ambassador had to be someone universally recognized for his holiness, and they had such a person, a retired preacher from Georgia, already in his 80’s named Lovick Pierce.  He had been ordained in 1804, and in the more than 60 years of ministry, no one person could point to any stain or shortcoming on his record.  Contemporary descriptions include phrases like, “he wore goodness like a cloak,” “sweet spirit,” and “irenic heart.” 

There is no doubt that if such a mission were needed in our era, to find the one person our church wanted to present to the world and say----“look, look, here is the proof that the abundant life proclaimed in the Gospel and preached from our pulpits, it’s true, it’s possible.  It would have been John Wesley Hardt.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History   June 18

Women’s Choral Group Gains National Attention for Lon Morris   June 1949

Lon Morris College, an institution of the Texas Conference of the Methodist Church, was nationally famous for its fine arts program.  Several of its former students achieved fame as professionals.  It was no accident.  The Lon Morris administration was devoted to the fine arts program.  Lon Morris recruited talented students and provided the resources they needed to succeed.  Readers will recognize the names of Tommy Tune, Sandy Duncan, K. T. Oslin, and Margo Martindale.  All of them attended Lon Morris. 

One can get a good idea of such support by looking at the schedule of a choral group of 8 women during June 1949.  The women appeared at Annual Conference in Houston and at the formal opening of Lakeview Methodist Assembly in nearby Anderson County.  They sang several times each week at luncheon clubs and churches and highlighted the Watermelon Festival in Nacogdoches.
The big trip, though, was to New York City to sing at the International Lion’s Club Convention.  While they were there, they also appeared on several national radio broadcasts.  

Lon Morris was a junior college so all the students were barely out of high school when they participated in these travel experiences.  The eight women who made up the group were Joy Hamilton (Rusk), Ruth Wilson (Huntsville), Jean Officer (Jacksonville),  Jackie Strickland (Lufkin), Shirley Richards (Freeport), Veldean Scott (Fairfield),  Mary Crouch (Port Arthur),  and Nelda Million (Liberty).  

There was another Lon Morris student who achieved musical stardom, but those talents weren’t really developed at Lon Morris.  Johnny Horton, from Gallatin, came to Lon Morris and played basketball.    He practiced his singing talents in the beer joints over the Louisiana line. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History   June 11

Granbury College Holds Commencement Exercises  June 15, 1883

19th century Texans didn’t have many choices for higher education.  The state government didn’t see its role as spending tax money for colleges and universities.   Public higher education came to Texas only after the Civil War through the federal legislation creating land grant colleges which had been sponsored by Justin Morrill  (1810-1898) of Vermont.   The passage of the Morrill Act was one of the most important events in American history since it spurred the creation of universities throughout the nation.  The Morrill Homestead in Vermont has been preserved.  I have visited it to my great pleasure.   The impact on Texas was the creation of Texas A & M and Prairie View A & M.

Those two institutions could not begin to meet the educational needs of the state, and the denominations continued to create schools as they had done before the Civil War.

In 1873 the Weatherford District of the North West Texas Conference of the MECS authorized the construction of a 3 story stone building that would be used as a high school in Granbury.  The school opened but was beset by difficulties.  In 1881 it expanded to junior college status under the presidency of Rev. David A. Switzer. 

Commence exercises often consumed an entire week, and in 1883 the festivities were to begin with a worship service on Sunday, June 10 and continue through the 14th as students demonstrated what they had learned—mainly through elocution exercises, musical numbers,  and standing before audiences who asked them questions over their course material.

The week started poorly when Rev. John Murphy of Weatherford who was to preach the commencement sermon, became ill and didn’t arrive.  The newspaper report said—“No great loss.  There had been a heavy rain and most of the congregation didn’t come either.”

The elocution exercises were competitive so a highlight of the proceedings was the announcement of the winner.  P. B. Ward of Bosque County won the most prestigious award, the Lane Gold Medal, donated by the Presiding Elder of the Eastland District, Rev. J. K. Lane.  The Faculty Medal for the female who submitted the best original composition went to Miss Fannie Tramell of Coryell County. 

In January 1887 Granbury College burned and all its contents were lost.  It survived by moving to Weatherford.  The institution went through several reorganizations, but has managed to survive when many other similar institutions failed.  From 1943 to 1949 it was part of Southwestern University under President J. N. R. Score’s plan to make Southwestern the head of university system with feeder junior colleges.

 It officially serves Parker, Hood, Jack, Palo Pinto, and Wise Counties with multiple campuses and educational programs.