Saturday, September 16, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History  September 17

Nathan Bangs Informs Fowler of Reorganization of Texas Mission
September 1838

The death of Martin Ruter in May 1838 necessitated a reorganization of the MEC mission to Texas.  Ruter was one of the most respected and experienced administrators in the denomination.  He had been Agent of the Cincinnati Book Depository, president of two colleges, General Conference delegate, and well-known author.  His two junior partners assigned to the Texas Mission in 1837, Littleton Fowler and Robert Alexander were both younger men, and thus not nearly as experienced.

The bishops met in the summer of 1838 and decided to appoint Fowler as head of mission until the winter round of conferences began.  When the Mississippi Conference convened in December, the Texas Mission would be added to that conference. 
Fowler took his new responsibilities seriously, but Texas was a vast republic and he had just married in June, and was also trying to set up housekeeping.  In practice, an informal arrangement grew up in which Fowler remained in Eastern Texas and Alexander in Western Texas.   Folwer’s home base was the San Augustine area and Alexander moved to Rutersville where a “Methodist town” was being formed. 
The informal arrangement was eventually made official when two Texas districts were created in the Mississippi Conference with Alexander and Fowler being appointed the Presiding Elders. 

Putting Texas churches (except those in northeastern Texas which were part of Arkansas) proved disastrous.   The arrangement meant that preachers wishing to volunteer for the Texas Mission had to transfer to the Mississippi Conference where they were subject to appointment anywhere within the bounds of that conference—Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.  When Bishop Andrew appointed one of the 1838 volunteers for Texas, Lewell Campbell, to New Orleans, it had stifling effect on further transfer requests. 

Fortunately the arrangement lasted only until the creation of the Texas Conference in 1840. 

Saturday, September 09, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 10

James Caldwell Shares Doubts with Fowler, September 18, 1840

One of the most prominent citizens of the Republic of Texas was James P. Caldwell  (1793-1856).  He had been born in Baltimore, and lived in Kentucky before his arrival in 1824.  He settled on the lower Brazos at Velasco and is credited with building and operating one of the first sugar mills in that fertile river bottom.  In 1852 he shipped 200 hogsheads of sugar.  

He was also a participant in the Battle of Velasco and an organizer of the first Masonic Lodge in Texas.  

On September 18, 1840, he wrote Littleton Fowler a letter expressing the hope that the two would see each other in October when Methodists planned to gather for the Centenary Campmeeting.  The letter also reveals some interesting doubts about Caldwell’s assurance of salvation.
I want to realize those feelings of Joy which belong alone to the Christian, ah! Bro Fowler, I have some bitter moments of reflection, at times I imagine I have sinned against the best of beings too long ever to hope for repentance, these thoughts will obtrude themselves uncalled for, and though I never give them audience long before I banish them yet they cause at times phantoms to flit across my breast, that this may possibly be, or why so long without the evidence of redemption from sin. Parson Allen & Baker talking to me on the subject thought it probably I expected to receive too much, that we should be satisfied, etc., etc., etc. Well, I have not that evidence that I am a changed man, and until I experience that I have passed from death until life, I shall never feel that I am prepared to die, and until I can feel ready to die, assured of my acceptance with God in heaven, I shall never feel that I am a Christian in my acceptation of the term.

Allen and Baker refer to William Y. Allen and Daniel Baker, both Presbyterians, who along with Jesse Hord, the Methodist circuit rider, had been preaching in the Velasco area.

Our interest in the letter comes from the fact that most Methodist correspondence of the period is full of the assurance of salvation rather than doubts about it.   It sounds much more like letters and diaries from 17th century Puritans who were obsessed with the question of whether they were saved.  One of the features of the revival movement of the early 19th century was the “sure and certain” promise of salvation that penitents received at the mercy seat.  Caldwell’s letter shows that he wanted some dramatic sign even though his spiritual advisors provided reassuring advice.
Caldwell died in one of the periodic yellow fever epidemics and was buried at Peach Point.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History  September 3

Annie Williams and Rebecca Toland Sail for Mission Field, Sept. 6, 1881

On September 6, 1881, Annie Williams (1860-1926) and Rebecca Toland (1859-1947)sailed from Galveston to Mexico to begin their lives of service in missions.  They were the first two missionaries sent from the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Texas Conference. 
The MEC began formal missionary efforts in 1819, but it was not until the late 19th century that women organized the societies that recruited and supported missionaries.  The missionaries sent by the women’s organizations were destined to have a major influence all around the world. 
Williams and Toland both attended Chappell Hill Female College, and volunteered for missions in Mexico.  They went first to Conception and the home of Rev. Joseph Norwood.  After about a week they decided that Toland should  go to Laredo and work in the Laredo Seminary (later Holding Institute) and for Williams to live with the Norwoods and study Spanish. 

In only two weeks (Sept. 19) Williams opened a school with 7 students enrolled.  She built the enrollment up to about 20 pupils and after Rev. and Mrs. Norwood moved on, was in charge of the Sunday School.  In the fall of 1882 she followed Toland to Laredo and joined the faculty of Laredo Seminary.  In 1883 she married Rev. J. F. Corbin, and they became a missionary couple who served in Mexico.  They stayed there until the Mexican Revolution when they moved to Los Angeles, California.  She died there in 1926.

Toland worked at Laredo Seminary until 1890 when she transferred to the new school in San Luis Potosi.  She stayed there for 12 years and after the Spanish American War moved to Matanzas, Cuba.   She served there 23 years and became the first of the Texas Conference missionaries to be designated emerita.  Her total service---from 1881 to 1926--stands as one of the longest terms of service of her generation of missionaries.

She eventually moved to in Santiago, Cuba, and taught in the school named for her sister, Dr. Irene Toland, who had died in Cuba while caring for yellow fever patients. 
*Annie Williams was a granddaughter of the famous Samuel May Williams. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History   August 27

Sumner Bacon Organizes American Bible Society Chapter in San Augustine  September 1834

In September, 1834, Sumner Bacon organized the first chapter of the American Bible Society in Mexican Texas.   The ABS was founded in 1816 and is still a major distributor of scriptures in many languages. 

Bacon was born in 1790 in Massachusetts.   His early plans for education and a legal career were ended with the death of his father.  He moved west, down the Ohio River and eventually ended in the U S Army in Fort Smith, Arkansas.  He was converted at a camp meeting and became a Cumberland Presbyterian.  He lived in Arkansas after leaving the army.  He sought ordination but his lack of education meant that he did not meet the requirements.  In 1829 he moved to Texas as an itinerant evangelist. 

He continued to seek ordination in the Arkansas Presbytery, but was unsuccessful.  A meeting with the Rev. Benjamin Chase led to his appointment as the first Texian representative of the American Bible Society.  In 1834/35 he distributed about 2000 English and Spanish Bibles.  Also in 1835 he presented himself for ordination to the Louisiana Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.  He was still only semi-literate at best, but Presbytery recognized his zeal and ordained him anyway.    After all “he scattered the Word of Life from San Antonio to the Sabine with an industrious hand."

After service as a courier in the Texas Revolution he attended the session of the Mississippi Presbytery in the fall of 1836.  While there he received authorization to form a Texas Presbytery when he could assemble three Cumberland Presbyterian preachers.  In 1837 he was able to find the requisite two other preachers and organized the Presbytery about 5 miles east of San Augustine. 
Readers of this column will note how close the organization was to McMahan’s Chapel—also east of San Augustine and also the coincidence of the ABS organization being about the same time as the first Caney Creek Camp Meeting.

The 1837 organization of the Texas Presbytery preceded other Protestant organization.  The Regular Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists all organized their judicatories within a few months of each other in 1840.    He died at San Augustine in January 1844. 

Saturday, August 05, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History  August 6

Houston Trinity Sponsors City Wide Revival Two Weeks Before Camp Logan Riots
August , 1917

As Houston prepares to mark the centennial of the worst racial violence in its history, we should remember that only two weeks prior to the Camp Logan Riots, Houston Trinity MEC sponsored a city wide revival in which both races participated.

The story of the Camp Logan Riots is well known.  Soon after US entry into World War I the War Department authorized two new facilities in Harris County,  Ellington Field and Camp Logan.  The Camp Logan site is now occupied by Memorial Park.
The 24th US Infantry was ordered to Houston to guard the construction site.  The guards were an all African American unit. Tensions between these soldiers from the North and the Jim Crow restrictions in place in Houston eventually boiled over into a riot in which almost 20 people were killed.  Eventually 19 mutineers were hanged and 41 were given life sentences. 

Only two weeks earlier, an event of racial amity in Houston occurred.  Trinity MEC sponsored a city wide revival in Emancipation Park.  The evangelist, Rev. Chinn preached at day break,   11:00, 3:00, and again at 8:00 to audiences estimated as reaching 4000 on Sunday night and 2000 on week nights.  In accordance with the Jim Crow laws then in place, white attendees were accommodated with a separate seating section.   As was typical of the era, each night of the revival had a different theme.  On night was tuberculosis night with the collection being devoted to the tuberculosis sanitarium.  Another was Galveston night.  Another night was devoted to raising money to build a home for delinquent Negro children.  One night only men came, and another only women.  Still another day was “Old Folks Day.”   

Rev. John E. Green (see post for July 16) preached another night.  Perhaps Chinn’s most noted sermon was “Why Should the Devil Rule Houston?”   That sermon concentrated on the evils of dancing and card playing.  On Friday, August 10, the revival moved indoors to the City Auditorium so that more attendees could hear the sermon for which had made Chinn nationally known,  “After the Ball is Over” from Matthew 24:7(For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.)  The sermon title was taken from a popular 1891 song.   The service held in the City Auditorium was specifically advertised in white newspapers and promised, in addition to the sermon, a motion picture and a chorus of “jubilee and plantation” songs.  

  The pastor at Trinity at the time was Rev. J. O. Williams.    He, and the other organizers, knew of the all black 24 Infantry and extended a special invitation to them and asked their officers for leave so they could attend.

Only two weeks after these bi-racial revival services came the worst racial incident in Houston’s history. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History   July 30

Travis Park Women Provide Program for Brooks Field Troops, July 30, 1918

The entrance of the United States into World War I opened up a new mission field for Methodists in Texas, especially the Woman’s Missionary Society.  Texas had wide open spaces, good rail connections, and a supportive population.  The Department of War considered Texas an ideal place to build new military posts.  Many troops went sent to Texas for their training before being deployed to France.  Texas was the only place that American aviators were trained.  If a man wanted to earn his pilot’s wings, he had to come to Texas. 

Many Texas churches saw the military bases as a mission field.  Part of their concern was expressed by Rheta Childe Dorr (1868-1948), a fearless journalist who covered both the war and the Russian Revolution in spite of obstacles thrown up because she was a woman.  The War Department would not give her credentials as a journalist so she went to France credentialed as a lecturer for the YMCA.  In one of her dispatches from France she wrote, 

(a mother wrote to me)  I know my boy is being well cared for by his regiment, and I’m not afraid of what may happen to him as long as he is on duty.  But what about his off hours?  What is to prevent him falling into bad company?”  

Dorr replied (in part)  Even if France were a second Sodom or Gomorrah, our soldiers would be safe there.  

The War Department was sensitive to the fears of mothers who imagined the worst for their sons, many of whom were away from home for the first time.  They did what they could to suppress prostitution, drinking, and gambling dens near the new military facilities.  The generals knew they needed help in preventing venereal disease, drunkenness, and attendant loss of military readiness so they were eager to accept civilian help.  Church women in San Antonio mobilized themselves to help.  They channeled most of their efforts through the YMCA and the Red Cross, since both institutions had existing relationships with the military.

On July 30, 1918, the women of Travis Park Methodist provided a program for troops from Brooks Field.   The event was held at Brooks Field in the YMCA building.  The official host was the Comrades in Service Bible Class whose teacher was Mrs. L. B. Haines.  

The Post Commander provided five trucks to transport young ladies of the Philathea Sunday School Class from Travis Park Methodist Church to the base.   Some readers may recognize the Philathea Class as the class in which the Upper Room devotional magazine began. The class was founded at Travis Park in 1907.  It also was the origin of the San Antonio YWCA (1910).  In 1918 it had about 100 members.  

Older women, members of the Woman’s Missionary Society, arrived in a caravan of ten private automobiles.  The program was mainly musical.  It started with the entire assembly singing America, and then the Comrades in Service Class sang their class song, Over the Top for Jesus.  

After alternating vocal and violin solos with dramatic readings, everyone adjourned for refreshments.  Mrs. L. B. Haines organized the whole event.  She was assisted by Miss Ella Bowden*, Mrs. E. Nance, Mrs. S. Grayson, Mrs. Chaplin Stanford,  Mrs. G. Snyder, and Mrs. E. Wright,  Mrs. Rogers, and the young women of the Philathea Class.  

Events such as this were not confined to San Antonio.  Many other churches around Texas made similar efforts.  In addition to morale-building programs such as this, church women often wrote letters for wounded or semi-literate soldiers, brought flowers, or sat beside soldiers in military hospitals reading to them. 
Some Texas women were also moved to go to France with the Red Cross or Y to provide similar services “over there.”  

*Ella Bowden (1880-1953) was a Deaconess, one of the founders of the Wesley Settlement House and assistant to the pastor at McKinley Ave. Methodist Church. 

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.