Sunday, January 29, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History--January 29

If there had been society columns in Texas newspapers in 1838, the following item might have appeared.

Parson Alexander Weds Miss Eliza Ayres

Center Hill, January 25, 1838

A small gathering witnessed the exchange of wedding vows by the Rev. Robert Alexander of Mississippi, now a Methodist missionary to Texas, and Miss Eliza Ayres, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. David Ayres of Center Hill. The Rev. Dr. Martin Ruter, late of Meadville, Pennsylvania, officiated at the ceremony which was held in the bride's home. Guests included the Rev. and Mrs. John Wesley Kenney and Miss Lydia McHenry of Travis, Texas. The sixteen year old bride and twenty-six year old groom plan to make their home at Center Hill.

All participants would have been well aware of two important pieces of information left unsaid in the news article. The first was that marriage often brought an end to itenerate ministry for Methodist circuit riders. Weeks away from home and the low salary often meant that circuit riders assumed a local relationship when they married. The second was that Robert Alexander was marrying into one of the wealthiest, most prominent Methodist families in the Republic of Texas. The marriage thus had implications for the church as well as the families.

Robert Alexander remained in full connection after his marriage. He assumed an even greater role after the death of Dr. Ruter in May, 1838. He and Eliza moved to Rutersville, the site of the Methodist college. When the Texas Conference was organized there in 1840, Alexander was the host presiding elder. Only two years later, though, they moved back to a 4000 acre ranch adjoining David Ayres's property and embracing the site of the 1834 and 1835 camp meetings that had issued a call for missionaries. Their home, Cottage Hill, became a favorite stopping place for traveling Methodists.

When Eliza became ill, they moved to Bell County where David Ayres owned nine leagues of land. That property contained therapeutic hot springs. During the Civil War the family moved back to Cottage Hill. After the Civil War they moved their ranching operations to an island in Galveston Bay. David Ayres had long since moved to Galveston when Center Hill lost a county seat election to Bellville.

Throughout Alexander's long ministry in the Texas Conference, David Ayres was a promient layman. Both were deeply involved in the publishing, educational, and church extension activities that characterized the Texas Conference in the middle decadesof the 19th century.

Robert and Eliza were married 40 years. She died in August, 1878. He lived until 1882. On Feb. 4, 1838, Robert had written his fellow missionary, Littleton Fowler, to tell him about his marriage. He had said, "". . .I am pleased as well as I can be, and scarecely thought I could be so well pleased."

Heritage Sunday Celebration

The theme for Heritage Sunday 2006 is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of full clergy rights for women. Materials for that celebration can be found on the General Commission on Archive and History's web site. ( see sidebar links) The Conference CAH would be very interested in learning how your local church is choosing to celebrate Heritage Sunday. Please click the comments icon at the end of this message and share how you are celebrating this important milestone.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History-Jan. 23

January 23, 1843, Rev. T. O. Summers celebrates dedication of Ryland Chapel in Galveston.

Although the Texas Conference was created in 1840, it depended upon volunteers and philanthropy from the United States for several years after its creation. Two members of the Texas Conference took extended trips north in 1842 that produced grand results. Littleton Fowler went on a recruiting trip to the Ohio Valley. He recruited 7 preachers in Ohio including Homer Thrall and John Wesley DeVilbiss who became two of the giants of Texas Methodism. Rev. Thomas O. Summers' mission was fundraising rather than recruting. He had his greatest success in the Baltimore/Washington. D. C. area.

One of the contributors was the Rev. William Ryland, Chaplain of the U. S. Senate. He donated $1800 for building churches in Texas. On Jan. 23, 1843 Summers wrote to the editor of the Christian Advocate and Journal to describe the dedication of Ryland Chapel in Galveston which had been held the previous day. At eleven o'clock the choir sang "The Lord is in his holy temple." The congregation then sang the hymn, Behold thy Temple, Lord of Grace, followed by the Old 100. In a curious example of ecuminism, the dedicatory sermon was preached by the Rev. I. J. Henderson, Presbyterian pastor. Then the Lord's Supper was administered to a small congregation of members of four or five denominations. Summers wrote, "It was very pleasant for brethren thus to dwell in unity."

Thomas Summers did not remain in Texas. In 1844 he transferred to the Alabama Conference and went on a distinguished career at the Publishing House in Nashville. He was editor of the Quarterly Review, author of many articles, secretary of several General Conferences, and an officer in the Missionary Society.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Jacksonville FUMC Publishes Its History

May Lou Meyers, a member of the Texas Conference Commission on Archives and History, has recently announced the publication of a history of Jacksonville First United Methodist Church. The 208 page volume builds on the 1988 work of local historian John Allen Templeton who conducted research as part of the application process for a state historic marker. The present work goes beyond that research and includes
  • the stained glass windows
  • the music program of the church
  • Christian Education, including histories of each Sunday School class
  • missions and outreach
  • United Methodist Women
  • United Methodist Youth
  • each group on the Council on Ministries
  • celebrations of significant events in the life of the church
  • members of the church who have served beyond the local church
  • the future of the church
  • an extensive index
  • a photo gallery which includes pictures of most of the former pastors

The Jacksonville FUMC history can be ordered from FUMC, 416 S. Bonner, Jacksonville, Texas 75766. The church phone number is 903-586-2494. The price is $25.00. Many friends of Jacksonville FUMC and many churches will certainly wish to obtain this new history.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History Jan. 16

On January 20, 1839, Jesse Hord preached his first sermon in Houston. He was encouraged by the reception he received and predicted that Methodism might eventually amount to something in this "Babel of a city."

Jesse Hord (b. 1809) volunteered for the Texas Mission of the Mississippi Conference in 1838. He was directed to form a circuit in the Houston area. Abel Stevens had been appointed to the young cities of Galveston and Houston. Hord arrived in Houston in December, 1838, and after a few days set out on his circuit. That took him to Richmond, San Felipe, Egypt, Matagorda, and Brazoria. On January 16 he preached in Brazoria to "several sweet Christians, all of whom, with overflowing hearts and eyes, made me welcome in their village and their homes." Two days later, January 18, Hord was back in Houston where he met Abel Stevens and Schuyler Hoes, an agent of the American Bible Society assigned to Texas. On Sunday, January 20, Hord preached his first sermon in Houston at 3:00 p.m. After the service he set out with a Presbyterian preacher distributing tracts and recruiting members for a Sunday School class.

On Monday, Jan. 21, Hord departed Houston for his extensive circuit where he would preach and organize churchers. He went to Richmond, Brazoria, Quintana, and even as far as Texana. The cirucit was extremely difficult in the winter. Many of the streams in the coastal plain were swollen and all but impossible to cross. As a result, Hord did not return to Houston until March 18.

Hord went on to a distinguished career. Upon the organization of the Texas Conference in 1840 he was appointed to the Wasington Circuit. His last appointment was to Goliad in 1847. At the conclusion of that conference year Hord left the travelling connection and remained in Goliad until his death in 1886.

Beaumont FUMC in the 1960s

The Beaumont Enterprise News remembers the role of John Wesley Hardt and First United Methodist Church in the Civil Rights Movement and the effort to clean out corruption in the the Beaumont area during the 1960s.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Include Archives and History in Your Planning

Many churches meet in January to plan the year's ministries. The Commission on Archives and History has several suggestions that each church should consider as it plans:

1. Each church should assess the condition of its archives. Are the most vital documents secure from water, insect, and rodent damage? Are they kept in fireproof storage containers? In the case of membership records and irreplaceable photographs, do backup copies exist? The widespread use of digital scanners makes backing up very easy.

2. Each church should have a written retention policy. One of the main problems with local church archives is that they contain too much! The General Commission on Archives and History has published guidelines that help churches develop their own policies concerning which documents should be retained and how long they should be retained.

3. Each church should consider writing its history. Churches with published histories should consider writing an update to cover events since the last history was published.

4. Heritage Sunday should be put on the church's calendar now! May 21, 2006 is the official Heritage Sunday, but a church may choose some other date if May 21 is inconvenient. The important thing is to observe the day. The theme for this year's observance is the celebration of the 50th anniversary of full clergy rights for women. Special materials for the observance can be found at the General Commission's website,

The Commission requests that chairs of the various planning meetings include these four items on your agenda. The members of the Commission are eager to help you accomplish these goals. For more information please contact your district representative or one of the officers listed in the side bar.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Texas United Methodist Historical Society Annual Meeting

The Texas United Methodist Historical Society will meet in Abilene March 24 and 25 on the campus of McMurry University to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our denomination's granting full clergy rights to women. Tentative speakers include Dr. Robert Pace who will speak on the 1956 General Conference debate which resulted in full clergy rights for women and Mrs. Pat Thompson of Morrisville, Vermont, president of the United Methodist Historical Society. Mrs. Bonnie Sandberg, a member of the Texas Conference Commission on Archives and History will tell the group about her grandmother, the Rev. Bessie Hedgepath Risinger, who became a preacher in 1927--well before 1956, in the Methodist Protestant Church. The Rev. Ava Berry is also on the program. Rev. Berry is district superintendent of the Abilene District of the Northwest Texas Conference. Her presentation will concern the appointment of women clergy.

More information, including registration materials, can be obtained from the president of the TUMHS, the Rev. Ken Goodell at 281-427-9874 or vice-president Wm. C. Hardt at 979-830-0136.

Hope to see you in Abilene.

Monday, January 09, 2006

This week in Texas Methodist History--Jan. 9

This week in Texas Methodist history

January 9, 1865

John Wesley Kenney, one of the 'grand old men" of Texas Methodism died of pulmonary failure at his home in Travis, Austin County, Texas. Kenney had been born in southwestern Pennsylvania in 1799. His father Peter was a recent immigrant from Ireland where Mrs. Kenney had been converted by John Wesley on one of his missionary trips to that country. After the War of 1812 made the Ohio Valley safer, the Kenney family immigrated to Ohio. John Wesley Kenney became acquainted with Martin Ruter who was in charge of the Methodist Book Concern in Cincinnati.

Kenney was admitted O.T. in the Ohio conference in 1818, and when the Kentucky Conference was organized from the Ohio Conference in 1820, Kenney became a member of the Kentucky Conference. He transferred back to the Ohio Conference in 1824 and married Maria McHenry in 1825. Maria's father was the Rev. Barnabas McHenry, one of the first Methodists to itinerate west of the Appalachians.

Kenney assumed a local pastor's relationship and moved to Rock Island, Illinois. When that region became engulfed in the Black Hawk War, Kenney sent his family back to Kentucky and fought in the militia. At the end of the war, Kenney returned to Washington County, Kentucky, to retrieve his family. Unfortunately the Ohio Valley was in the grip of a cholera epidemic transmitted by the movement of troops in the war. On one terrible weekend, Kenney watched helplessly as his father-in-law, mother-in-law, two sisters-in-law, and a daughter all died within a three day period.

In October, 1833, the Kenney family, including Maria's sister Lydia, set out for Texas. They arrived in Washington on the Brazos in December. Early the next year, he located his land grant in northern Austin County and moved there. He was instrumental in organizing a camp meeting in September, 1834, on Caney Creek, just a few miles from his home. He cleared the grounds with his own hands. Another camp meeting near the same location in 1835 resulted in the famous call for missionaries and the organization of a missionary society.

The first missionaries to respond to the call, Martin Ruter, Robert Alexander, and Littleton Fowler, used the Kenney residence as a sort of headquarters upon their arrival in Texas. A prominent layman, David Ayres lived a few miles away, as did another local preacher, William Medford.

Kenney preached at regular church services and camp meetings in settlements along the Brazos and Colorado Rivers with occasional forays as far as the Trinity and San Antonio Rivers.
He joined the Texas Conference and received a regular appointment for one year, but most of his service was as a local preacher.

Travis, where he was buried, was bypassed by the Gulf Coast and Santa Fe RR in the winter of 1879/80. Most merchants relocated to the rail line, and a town grew up around the depot and post office. That small town was later named Kenney in honor of the pioneer Texas Methodist preacher.

Welcome to Texas Methodist History

Though officially sponsored by the Commission on Archives & History of the Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church (how's that for a mouthful!), this weblog will be a source for information and discussion of history not only in Texas Methodism, but in other related areas.