Sunday, April 30, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History April 30

Delegates Convene in Louisville to Create MECS-- May 1, 1845

The 1844 General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, held in New York City, had been the scene of acrimonious debate about slavery. The debate had not ended in compromise. Instead most southern delegates came to the conclusion that a new denomination should be formed that embraced the "peculiar institution" of slavery. During the winter of 1844/45 annual conferences throughout the South elected delegates to a convention called to create such a denomination.

The delegates convened at Louisville, Kentucky, on May 1, 1845. Texas was represented by Robert Alexander (presiding elder of the Galveston District), Littleton Fowler (presiding elder of the Sabine District), and Chauncey Richardson (President of Rutersville College). John Clark, who had been a Texas Conference delegate to the General Conference of 1844 had voted with northern delegates and found it prudent to remain in New York.

Delegates organized themselves into committees and began the work for which they had been elected. In about two weeks they announced the creation of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. That denomination continued until 1939 when the northern and southern branches of the church as well as the Methodist Protestant Church united to form the Methodist Church.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History April 23

E. L. Shettles Converted April 27, 1891

On April 27, 1891 a 6' 5" professional gambler decided to go to a revival in Belton at which the Rev. Joe Jones was the preacher. The result was a conversion experience that led to a call to the ministry. For the next thirty years E. L. Shettles ministered in the Texas Conference as preacher, presiding elder, historian, and conservator of historical materials.

Few of his early associates could have predicted such a career for the Mississippian. From 1881 to 1891 Shettles travelled Texas haunting saloons, gambling dens, prize fight arenas, and other unsavory sites. He lived by his wits and often faced danger from the other gamblers whom he cheated. That life ended dramatically at age 39.

After a year of preparation, Shettles was given a circuit in Bastop County. Later appointments took him to Houston, Pittsburg, and Navasota (among other places). He also collected Texas history materials and co-edited the Texas Methodist Historical Quarterly. (1909-1911)

After his retirement in 1921, Shettles began a new career as book collector. He scoured book stores and private collections to add to the library holdings of the University of Texas, Southern Methodist University, Rice Institute, and Sam Houston State Teacher's College. The SMU items included some very rare Wesleyana items.

After his death at age 88 in Austin, his friend J. Frank Dobie eulogized him. He said He was one of the best men I have ever known, and he and my own father have led me to conclude that pure goodness and justice and mercy and kindness in men make them cheerful.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History April 16

General Conference Favors Creation of North West Texas Conference April 16, 1866

The MECS General Conference of 1866, meeting in New Orleans, had a great deal of work to catch up on. The 1862 General Conference had been cancelled because of the Civil War. The bishops were eight years older (and more feeble) and less able to travel to preside over annual conferences. There were calls for increasing the role of laity. Many Methodist schools and churches had been destroyed or damaged by war. African Americans were leaving the denomination in huge numbers, many of them changing to the MEC, AME and AME Zion denominations which were sending preachers into the South.

The General Conference of 1866 was one of the most memorable of all such conferences. Lay representation was approved. Enoch Marvin was elected bishop, the first bishop to have served a Texas pulpit. (Marvin had served in Marshall during the Civil War.)

On April 16 the Committee on Boundaries reported favorably on the Texas Conference peitition to strike off its northern portion and create a new conference from that region. The General Conference concurred, and the North-West Texas Conference was created. The division line started at the Trinity River and Leon County's southern boundary. It followed the southern boundaries of Leon, Robertson, and Milam Counties. It then followed the Williamson/Travis County line. The new conference was thus assigned the wonderfully rich farm lands of the Black Land Prairie and the booming cites of Waco, Waxahatchie, Belton, Hillsboro, Cameron, Marlin, Georgetown, as well as less populated lands to the west.

In less than twenty years the Texas Conference asked General Conference to return Falls, Milam, Freestone, Robertson, and Leon Counties. The booming population of the North West Texas Conference had created a large imbalance in conference memberships. In 1910 the North West Texas Conference was itself divided into the Central Texas and North West Texas Conferences whose boundaries we observe to the present.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History April 9

Mattie Wright consecrated first deaconess in MEC, South, April 15, 1903

Although women have long constituted a majority of Methodists, they were denied leadership positions in almost all branches of the Wesleyan tradition. As the 19th century came to a close, though, several factors were converging that would allow women increasing opportunities for witness and service. In 1888 the General Conference of the MEC authorized the position of deaconess. Women quickly went to work in hospitals, orphanages, settlement houses, and schools. Cincinnati, Ohio, soon became a center of deaconess training for the MEC with a teaching hospital, residential facilities, and other support services.

The MECS was slower to act, but the General Conference of 1902 created the office of deaconess. Mattie Wright became the first woman so consecrated on April 15, 1903. In 1907 Deaconess Wright was appointed to Houston. Houston at that time was establishing itself as the petroleum capital of the southwest. The port was expanding, and a population boom was underway. Wright soon identified the need for housing for young, unmarried women who had come to Houston seek employment in the burgeoning city. Very soon after her arrival in Houston, Wright rented a seven room house on the corner of Conti and Chapman streets (a few bocks north of downtown). Houston Methodists soon furnished the home, and twelve women soon resided at the Cooperative Home for Working Girls.

Wright had to turn away prospective residents almost daily. This distressed her so that she threw herself into finding larger accomodations. When a hotel on North Main became available, she convinced Houston Methodists to acquire it. Ater some remodeling in which the saloon was turned into a kindergarten and the billiard hall into a clinic. the "Wesley House" opened for business. The facility was soon filled with young women. They were provided much more than a safe place to stay. McKee Stree Methodist Church provided opportunities for spiritual growth. There was also wholesome recreation in the form of sports teams, some health care, community, and friendship with a loving deaconess--Mattie Wright.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Some Methodist History in Beaumont

The Beaumont Journal tells the story of John Fletcher Pipkin, a Methodist preacher from South Carolina. a daring liberal for his time, Rev. Pipkin taught one of his slaves, Woodson Pipkin, to read. Woodson Pipkin went on to found St. Paul's AME church in 1868.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History-April 2

Martin Ruter born in Massachusetts--April 3, 1785

Martin Ruter who later led the first official missionary team from the United States to the Republic of Texas was born April 3, 1785 in Charlton, Massachusetts. As a youth his family moved to Bradford, Vermont, where he was "soundly converted". He received a license to exhort in 1800 and accompanied his presiding elder on the latter's rounds. By 1802 he had his own circuit and in 1804 was appointed missionary to Montreal. Upon his return to the United States he was ordained elder and served a variety of appointments in New England. In 1808 he was elected for the first time to the General Conference.

In 1820 he received an assignment to take over the Book Concern in Cincinnati. He served at that post for eight years and then assumed the presidency of Augusta College in Kentucky. He served there for four years and transferred to the Pittsburgh Conference. That membership led to his appointment as president of Allegheny College.

He was a delegate to the General Conference of 1836. When the call for missionaries to Texas was sounded, Ruter volunteered. In the summer of 1837 he bade farewell to his college presidency and began his journey to Texas as head of mission. He arrived at the Sabine in November, 1837, and threw himself in the work of organizing circuits, acquiring property, raising funds, and promoting a Methodist school.

In May 1838, he started back to the north to bring his family to Texas. He became ill and returned to Washington on the Brazos. where he died. His body was later reinterred in Navasota.

Although Ruter was in Texas only from November, 1837 to May 1838, his impact was great. His dream of a Methodist university was fulfilled in 1840 with the creation of Rutersville University.