Sunday, May 28, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History May 28

June 3, 1839--Texas Methodists Resolve to Celebrate Centenary of Methodism

Methodists have often used the commemoration of historic events to advance the interests of the denomination. In 1840 they commemorated Wesley's organization of Methodist Societies. In 1884 they celebrated the Christmas Conference in Baltimore. 1919 saw the centennial of Methodist Missions celbrated with a huge fund raising effort for missions. Texas Methodists had state wide celebrations in both 1934 and 1936 to commemorate Texas Methodist heritage.

The first celebration presented some problems to the Texas Mission. There was very little money in the Republic of Texas. Many, if not most, Texans lived by barter. Promissory notes, cattle receipts, and commodities were common substitutes for legal tender. How then should the Texas Mission raise money to celebrate the centennial? One group of preachers devised a solution. They passed the following resolution

Resolved that we recommend to our brethren and the preachers generally to procure before the Centenary selebration donations of land for campgrounds, churches, and parsonages at every appointment on the circuits, and that said donations be considered as commemnoration of the centenary of Methodism.

There may not have been much money in Texas, but there was lots of land. The donations of land did come in. Both acreage and town lots were donated. At least one of the campgrounds (in Burleson County) was named Centenary Campground.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

This Week In Texas Methodist History--May 21

Alexander Reports on Ruter's Death May 23, 1838

Martin Ruter, head of the Texas Mission of the Methodist Episcopal Church, died at Washington on the Brazos on May 16, 1838. One week later his junior colleague, Robert Alexander wrote to the third member of the Mission, Littleton Fowler, to infom him of the tragic event. Alexander was shaken by the death. "A great man in Israel has fallen. I have never had any thing to afflict me more, not even the death of my own dear father. " Ruter had been in the Republic of Texas only since the previous November, but in those few months had worked tireslessly to plant Methodist societies in the new nation. Alexander summed up Ruter's virtues "Think of learning, weight of character, mildness, prudence, enterprise, energy, &c. " Alexander also informed Fowler that he had started a fund to pay for a grave memorial for Ruter and requested that all Texas churches hold memorial services on June 28.

Enough money was obtained for a suitable tombstone. Alexander asked the Rev. William Winans of the Mississippi Conference to obtain a marble slab in New Orleans, write an epitaph to be carved on it, and then ship the monument to Texas. Washington on the Brazos declined in population so decades later that monument and Ruter's remains were reburied in Navasota where they are today.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Saturday, May 13, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History May 14

Dallas Hosts General Conference, May 1902

The General Conference of the MECS met only twice in Texas. The first time was in 1902. Delegates came to Dallas in May of that year to carry out the denomination's work. Dallas had emerged as the leading city not only of Texas, but of the entire South Central United States. Its rail connections to Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Memphis gave it commercial advantages none of its rivals could match. Securing the General Conference was only the latest in a series of civic achievements Dallas boosters could point to.

One of the items before the General Conference was the continuing dispute over annual conference boundaries in Texas. Every general conference since 1858 had been petitioned to change annual conference boundary lines one way or another. Some petitions were from individual congregations and districts that wished to put in another conference. Some petititioners from Louisiana and Arkansas even wanted to be included in one of the Texas conferences. The larger problem, though, was a gross imbalance in membership among the conferences. The North West Texas Conference was by far the largest. It had 66,876 members. Its expanse was great--from Taylor all the way to Dalhart. The North Texas Conference boasted 49,402 members in Dallas, Sherman, Denton, Paris, and other bustling cities. The Texas Conference (21,438) and East Texas Conference (33,891) members combined total was less than the North West Texas Conference. The West Texas Conference was the smallest with 16,259 members. (all figures from 1900 Journals)

The 1902 General Conference tried to resolve these imbalances. It did so by combining the Texas and East Texas Conference and moving the Austin District of the Texas Conference to the West Texas Conference. The combined conference would retain the name, "Texas Conference."

The solution to the imbalance was short lived. Only eight years later the North West Texas was split. The Central Texas Conference was created from its southernmost territory thereby drawing the boundaries that have remained to this day.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History May 7

General Conference of 1840 Approves Petition to Create Texas Conference

On May 4, 1840 the Reverend Benjamin M. Drake of the Mississippi Conference moved that the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church approve the petition from his conference that the Texas Mission be organized into its own annual conference. The General Conference voted favorably on the motion and therefore made possible the organization of the Texas Conference the following December.

The relationship between the Mississippi Conference and its Texas Mission had not been all sweetness and light. The first three missionaries to Texas, Martin Ruter, Littleton Fowler, and Robert Alexander had all arrived in 1837 under the auspices of the Mission Board which was headquartered in New York City. Bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church decided in the summer of 1838 to transfer responsibility to the Mississippi Conference.

There were unfortunate results. Most striking was the assignment of Lewellen Campbell to New Orleans. Campbell had volunteered for Texas--not Louisiana-and had actually been working in East Texas from the summer of 1838 until December 1838. When he went to the Mississippi Annual Conference, he was informed that his ministries were more needed in New Orleans than in Texas.

Such action had a negative effect on other ministers contemplating a transfer to Texas. Volunteers for Texas had no assurance that they would actually be appointed to Texas charges. Martin Ruter's brother, Calvin, was one of the prospective volunteers who decided that if he had to join the Mississippi Conference to work in Texas, he would just stay in his own conference (Indiana).

The problem was solved by the creation of the Texas Conference. Benjamin Drake was one of the shining lights of the Mississippi Conference. He had been born in North Carolina and had joined the Tennessee Conference in 1820. He transferred to the Mississippi Conference in 1821 and soon found himself in New Orleans where he was intrumental in establishing the first Methodist church there. His sponsorship of the petition for the creation of the Texas Conference was a signal that Mississippi Methodists recognized that it was time for Texas to stand on its own.