Sunday, June 25, 2006

This Week In Texas Methodist History June 25

Drought Prompts Methodist to Debate Praying for Rain June, 1879

The Texas Christian Advocate of the late 19th century was quite a bargain. a regular subscription was $2.00 per year. Preachers paid only $1.00. For that small sum the subscriber received eight pages of religious news, opinions, advertising, letters, obituaries, marriage notices, reports from correspondents around the state, and items copied from other regional editions of the Advocate and secular newspapers. By 1880 the publishers, Shaw and Blaylock of Galveston, reported a subscription list of 6,000.

Controversies in the church naturally found their way into the columns of the weekly. A local church dispute found its expression in the letters to the editor column in June, 1879. J. W. Billingsley of Iola in Grimes County wrote the following

No rain since May 5. Corn greatly damaged. Cotton not suffering much yet. Should we pray for rain? There is a wide difference of opinion on the subject among religious people. Will you give us the Scriptural grounds, pro and con?

There is no record of a reply.

Monday, June 19, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History-June 19

Juneteenth Means Freedom for Enslaved Methodist Texans--June 19, 1865

Emancipation came to enslaved Texans on June 19, 1865 when General Gordon Granger read the proclamation at Galveston. The political, social, and economic impact of emancipation has been a favorite topic for historians, but what about the religious impact? Freedom for enslaved Texans meant that they had the freedom to organize their religious lives as they saw fit. The impact upon Methodism was immediate and profound. The events in the years immediately following Juneteenth shaped religious patterns for decades to come.

The largest denomination in Texas before the Civil War was the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. It had both the largest number of European American and the largest number of African American members. Annual conferences regularly appointed ministers to "African Missions" in the plantation districts of Texas. In some places, such as at Marshall, African American and European Americans worshipped together in segregated seating arrangements. European Americans generally tried to control African American religious expression and channel it into acceptable forms. Favorite themes included an encouragement of patient suffering in this life in order to receive a heavenly reward. A favorite text was "Servants be obedient to your masters." Even under this oppresive system there were a few outstanding enslaved preachers, including "Uncle Mark" in Washington County.

The most immediate effect of emancipation was that the northern branches of Methodism, including the Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC), the African Methodist Episcopal Church(AME), and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Zion(AMEZ), could now operate in Texas. The MEC was especially vigorous. By January, 1867 it was strong enough to hold an organizing conference at Trinity Church in Houston to create an annual conference. There were seventy preachers in attendance as charter members. As political resconstruction proceeded, a grand competition occurred among the various branches of Methodism. Preachers and their congregations were courted to try to get them to change denominations. The rivalry was intense. In 1867 the Freedman's Bureau chief in Brenham reported that he spent his Sundays breaking up fights in Sunday Schools. It was during this period that many African American Texans became Baptist. That was one avenue that led to harmony rather than contention.

European American members of the MECS were stunned by the exodus of African Americans from their denomination. They seemed incapable of understanding the need of emancipated persons to leave an institution that had been vigorous in its defense of slavery. Eventually the MECS helped its remaining African American members form a new denomination, the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (CME).

The events set in motion by Juneteenth took decades to work themselves out. For Texas Methodists the main implication was that eventually there emerged a state with several Methodisms, including some in which African Americans had complete autonomy.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History-June 18

Matthew W. Dogan Named President of Wiley College--June, 1896

The 1896 General Conference of the MEC named President I. B. Scott of Wiley College, Marshall, as the new editor of the Southwestern Christian Advocate. Scott had been the first African American president of Wiley which had been founded in 1873. His departure left a vacancy. Where could the college find a new president who would guide it through difficult times? The depression of 1893 and resultant hard times had made it more difficult for students to attend college. Wiley's enrollment had decreased. The 1890s saw a hardening of Jim Crow segregation and an increase in lynchings. The generation of northern Methodist philanthropists who had given so generously to African American causes in the South was dying out. The new president would face tremendous challenges.

Matthew W. Dogan, a thirty-two year old mathematics instructor at Walden College in Nashville was named President of Wiley in June, 1896. Few college presidential appointments have been so fortuitous. Dogan was to remain in the Wiley presidency for a remarkable 46 years. In those years he led it to the upper tier of colleges with the same mission. Among his accomplishments was the construction of the first Carnegie college library west of the Mississippi River and ending the preparatory department to make Wiley a strictly upper level institution.

Other institutions including his alma mater, Rust College, as well as Howard awarded him honorary degrees. He was elected a delegate to all General Conferences of the MEC from 1904 to 1940. After his retirement in 1942, President Dogan continued to reside in Marshall until his death in 1947.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

This Week In Texas Methodist History June 11

Deed to Lakeview Presented to Conference--June 11, 1947

The Texas Annual Conference was a relative latecomer in obtaining and developing a conference encampment. Although there were scores of camp grounds scattered across the conference in the 19th century, the first encampment for youth camping was not a conference institution. Epworth-by-the-Sea, was a project of the statewide Epworth League. That facility, near Corpus Christi, operated from 1905-1915. It was sold and another camp, near Port O'Connor operated from 1915 to its destruction by a hurricane in 1919.

The torch of camping was then passed to the annual conferences. The West Texas (now Southwest Texas) Conference authorized the purchase of Mount Wesley in Kerrville in 1923. That same year the Methodist Episcopal Church obtained Gulfside in Mississippi. The Northwest Texas Conference followed the next year with the purchase of Ceta Canyon. In 1939 the Central Texas Conference bought land at Glen Rose.

The lack of an encampment did not mean that Texas Conference Youth did not camp. Lon Morris College was the most popular site, and when the youth assemblies grew too large for that campus, Texas A & M hosted the event.

The 1945 Texas Annual Conference authorized a committee to locate a site for a conference encampment. That committee considered sites in various parts of the conference, but finally decided on a 453 acre tract in Anderson County. The deed to that property was presented to the conference on June 11, 1947.

Exactly two years later, June, 1949, the first campers arrrived. They were the Older Youth Assembly. They found a lake, a dining hall, and twelve cabins. They also found abundant quantities of red clay that had been brought to surface by the installation of water lines. June, 1949, was a rainy year so soon the brand new facilities were filled with red clay mud stains. Most of the campers resorted to bare feet for the week. From that small beginning came more than a half century of expansion, increased services. and an ever-widening witness.

Personal Note: The author attended that first camp in June, 1949 as a toddler while his father was acting as Dean of the Assembly.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History June 4

Shortest Conference Year Ever Ends June 1947

The Texas Annual Conference had always met in the winter and fall. The practice dated to the organization of the conference on December 25, 1840. There were practical reasons for meeting in the fall and winter. Although winter travel may have been more difficult in Texas, it was impossible in the northern states. Bishops already faced daunting challenges in getting to their conferences. By convening the northern conferences in the spring and the southern ones in the fall and winter, bishops could make their episcopal rounds more efficiently. No one--north or south--wanted to convene in a city in the summer time. Cities as far north as Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Cincinnati were subject to mosquito borne epidemic disease well into the modern era.

Winter sessions of the Texas Conference also meshed with the agricultural calendar.
Both rural and town churches were much more likely to be able to "pay out" on their apportionments at the end of cotton ginning season than at any other time of the year.

As the Texas Annual Conference adjourned on Nov. 8, 1946, everyone was aware an era was ending. The next session was scheduled to convene on June 10, 1947 at First Methodist Church in Houston. The first week of June, 1947, must have seemed strange to the preachers and lay delegates as they prepared their reports and packed their bags. The academic calendar had become more important that than the agricultural calendar. Conference was now fixed for the beginning of summer .