Friday, July 28, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History--July 30

Chappell Hill Bellville Camp Ground Association Adopts Constitution August 1, 1892

By the late 19th century the simple camp meetings that had done so much to implant Methodism in Texas had become institutionalized and much more elaborate than the early meetings in a scenic rural setting. Camp ground associations owned property and made improvements. They hired professional revivalists who often earned as much in two weeks as the station preacher earned in six months. They promoted their camp meetings through paid advertisements and solicited total community support instead of relying on church members. The Chappell Hill Bellville Camp Ground Association was typical.

In 1885 the Rev. J. P. Childers, in his capacity as mission secretary of the Brenham District, organized a camp meeting in northern Austin County. The site was significant. It was on property once owned by Robert Alexander who had died only a few years earlier. It was also near the site of the 1834 and 1835 camp meetings that had resulted in the call for missionaries to the Republic of Texas. The 1885 camp meeting resulted in a call for another one the following year. At the conclusion of the 1886 meeting a group of attendees organized to purchase twelve acres as a permanent camp site they called Childers Camp Ground. An addition fourteen acres was soon purchased.

The enterrpise prospered. The first building was a 60' by 60' tabernacle that replaced a canvas tent. That was soon surrounded by 29 rough wooden camp houses with shingle roofs called tents. A 2500 gallon elevated water tank soon followed as well as 1500 of piping that took water to each tent's individual hydrant. A gasoline pump replaced the windmill that filled the water tank and gasoline lanterns on poles replaced the campfires.

The largest structure was two story hotel complete with dining hall. A livery stable and showers completed the physical plant. For two weeks every summer the camp ground would be turned into a small city of 2,000 souls. There was regular transportation from nearby railroad stations. The rough edges of revivalism had been smoothed by time. Instead of nonstop hellfire and brimstone preaching, there were only two sermons per day. The rest of the schedule was filled with recreational and educational opportunities. In a concession to the area's large German population, preaching was conducted in that language as well. A Vigilant Committee patrolled the grounds to expel undesireable characters.

It is hard to say why such a large enterprise fizzled so quickly. After years of successful operation the Association members met in May 1917 for a final picnic on the grounds. They then sold the property and it reverted to agricultural use except for one more service. In 1986 the Rev. John Birkelbach led his congregation from Bellville UMC to the camp ground for one more service in commeration of the Texas Sesquicentennial. Once again the old camp ground heard the strains of revival hymns.

Friday, July 21, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 23

Preachers Succumb to Yellow Fever, July 1867

Of all the epidemic diseases that struck Texas in the 19th century, none was more feared than yellow fever. The mosquito borne disease could kill a healthy adult in three days. What a miserable death it was! The victim vomited black clots of blood, suffered delirium, became jaundiced, and then died. Mortality rates were about 85%. Coastal Texas experienced nine recorded yellow fever epidemics in the 19th century. The last one in 1867 was particularly devastating. Galveston suffered 725 deaths while LaGrange had 204. Brenham had so many deaths a new cemetery had to be created. Half the Navasota populaton fled in panic.

The first Methodist preacher to die was Thomas Cook of Texana who died on July 24, 1867. Within a few weeks the roster of deceased ministers was as follows:
William Rees--Houston
William T. Harris-Victoria
R. Weems--Chappell Hill
James Shipman-Chappell Hill
Quinn Minifee--LaGrange
James McLeod-Houston
Samuel Lynch-Houston
Asbury Davidson-Gonzales

Methodist educational efforts in Huntsville were dealt a huge setback when President Rufus Heflin and Trustee President W. P. Kittrell of Andrew Female College both died. Soule University closed as both faculty and students fled.

The frosts of autumn brought the epidemic to an end, but the events July/August, 1867 were to have a lasting impact on Texas Methodism. Francis Asbury Mood came to Soule to bring it back to life. The town of Chappell Hill was still so deserted that Mood was offered his choice of 8 abandoned houses he could occupy. He came to the conclusion that parents would not send their children to a school in the fever belt. He began working to establish a new school sponsored by all the conferences in the state. The resolution the conferences passed stated that the university would be located "north of 32 degrees north latitude, the counties of Bell, Burnet, Travis, and Williamson excepted." Such resolution led to the creation of Southwestern University well away from the main concentrations of yellow fever.

Another 1/3 century passed before scientists discovered the role of the mosquito in spreading yellow fever. Public health measures were then put in place to eradicate this scourge of the Texas Coastal Plains.

Monday, July 17, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodfist History--July 16

James M. Wesson Born In London, July 18, 1819

James Middleton Wesson was born in London on July 18, 1819. He eventually became one of the stalwart members of the Texas Conference.

While still a boy, Wesson had a recurring dream. He saw himself in a strange country in a grove of trees. People were assembled around him, and he was speaking to them. He became a sailor in 1836 and found himself in New York City. He resolved to quit the sea so he moved to Rochester, New York and learned carpentry and the carpet trade. One night a friend invited him to a revival meeting being held in honor of the centennial of Wesley's Aldersgate experience. Wesson received the Holy Spirit and resolved to perform some sort of Christian service.

Wesson then moved to Austin where he became acquainted with John Haynie. He became a class leader. While attended a camp meeting at Waugh Campground he was invited to speak. He stood before the group and suddenly realized that the setting matched his boyhood dream. Although overcome with emotion, he was able to give a brief testimony.

At that camp meeting he resolved to enter the full time ministry. He joined the Texas Conference in 1843.

Wesson rose quickly in the conference ranks. He was was a presiding elder and delegate to General Conference. He served in the effective ranks for 43 years. He was married three times and raised five children. Wesson died in 1898 and was buried at Navasota. A few years later Martin Ruter's remains were removed from Washington on the Brazos and reinterred a few yards from Wesson's grave.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History--July 9

Texas-Louisiana Institute Meets At Southwestern July, 1936

Pastoral Education has been a continuing thread of Texas Methodist history. By the late 19th century annual conferences and districts were holding yearly institutes for that purpose. Pastors attended, took courses, and were awarded certificates upon completion of those courses. Over the years the institutes became more elaborate. Courses for laity (often clergy spouses) were added in church school pedagogy and missions. A major function of the publishing arm of the church came to be supplying materials for these institutes.

The Texas-Louisiana Institute was a program of the Gulf Conference of the MEC. Its usual location was Blinn College in Brenham, but hardships of the Depression caused the church to lose Blinn. In 1936 the Institute was held at Southwestern University in Georgetown. The program provides an interesting glimpse into pastoral education of the 1930s.

The courses consisted of
Bible: a. Heroes of the New Testament
b. Attitudes of Jesus
Personal Problems: a. Building the Devotional Life
b. The Christian's Sharing Life
c. Christian Marriage and Home
d. Hobbies and Avocations
Leadership: a. Improving Church School Teaching
b. Building a Pleasing Personality
c. the Daily Vacation Bible School
General: a. Epworth Leaguers Building a Better World
b. The Hymns We Sing
c. Win-My-Chum Evangelism
d. The Romance of Methodism

The afternoon was devoted to rest and organized recreation. The evening provided opportunities for entertainment, worship, and small prayer groups. The prices reflected the hard times of the Depression. Registration for the entire program was $1.00. A dorm room and three meals per day cost $1.50 per day.

Leading members of the conference including C. W, Berquist, H. M. Hopkins, John Deschner, and Ben Lemberg managed the Institute. They provided a useful week of spiritual renewal, fellowship, and intellectual growth.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History--July 2

Henderson Palmer Licensed to Preach -July 7, 1838

One of the problems facing the Methodist church in the Republic of Texas was a shortage of preachers. Texas was big. Settlements were scattered. The preacher shortage often meant that circuits were very large. Some of them rquired two months to make a complete circuit. The church depended upon preachers recruited from more settled areas of the United States. The main source regions were the Upper South and Ohio River Valley. The problem was that many of the missionaries did not stay very long. Some, such as Martin Ruter and Daniel Poe, died soon after they arrived in Texas. Others, including Abel Stevens and T. O. Summers, went back to the United States after brief ministries in Texas.

One solution to the preacher shortage was elevating pious laymen into the clergy ranks. The first person so licensed in Texas was Henderson Palmer whom Littleton Fowler licensed at Box's Fort in Nacogdoches (now Houston) County on July 7, 1838. Palmer had been born in Alabama in 1812 and attended LaGrange College, Fowler's former employer. Palmer came to Nacogdoches and taught school until his career change. Upon being licensed Palmer was assigned to Crockett. He joined the Mississippi Conference in 1839, and upon the organization of the Texas Conference in 1840 was appointed to Jasper.

Palmer served East Texas churches for thirty years. In 1866 he assumed a superannuate relationship and died on Feb. 17, 1869. He was buried in Upshur County.