Wednesday, August 09, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History August 13

Texas Conference Epworth League Founded at Brenham, August 15, 1894

The last years of the 19th century saw an increased interest in young people. The founding of the YMCA and YWCA and the founding of many colleges during the period were but two of the manifestations. Methodism's expression was the founding of a young person's organization. In August, 1890 the Texas Christian Advocate contained a list of names that had been proposed for the organization. Old Foundry League Wesley Yokefellows, Oxford League, Lady Huntingdon Helpers, Lookers for Jesus, Moorfield Gleaners, Asbury Wesleyans, and Wesley and Coke League were some of the rejected names. Another name that recalled Methodism's English origins was chosen, the Epworth League.

The North Texas Conference was the first of the MECS Texas conferences to organize an Epworth League when it did so on August 30, 1893. The Texas Conference followed on August 15, 1894 in Brenham.

Although many modern Methodists would consider the Epworth League to be a predecessor of the UMYF, there were important differences. The first was the definition of youth. The League had both junior and senior chapters. The senior chapters had many members in their early 30's. Another difference was in the degree of autonomy. Although it related to the denomination through the Sunday School Board, the League was hardly an organ of that body. The Texas State League hired its own employees, owned title to property independent of conference trustees, and planned and carried out its own programs. Its most striking accomplishments included the purchase of an encampment on the Texas coast, Epworth-by-the-Sea, and staging impressing state conventions. Attendance at the annual state conventions regularly ran into the thousands. After one such convention in San Antonio, Leaguers boarded chartered rail cars to visit Holding Institute in Laredo and proceed all the way to Monterrey to see mission activities first hand.

The Epworth League proved to be a great training ground for church leaders of the mid-twentieth century. It was one of the few church organizations in which people in their 20's could assume positions of real responsibility relatively independent of the "old guard." The state organization helped forge friendships across conference boundaries. Attendance at national League events provided at least some young Texans with their first experience in racially integrated events.


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