Sunday, September 24, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History--September 24

Bishop Marvin Organizes Northwest Texas Conference--September 26,1866

Bishop Enoch M. Marvin gavelled the organizational meeting of the Northwest Texas Conference to order on September 26, 1866 in Waxahachie. Thirty-five preachers who received appointments were divided among four districts--Waco, Fort Worth or Waxahachie (General Minutes do no agree), Springfield, and Lampasas. Large membership charges included Corsicana (300), Grand View (340), Springfield Circuit (308), and Weatherford (218). The total conference membership was 3870.

The Northwest Texas Conference had been authorized earlier in the year by the General Conference meeting in New Orleans. The Texas Conference had petitioned that its northern territory be struck off into a a new conference. The boundary proposed by the Texas Conference was adopted. Almost immediately the Texas Conference peritioned General Conference for the return of Milam, Falls, Robertson, Leon, Freestone, and part of Limestone Counties from the Northwest Texas Conference. The Northwest Texas Conference had little objection since the westward expansion of railroads and towns into western Texas was providing plenty of population growth in its territory.

In 1910 the Northwest Texas Conference was itself divided. The Central Texas Conference was created from its southern territory while the northwestern territory retained the name of Northwest Texas Conference. We can thus celebrate the 140th anniversary of both the Northwest Texas and the Central Texas Conferences on September 26, 2006.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

This Week In Texas Methodist History--September 17

Bishop Seth Ward dies in Kobe, Japan, September 20, 1909

Seth Ward, the first native Texan to have been elected a Methodist bishop died in Kobe, Japan, on September 20, 1909. Ward had been born in Leon County and ordained in 1881. He served successively on the Corsicana Circuit, Centerville, Kosse, Calvert, Galveston-St. James's, Huntsville, Houston Circuit, and Shearn (now First) in Houston.

Among his accomplishments was combining St. James's and St. John's after the storm of 1900 to create Galveston First (now Moody Memorial UMC). He was also secretary of the Texas Conference for eleven years (1891-1901). He also served as assistant mission secretary of the General Conference of the MECS. We was elected bishop of the MECS in 1906.

Bishops of the era presided over several conferences and undertook difficult journeys to do so. It was the custom to assign newly elected bishops to the mission conferences. Presumably they were younger and therefore better able to deal with the rigors of travel. Bishop Ward was twice assigned to the East Asia mission conferences of Japan, Korea, and China. He died in Kobe on his second episcopal tour of East Asia while only 50 years old and in his first quadrennium. His body was returned to Houston for burial. His memory was honored by naming a church in Austin and a college in Plainview for him.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

130th Birthday for FUMC Dickinson

The Galveston County Daily News has a brief article about the 130th anniversary of FUMC Dickinson. They need to work on their spelling, however.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History--September 10

Anthony Bewley Lynched in Fort Worth-September 13, 1860

On September 13, 1860 a lynch mob seized the Rev. Anthony Bewley, took him out on the Jacksboro Highway from Fort Worth and hanged him. What was his crime? He was a Northern Methodist and therefore an abolitionist, in the minds of many in the mob a Texas version of John Brown.

Although the MEC had abandoned Texas after the denominational split in 1844, immigration from border states to North Texas in the 1850s brought the denomination back. The 1852 General Conference of the MEC (re)created the Arkansas Conference. One of the districts in that conference was the Texas Mission District. By 1855 the Texas Mission reported five charges and 142 members clustered in Fannin, Grayson, and Denton Counties. The Presiding Elder of the district was Anthony Bewley, a former member of the Holston Conference who had been working in Missouri and Arkansas for several years.

The Arkansas Conference held its annual conference in Fannin County in 1859. That meeting was broken up by a mob armed with shotguns and Bowie knives. Bishop Janes was interrupted while preaching, and the leader of the mob demanded that the MEC leave Texas.

Bewley continued to live in Parker County but suggested he begin preaching to Hill Country Germans. He never got a chance. The summer of 1860 grew increasingly tense. A series of fires was reported across North Texas. The Legislature responded by allowing mobs to exercise "justice" to persons accused of suppporting abolitionism. Bewley recognized the danger and removed his family to Missouri.

On the first of September a letter appeared in many Texas newspapers. Almost certainly a forgery, it was addressed to a "William Bewley" and signed by "W. H. Bailey." It contained an extraordinary account of Bailey's grand tour through Texas delivering flammable materials and conspiring with his fellow abolitionists to wreak incendiary terror on Texas.

A Fort Worth group offered a $500 reward for Bewley. A gang of kidnappers found him near Springfield, Missouri. They seized him and brought him back to Fort Worth where he was hanged on September 13.

The cold blooded murder of a MEC preacher was widely applauded in the South. In the North is was one more example of how brutal Southerners could be in the defense of that most brutal of institutions, slavery.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History--September 3

Caney Creek Camp Meeting--September 3-5, 1834

The most successful colonization effort in Mexican Texas was that of Empresario Stephen F. Austin. His first contract to settle 300 families was filled so quickly that he entered into four more contracts to settle immigrants to Texas. Although one of the requirements for obtaining land was adherence to the Roman Catholic faith, that requirement did not present much of an obstacle to devout Methodists, including some local pastors, coming from the United States. The Mexican authorities tended to focus their law enforcement efforts on smuggling rather than religious activity. In 1834 Louisiana preacher Henry Stephenson, who had been directed by his presiding elder to spend one-half his time in Texas, visited immigrant settlements as far as the Guadalupe River. He reported no opposition from Mexican authorities.

On his way west Stephenson stopped at John Wesley Kenney's in what is today northern Austin County. The two preachers set a date for a camp meeting--September 3-5. Kenney, a charter member of the Kentucky Conference, but now located, selected a site near his house on a small tributary of Caney Creek. He secured the assistance of other clergy in the area including local preacher William Medford (Missouri Conference, adm. O.T. 1818), Benjamin Babbitt (Missouri Conference adm. O. T. 1831), and William Fullinwider (Presbyterian appointed missionary to Texas, 1831).

Although there is some confusion over the number of conversions at the Caney Creek Camp Meeting of 1834, it is clear that some of the participants considered the event the equivalent of starting a church. One of their actions was asking Stephenson to petition the Mississippi Annual Conference to create a regular relationship with this band of Methodists in Austin's Colony. The December 1834 session of the Mississippi Conference created the Texas Mission in answer to that petition.

Kenney and his associates organized a second Caney Creek Camp Meeting one year later in September 1835. It was that camp meeting that issued the famous "Call For Missionaries" that resulted in the first regular Methodist missionaries to Texas.