Saturday, October 28, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History--October 29

A. Frank Smith Presides Over Texas Conference for First Time-October 31, 1934

When members of the Texas Annual Conference met in Nacogdoches on October 31, 1934, few could predict that their new bishop was beginning a remarkable string of conferences that would not end until his retirement in 1960.

Bishop A. Frank Smith had been elected bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church South while serving as pastor of First Methodist Houston. The first assignment given him by the Episcopal Stationing Committee was the three conferences in Missouri and two in Oklahoma. There was no expectation in those days that the bishop should live in his episcopal area. The Smith family remained in Houston where they had lived since 1922. After the 1934 General Conference Smith was assigned to the Texas, North Texas, and the two Oklahoma conferences. He had been assigned to the area in which he already lived.

The 95th session of the Texas Annual Conference began at 7:30 p.m. with the Rev. W. B. Moon of Franklin presenting Bishop Smith with a gavel he had made. The congregation sang Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing and Am I a Soldier of the Cross?. Psalm 122 was read responsively. The Rev. E. W. Solomon led the Conference in prayer. It was common conference practice of the day to conduct the ritual of infant baptism. Rev. and Mrs. John V. Berglund of Lufkin presented their child for baptism. A. Frank Smith's twenty-seven years of presiding over the Texas Conference had begun.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 22

San Augustine Church Building Specifications October 26, 1837

Early Texas Methodists met in a variety of settings. Services were held in private homes, brush arbors, court houses, and the Capitol of the Republic of Texas. In one famous example, services at Washington on the Brazos were held in a tavern, much to the consternation of the tavern patrons who preferred billiards to the Word of God. One of the earliest documents relating to the construction of a church building comes from October 26, 1837 in San Augustine. The specifications for a church building read in part as follows:

The house is to be 34 feet wide and 45 feet long, one story high, 14 feet from the floor to the ceiling overhead. . . .
The doors to be four feet wide and filled with pannel shutters. . .There are to four windows on each side and two fronting. . . .each window to have venecion (sic)shutters. . . .the roof is to be framed according to the purlin order of architecture well covered with shingles of pine or cypress and to have a plain neat base and cornice. . .there is to be a belfray (sic)suitable to hang a bell of 250 pounds. . .The pulpit and alter (sic) to be of circular form both to be enclosed by bannisters of neat, plain, and tastey (sic) appearance. . . .The above building is to be completed by June 1, 1838.

Calling for milled lumber and manufactured appointments all demonstrate that as early as 1837 Texas Methodists were already moving beyond the log cabin.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 15

Nannie Holding Enters Laredo Seminary October 20, 1883

On October 20, 1883 Nannie Holding of Covington, Kentucky, entered Laredo Seminary to begin twenty years of missinary service. Her accomplishments were so significant that the name of the school was changed to Holding Institute. Laredo Seminary had been founded on acreage overlooking the Rio Grande near Laredo in 1880 by the Reverends A. H. Sutherland and Joseph Norwood. It provided educational and religious services to Spanish speaking children and youth living on both sides of the river.

During Holding's superintendency the missionary effort was strengthened to include seven buildings on twenty-six acres. During the revolutionary decade of the 1910s Holding Institute provided a safe haven for residential students from Mexico and for missionaries who wished to relocate to the US side of the Rio Grande.

Holding Institute continued as a school until 1983 when it closed. In 1987 it reopened as a community center. Nannie Holding's service thus continues to be honored.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History--October 8

Bishop Marvin Opens East Texas Conference-October 10, 1866

On October 10, 1866 Bishop Enoch Marvin convened the East Texas Conference in the church he had been serving as pastor only a few months before. Marvin, a member of the St. Louis Conference, had come to Marshall during the Civil War. He had been elected bishop at the 1866 General Conference in New Orleans and assigned to hold the western conferences. Only three weeks earlier he had presided over the Indian Mission Conference.

One of the business items before the conference had been thrust upon it by the General Confernce. That body had authorized, but not ordered, the East Texas Conference to divide and therefore create another annual conference. Naturally the conference named a committee to study the issue. The East Texas Conference embraced a huge territory in nine districts (San Augustine, Marshall, Jeffereson, Paris, Kaufman, Dallas, Sherman, Palestine, and Crockett) At one end was Orange in the Crockett District. At the other was Gainesville in the Sherman District.

The committee on division submitted both a majority and minority report. The majority recommended maintaining the status quo, but the minority report was adopted by the conference. Basically the four southern districts (San Augustine, Palestine, Marshall, and Crockett) would retain the name "East Texas Conference," and the northern districts would become a new conference, the "Trinity Conference."

One year later, on October 9, 1867 preachers from the northern districts plus a few lay delegates (probably the first lay delegates to any annual conference in Texas) met in Sulphur Springs and organized the the Trinity Conference. At the next General Conference in 1870 it was renamed North Texas Conference.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

This Week In Texas Methodist History Oct. 1

Group Meets to Organize Chapelwood--October 2, 1948

Few events have been as important in Texas Methodist history as the post World War II church building boom. Although the impact was statwide, it was the burgeoning suburbs of the metropolitan areas that witnessed the most dramatic changes.

New church construction had almost come to a halt in the 1930s and 1940s. The Great Depression had many churches more concerned with survival than expansion. During World War II both building materials and labor for new church plants were unavailable. The Texas population had grown, but the number of churches had not kept pace with the population growth. Texas Methodists faced the immediate post war era with a severe facility shortage.

Returning veterans found a Texas that had been transformed from a rural agricultural state to an urban industrial one during World War II. Millions of Americans had experience dislocation due to military service or employment in war production industries. Religion had provided comfort during the war, and now the Cold War was being presented as a struggle between a religious America and athestic communism. Billy Graham was bringing southern evangelical Christianity to a nationwide audience. Results included an increase in religious participation and in new church construction.

The western suburbs of Houston provided the most dramatic example. One such new church as Chapelwood UMC which dates its beginnings to a home meeting on October 2, 1948. You may read this church's history at its website

The quarter century after World War II saw the west Houston churches mature and assume leading roles in the Texas Annual Conference. By 1970 the roster of ten largest membership churches in the confernce was as follows:

1. Houston First 9,663
2. Houston St. Luke's 5,796
3. Houston St. Paul's 5,434
4. Houston Memorial Drive 4,092
5. Houston Bellaire 4,004
6. Houston Westbury 3,758
7. Houston Chapelwood 3,050
8. Houston Terrace 2,920
9. Houston Fairhaven 2,694
10 Tyler Marvin 2,539

Methodism had been implanted in Texas in the 1840s and 1850s by circuit riders coming to the frontier. In the 1940s and 1950s there was a suburban frontier to be churched. Methodists in both eras used high levels of lay involvement, financial aid from established churches, and a cadre of young preachers who specialized in the task of church organization. In both cases they changed the religious face of Texas.