Saturday, December 23, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 24

Texas Conference Organized at Rutersville December 25, 1840

The earliest Methodist activity in Texas dates to around 1815 when William Stevenson preached in settlements along the Red River. Within a few years regularly appointed preachers were serving Methodists along both the Red and Sulfur Rivers. Further to the south in Austin's Colony, there were Methodist families who were visited sporadically by Henry Stephenson from Louisiana. No formal Methodist organizations were formed there because Austin was punctilious in his observance of the conditions of his empresario grant which mandated Roman Catholicism as the sole religion of the province.

When Texas became independent in 1836, a mission door was swung open. The Board of Missions authorized a mission team in 1837 consisting of Martin Ruter, Littleton Fowler, and Robert Alexander. They were quickly followed in 1838 and 1839 by others such as Lewellen Campbell, Daniel Carl, Francis Wilson, S. A. Williams, Edward Fontaine, Abel Stevens, Robert Crawford, Thomas Summers, and Joseph Sneed.

In the summer of 1838 the College of Bishops attached the Texas Mission to the Mississippi Conference. The results were unfortunate. There was a significant pool of willing volunteers for the Texas Mission who were reluctant to do so since they could not be assured of a Texas appointment. Those fears were realized in December, 1838, when Campbell was appointed to New Orleans. He had already been working with Fowler in East Texas for six months and wanted an appointment in the Lone Star Republic.

An obvious soluntion was the creation of a Texas Conference, but conference creation was a power of the General Conference. Texas would have to wait until General Conference met in Baltimore in 1840. That conference approved a petition from the Mississippi Conference to create the Texas Conference. Its boundaries were set as the Republic of Texas except for those charges being served by the Arkansas Conference (roughtly everything north of Jefferson).

Bishop Beverly Waugh was sent to organize the new conference. He entered Texas at Galveston and made his way inland accompanied by Rev. Thomas Summers. The pair went to Rutersville, the site of the conference, and proceeded to Austin, the new capital of the Republic. Both Waugh and Summers preached in Austin on Sunday, Dec. 20, and in Bastrop in the next day. They arrived in Rutersville on Thursday, Dec. 24. The Texas Annual Conference was organized the next day. There were nine conference members and five probationers. The circuits reported a total membership of 1853 lay members and 25 local preachers.

The pariticpants were well aware of the historic importance of the occasion. Bishop Waugh commented that they were meeting almost exactly on the 100th anniversary of John Wesley's organizing the first Methodist Society in London in July, 1740 and on the 56th anniversary of the Christmas Conference of 1784 which created the Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore.

Then, as now, the last item of business was reading the appointments. There were three districts as follows:

San Augustine--San Augustine, Nacogdoches, Harrison, Jasper
Galveston-Galveston/Houston, Brazoria, Liberty, Crockett, Nashville, Montgomery
Rutersville--Washington, Austin, Centre Hill, Matagorda, Victoria


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