Sunday, January 28, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 28

Robert Alexander Decries Preacher Marriages January 29, 1840

The 1839 session of the Mississippi Conference divided the Texas Mission into two districts. Littleton Fowler was the Presiding Elder for the East Texas District and Robert Alexander of the Rutersville District. After about a month on his new job as presiding elder, Alexander wrote Fowler to give him a a report. Among the other items in his report was the rumor that the Rev. Robert Hill of the Matagorda Circuit was about to be married.

'Tis said that Brother Hill is about to take a wife, if so, his rode(sic) will be a short one and all hands will say he started to get a wife which may be so. I am told he has agreed to locate. Lord save us from such Itinerants in this country.

Marriage often ended an intinerant's career. The meager salary and long absences from home while riding circuit made domestic life very difficult indeed. A common pattern in 19th century Methodism was that a young man would itinerate for a few years, marry, and assume a local relationship with the annual conference. Francis Asbury lamented the situation whe he said, "I have lost more preachers to the marriage bed."

Perhaps Alexander was not aware of the irony in his complaint against Rev. Hill. Alexander had just observed the second anniversary of his marriage to Eliza Ayres less than a week before he wrote to Fowler.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Church Deals With Controversies--TUMHS Annual Meeting

The Annual Meeting of the Texas United Methodist Historical Society will convene at Highland Park UMC, Dallas, on Friday, March 9. Sessions will continue until Saturday, March 10, at 12:00 noon. Highland Park UMC is located at 3300 Mockingbird Lane, on the south side of the SMU campus. All sessions will be on third floor.

The theme of the 2007 Annual Meeting is "The Church Responds to Controversy: 1939-present." The tentative schedule is as follows:

Friday, March 9 12:00 Registration Begins
1:00 assemble for opening welcome and devotional by the Rev. Pat Thresher of the North Texas Conference
1:30 Bishop Ray Owen (ret.) "The Incompatible Factor: How the 1972
General Conference Added Language Concerning Homosexuality."
Registrants will receive a copy of Bishop Owen's "The Incompatible
Factor: The Practice of Homosexuality,"
3:00 General Session--Rev. Bill Lanigan, "When Preachers Go Bad."


6:30 Banquet, Keynote address by Dr. Ted Campbell, Perkins School of
Theology, Banquet tickets may be obtained at registration

Saturday, March 10 9:00 assemble for devotional, Bishop Monk Bryan (ret.)
9:30 Retired Bishop John Wesley Hardt will deal with a controversy in the annual conference over which he presided.
11:00 TUMHS Business Meeting and Presentation of Kate Warnick Award
for best church histories.

Costs: Registrants for the Meeting may pay their annual dues upon arrival. Dues are $12.50 for individuals. In addition to admission to the Annual Meeting, members also receive subscriptions to the Newsletter and Heritage Journal. There will also be a banquet fee of $12.50

Accommodations: The Radison Hotel, just east of the meeting site, is reserving a block of rooms at the Perkins rate of $85.00 per night. Please call the hotel directly at 214-750-6060 before February 26 to reserve accommodations. Please identify yourself as a TUMHS conference participant. The Radison offers complimentary transportation within a five mile radius. That area includes the meeting site and Love Field.

Registration: Preregistration with the TUMHS Treasurer, the Rev. John C. Johnson 6766 Silver Saddle, Fort Worth, Texas 76126, by March 1 is prefereable, but not mandatory.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 21

Ground Breaking for New Sanctuary in Galveston--January 22, 1962

Members of First Methodist Galveston met to break ground for a new sanctuary on January 22, 1962. The church had decided to move to a new location and build a new building rather than remodelling their old building which had been built after the Galveston Storm of 1900 by the newly-combined congregations of St. James and St. Johns.

The new site and building cost about $2,500,000. Much of that sum was provided by the philanthropy of the estate of Libbie Shearn Moody. In appreciation, the congregation changed the name of the church to Moody Memorial Methodist Church. The Rev. Weldon Morton led the ground breaking in 1962, but the congregation continued worshipping in their old facilities until February 1964.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 14

Strickland and Stevens Ask for Better Appointments January 14 and 16, 1839

One of the side effects of the Methodist appointive system is to make preachers knowledgeable about geography. The possibility of being assigned to a new location makes them interested in the places to which they may be appointed. Another side effect of the appointive system is that bishops, presiding elders, and district superintendents have been petitioned by preachers seeking appointment to some more desireable site. In January, 1839, after less than a month in their new appointments, both Ike Strickland and Abel Stevens asked Littleton Fowler for reassignment. Unfortunately both asked for the Washington Circuit.

Littleton Fowler had become head of the Texas Mission upon the death of Martin Ruter in May, 1838. That summer the bishops attached the Mission to the Mississippi Conference. Bishop T. A. Morris presided over the 1838 session of that conference and sent Fowler the appointments for the Texas Mission. On December 10 Fowler met in San Augustine with three of the new recruits to the Mission (Jesse Hord, S. A. Williams, and Ike Strickland), ignored Morris's appointments and appointed those three men and Abel Stevens (in transit to Texas) to Texas charges.

Fowler appointed Strickland to the Montgomery Circuit which consisted of all the churches between the Brazos and Trinity Rivers from about Cypress Creek in the south to the upper reaches of settlement. He appointed Stevens to Houston/Galveston. Both men left San Augustine for their appointments and went to work. Strickland organized the Montgomery church in William Sullivan's house on Dec. 30. Stevens went first to Houston and then to
Galveston. Hord had perhaps the most difficult charge, the Houston Circuit which extended through most of present day Fort Bend, Waller, Brazoria, Matagorda, Jackson, and Wharton Counties.

After less than one month in their new appointments both Strickland (Jan. 14) and Stevens (Jan. 16) independently wrote Fowler asking for reassignment. Unfortunately both wanted to be shifted to the Washington (on the Brazos) Circuit. Both men gave some of the same reasons. Stevens reported that he had been able to find only two Methodists in Houston and one in Galveston. Strickland reported "This is a very sparsely settled part of the country. I don't think it is worth cultivating at all." Stevens also cited health concerns, and in doing so, gave what is perhaps the first clinical description of the "Houston Crud." " My only complaint is a chronic inflamation of the mucus membrane of the throat." He also mentions that he had specifically told the Mission Board in New York about his inability to work in humid climates.

What made Washington so desireable? It was only a few miles from either Montgomery or Houston, but it was considerably higher, drier, and less desnsely forested. Modern travelers westbound on Highway 290 get a good idea of the difference when they cross the Brazos River and immediately ascend into the Fayette Prairie. The Wasington Circuit was home to a large concentration of Methodist local pastors and laity including David Ayres, John Wesley Kenney, William Medford, John Rabb, as well as the Scott, Gates, Kerr, Kessee, Bell, Chriesman, and Walker families. This concentration of Methodists had been left without a preacher when Robert Alexander relocated to Rutersville several miles to the west of the Washington Circuit. Either Strickland or Stevens would find not only a healthier climate, but also the warm embrace of a Methodist community.

Fowler did accomodate Stevens and move him to the Washington Circuit. He didn't last through the summer. He went back the United States and never returned to Texas. He eventually became a famous Methodist historian whose writings brought him enough income to live in Switzerland, far from the "Houston Crud." Strickland was not so fortunate. He died in 1843 at age 30 and is buried at West Columbia.

The letters of Jan. 14 and Jan. 16 are preserved as part of the Fowler Collection at Bridwell Library at Perkins School of Theology, SMU.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

This Week In Texas Methodist History January 7

Bishop Soule Presides Over 6th Session of Texas Confernce--January 7, 1846

The two years between the MEC General Conference of 1844 and the Petersburg, Virginia, General Conference that created the MECS in 1846 were two of the most turbulent years in Methodist history. The 1844 General Conference had been split by regional divisions over slavery. Southern conferences sent delegates to convention in Louisville which called for the Petersburg Conference.

In the middle of the turbulence, Bishop Joshua Soule, the most lionized of the bishops, came to Houston and Marshall to conduct annual conferences--the only time he came to Texas to do so.

What made Joshua Soule such a giant figure? He had been born in Maine in 1781 to Presbyterian parents. He was converted, received a call to preach, and was soon famous as "the boy preacher." He joined the New England Conference and in a few years was presiding elder for all of Maine. His star shone most brightly at the 1812 General Conference. The church had grown too large for all preachers to attend General Conference. A delegated system had become necessary. Soule was put on a three person committee to devise such a system. The three preachers decided to write drafts independently and then compare their work. Soule's plan was chosen. He thus became known as "the Father of the Methodist Constitution."

His reputation for integrity was enhanced at the 1820 General Conference when he was elected bishop and declined the office. That conference changed the rules so that annual conferences would elect presiding elders rather than having them appointed by the bishops. Soule thought the rule change unconstitutional and would not serve if he had to comply with an unconstitutional rule. Four years later (1824) the General Conference changed the rule and again elected Soule bishop.

In 1845 as southerners prepared to form a new denomination, they invited all the MEC bishops to join them in Louisville. Three did so. Andrew and Morris were obvious. That Joshua Soule, a Maine man, a Yankee would do so thrilled the southern Methodists. Soule cast his lot with the MECS not from any love of slavery, but from constitutional principles. The MECS thus had an argument for their existence not based on slavery. Soule became their hero.

Soule's trip to Texas was squeezed between the Louisville and Peterburg conferences. Texans embraced him enthusiastically. The school in Chappell Hill was named in his honor. Soule's Chapels and Soule Campgrounds were dotted across Texas and the rest of the South.

From 1846 to 1855 Soule continued to preside over annual conferences. Most notable were his two trips to California (1853 and 1854), via Panama, but he never returned to the Texas conferences. He died in Nashville in 1867.

After his death, his reputation continued to grow. Horace DuBose's 1911 biography firmly implants him in the pantheon. According to this southern view, Wesley established "True Methodism." The mantle passed first to Asbury, then to McKendree, and then to Soule. There were always assaults from so-called "reformers, but these men protected True Methodism from those reformers who would have destroyed it.

Monday, January 01, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 31

Bishop Simpson Organizes Texas Mission Conference of the MEC, January 3, 1867

In 1865 Texas became a mission field for the MEC for a second time. The first was in 1836 when Texan independence from Mexico opened the door for formal organization of Methodist activities in the Republic. All MEC activities in Texas were suspended during the Civil War. In 1865 the MEC returned to Texas, this time accopanying the victorious Union forces. Through 1865 and 1866 MEC activities in Texas were connected with Louisiana and Mississippi, but on January 3, 1867 Bishop Matthew Simpson organized the Texas Mission Conference of the MEC in Houston.

Few organizing conferences have had so many members. Ninety men stepped forward as original members of the conference, 87 African Americans and 3 German Americans. The biracial nature of the MEC in Texas did not last. The 1872 General Conference allowed annual conferences to divide along racial lines if super majorities of both races agreed to do so. The Texas Mission Conference then split into two African American conferences (the Texas and West Texas) and two European American confernences (one English speaking and one German speaking). The two African American conferences had the longest existence of any Methodist conferences in Texas history. They continued until their incorporation into other conferences in 1970.