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.


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