Sunday, May 06, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History May 6

First Lay Delegates to General Conference, May, 1870

One of the continuing issues in 19th century Methodism was the power relationship between bishops, preachers, and lay members. Episcopal governance was inherently authoritarian, but authoritarianism ran counter to the rising tide of democracy in the Jacksonian Era. Some democratic reforms broke away from episcopal Methodism and founded new denominations, the Methodist Protestant (1830) and Congregational Methodist (1852) Churches.

At the 1866 General Conference the MECS amended its Discipline so that future general conferences would include lay delegates. So it was that the 1870 General Conference meeting in Memphis in May, 1870, had lay delegates.

The first Texans to sit as lay delegates were conservative men of substance. The Texas Conference sent two men from Washington County. J. D. Giddings of Brenham was a former legislator and also a banker and railroad investor. He was the only Texan in the census of 1860 with $100,000 in wealth to have survived the Civil War with that much wealth reported in the census of 1870. He was joined by W. W. Browning of Chappell Hill, owner of large plantations and also a railroad investor.

The Trinity Conference sent Asa Holt of Van Zandt County who later was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention that wrote the Texas Constitution of 1876 which ended Reconstruction and restored government to the conservative elite. The North West Texas Conference sent a rising star of Texas politics, Colonel Roger Q. Mills of Corsicana. This 38-year old lawyer had been twice wounded in the Civil War and now practiced law. In 1872 he was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives where he stayed until 1893 when he moved to the U. S. Senate.

The inclusion of lay delegates did not change the direction of the MECS. Those lay men who were elected tended to support the status quo over calls for even more reforms.


Post a Comment

<< Home