Monday, July 30, 2007

On Vacation

This Week in Texas Methodist History is on Vacation

but before we head to the beach with lots of good reading material like
O. P. Fitzgerald's Doctor Summers: A Life Story, Nashville, Southern Methodist Publishing House, 1884 and George Smith's Life and Times of George F. Pierce, Sparta, Georgia, 1888, there are two unrelated items of interest.

1. I visited a retired member of the Oklahoma Annual Conference last week. He was entertaining me with stories of his ministry in that conference and mentioned Bill Wallace. That really made my ears perk up since Wallace was the subject of last week's column. I asked more about Wallace. My retired preacher friend said that when Wallace was appointed to St. Luke's in Tulsa, he immediately challenged Boston Avenue about who had more organ pipes in the respective churches. It seems that Wallace's competitive juices were still going strong.

2. I stumbled across one of the weirdest stories I've ever heard in my Methodist history research. I was researching the Hardin family of Kentucky. John Wesley Kenney married Maria McHenry whose mother was a Hardin. After Maria's parents died in a cholera epidemic, the Kenney family and Maria's unmarried sister, Lydia McHenry, came to Texas where they made important contributions to the establishment of Methodism in Texas. I know that the family stayed close to their Hardin cousins because of correspondence in the Chicago Historical Society collections. John and Maria named a son Martin McHenry Kenney after Maria's uncle, Martin Hardin.

I was reading in William Barton's The Paternity of Abraham Lincoln: Was He the Son of Thomas Lincoln: An Essay on the Chastity of Nancy Hanks, (1928)
That is one weird book. In it Barton relates the rumor that Martin Hardin had an affair with Nancy Hanks that resulted in a pregnancy. If that rumor were true, Maria and Lydia would be first cousins to Abraham Lincoln! To his credit Barton dismisses the rumor as preposterous. Never know what you'll find when you poke around in old books.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 22

“Brother Bill” Wallace Spurs Epworth League Competition, July 1919, 1920

As one examines artifacts preserved in conference and local church archives, one is struck with the number of loving cups, trophies, and banners dating from the 1900 to 1930 period. Typical inscriptions include “Greatest Increase in Sunday School Attendance, 1922,” or “Blue Ribbon League Chapter, 1915.’ These artifacts, often tarnished and moth-eaten, are testimony to prevalence of friendly rivalry and spirited contests that existed among Methodist churches in that era. Local church competition in fund raising has already been noted. (See post for May 20, 2007.) The two main arenas for competition were the Epworth Leagues and Sunday Schools. Both organizations exercised considerable autonomy and provided leadership opportunities for young persons. Improvements in transportation helped make robust organization possible at the state, conference, district, and county levels. Organizers at all of those levels would organize contests to see who could bring the most attendees and award prizes to the winners.

Youthful optimism and a competitive spirit resulted in such challenges as that issued by “Brother Bill” Wallace, State Epworth League President, 1919, and assistant pastor at Wichita Falls When the dust clears, Wichita Falls will be in the saddle and carrying the honors off in her pocket. (TCA Mar. 13, 1919) On July 24 Wallace followed up with We are going to let you hear from the best league in the best district in the best conference in the best state in the best church in the world. . .

Wallace was appointed to Paris at annual conference and immediately issued a challenge to his former church. (Note in 1920 Paris reported 1634 members and Wichita Falls 1313, both in the top ten membership churches in the North Texas Conference.) Wichita Falls was able to withstand the challenge from Paris so that in the July 22 TCA Wallace wrote, What in the world did we want with honors?

Readers are invited to post images of such loving cups and banners as they may have in their archives.

Acknowledgement: Much of the information in the post is taken from Walter Vernon’s Methodism Moves Across North Texas.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 15

Preachers who received new appointments at 2007 Annual Conference have now been in their new churches for a little more than a month. Some preachers have enthusiastically embraced their new congregations and others are wondering, "What did I do to deserve this appointment?" That attitude is not new. The following excerpt is from District Superintendent J. H. Anthony's report to the Texas Annual Conference of the MEC in 1920. Medill is northeast of Paris in Lamar County.

Medill was the next point to visit. Because of its rural situation; being sixteen miles from any place in the world, I found Brother James Clark, the newly appointed pastor, disparing. He wanted to know of me, what sin he had committed that the conference wanted to put him in the dungeon of the penitentiary. Brother Clark gave me to know that he had pastored some the best churches of our Methodism and to think, that he had come from a highly civilized center, and a city of respectibility, to a place so remote; where there were only one store in a town of six inhabitants; whose only amusements, of the men was to sit around the store on boxes, whittle on pine sticks, chew brown mule tobacco, and wonder why the people in New York were content to live so far away from Medill; while the boys under twenty would crawl around among the men on their all fours shooting flies with rubber bands. But in just a short while Brother Clark had every thing going to his liking; and this has been indeed, (one) of the best years of his Ministry. He was the first pastor on his district (or in the conference) to raise his entire quota for World Service. Brother Clark comes to this conference with every claim satisfied, and a desire to return unless something mighty good opens up for him.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 8

Robert Alexander Responds to 1844 General Conference July 12, 1844

One might speculate that Robert Alexander would have had some expectations about being elected a delegate to the 1844 General Conference of the MEC in New York City. After all, he had been the first of the commissioned missionaries to arrive in Texas in 1837. After Martin Ruter's death in May, 1838, Littleton Fowler had assumed the leadership of the Texas Mission, but he lived in East Texas and Alexader provided leadership in Texas west of the Trinity River. When the Texas Conference chose its delegates for the 1844 General Conference, Fowler was chosen, but Alexander was not. The second delegate slot when to John Clark, one of the ministers from the Ohio Valley who had come to Texas in 1841. When the General Conference considered the slavery question, Fowler sided with the South and Clark with the North. The General Conference also split the Texas conference into two new conferences using the Trinity River as the boundary.

While Fowler and Clark were in New York City attending General Conference Alexander went about his rounds as P.E. While conducting a camp meeting at Swartout he received a letter from Fowler about the events of General Conference. He moved on to Cold Spring and found time to reply to that letter which is now preserved in the Fowler Collection at Bridwell Libary at Perkins School of Theology.\

After catching Fowler up on Texas news, he turned to comments on the events of General Conference. He applauded Fowler for sticking with his Southern colleagues and agreed with Clark's wisdom in not returning to Texas. Alexander then turned to the Texas situation. The division of the Texas Conference meant that conference members all had a big decision to make. Fowler had been pressing Alexander to join him in the East, but Alexander had recently(1841) bought a large ranch in northern Austin County immediately north of his father-in-law's (David Ayres) property. He was developing that ranch into an estate called Cottage Hill. He was therefore reluctant to join the new Eastern Texas Conference. The General Conference had decided that the organizing annual conference of the Eastern Texas Conference would be held jointly with the preachers from west of the Trinity. Alexander bemoaned the conference site, San Augustine, as being so remote that few of the western preachers would be able to attend.

As usual with letter from one presiding elder to another in the period, Alexander then gives a report on his district and also of Chauncey Richardson's. His was Galveston in which all the churches except for Galveston was doing well. Richardson's (Rutersville) was doing well except for Washington, . Poor Washington Circuit is dead. Died of that dreadful distemper called neglect

The letter closes with a postscript that is quite rare in the Fowler Collection,

This scrible is for your eye only
in all the particulars.

Most letters, although written to inviduals, were shared since they contained information of general interest.