Sunday, October 28, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History, October 28

Cornerstone for First Methodist Church Dallas Laid, October 29, 1921

The congregation of First Methodist Church Dallas assembled on Saturday, October 29, 1921 at a construction site on the corner of Ross and Harwood to lay a cornerstone for a new church. The pastor, Charles Selecman, led the congregation in prayer, but the main addresses were given by Bishop W. N. Ainsworth and S. H. C. Burgin, former pastor of the church but now Secretary of Church Extension.

In 1921 First Methodist Dallas could look back on seventy-five years of existence. Unfortunately for most of that span worshipers had dealt with inadequate facilities. After the Civil War the church shared the ground floor of the Masonic Hall with other denominations. In 1868 they moved to a building on Lamar Street where Mrs. Sarah Cockrell had donated a lot. That building was adjacent to the Fire Station so they didn’t bother to buy fire insurance. In 1879 the fire station itself caught fire and both church and station were destroyed.

The church then met in Dallas Female Academy. After a series of financial misadventures they bought a lot at Commerce and Prather and erected a building there. In many ways the period from 1890 through the 1910s was golden age for Dallas. It had parlayed its rail connections into prominence as the commercial, financial, distribution, banking, and insurance center of the south central United States. Naturally the city population and church membership both increased. The 1900s experienced the establishment of neighborhood churches in the streetcar suburbs being developed.(Oak Cliff (‘02), Grace and Clark’s Chapel (‘03), Colonial Hills and Grand Ave. (‘05) Cochran and Maple Ave. (‘06), Fairland, Wesley Chapel, Forest Ave., and West Dallas (‘08)

Even with such expansion, there was unease about the role of First Methodist. In 1915 it merged with Trinity, another downtown church at McKinney and Pearl. The Commerce Street property was sold and First Methodist worshiped in the former Trinity Church.

After several years of discussion the congregation bought property at Ross and Harwood. Groundbreaking occurred on May 7, 1921, and, as noted above, the cornerstone was laid the following October. Construction did not proceed rapidly. Selecman became president of SMU in 1923. J. Abner Sage, assistant pastor in charge of the musical program, finished the conference year as pastor. Construction on the new building stopped. In November, 1923, Carl Gregory transferred from the Kentucky Conference and assumed the pastorate. Resuming construction was a major priority. A new contract was signed and construction resumed on December 11, 1924, over three years after the cornerstone laying. The building was finally occupied on February 1926.

After pastoring the congregation through its move into the new facility, and being the host pastor for the 1930 General Conference of the MECS, Gregory was appointed to Travis Park San Antonio in 1931. He was replaced by W. C. Martin who was faced with paying down the debt on the building in the depths of the Depression. Martin was elected bishop in 1938 and was replaced by W. Angie Smith who also had to struggle with the debt. Smith was also elected bishop (1944), but he along with Bishops Martin, Selecman, Boaz, and John Moore, came back to First Methodist Dallas on February 3, 1946 when the building was finally debt free. The process from identifying the need for a new building to paying for that building had taken almost thirty years.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 21

Huston-Tillotson Merger Completed October 24, 1952

On October 24, 1952 Samuel Huston College and Tillotson College, both located in Austin, completed their merger and assumed a new name, Huston-Tillotson College. The successful merger of two schools is something of a rarity in Texas Methodist educational history. To be sure, that history is full of discussions about mergers and even a few attempts at mergers, but the rate of success is low.

The successful merger of 1952 is even more singular since it involved two schools with different denominational ties. Tillotson College was chartered in 1877 and was opened by the Missionary Society of the Congregational Church in 1881 as Tillotson Collegiate and Normal Institute. By the mid-1940’s it had grown to occupy a twenty-three acre campus with fourteen buildings.

Samuel Huston College began about the same time under the sponsorship of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Freedman’s Aid Society. The new institution was named in honor of Samuel Huston of Iowa who donated $9,000.

In 2005 Huston-Tillotson College became Huston-Tillotson University. It holds membership in both the Council for Higher Education of the United Church of Christ (successor to the Congregational Church) and the National Association of School and Colleges of The United Methodist Church

Friday, October 12, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 14

McCaine Conference of Methodist Protestant Church Organized in Leon County. October 18, 1861

Most Methodists probably know the Methodist Protestant Church as one of the three denominations that merged in 1939 to become the Methodist Church. The other two denominations, the Methodist Episcopal Church and Methodist Episcopal Church South, were much larger and therefore loom larger in memory. In fact there was a Methodist Protestant presence in Texas by 1834 when William Smith was recorded as a participant in the Caney Creek camp meeting. Smith later attended Martin Ruter duing his final illness.

The Methodist Protestant Church organization was one expression of Jacksonian Democracy in the United States. Reformers who wished to limit the authority of bishops found little hearing in the Methodist Episcopal Church so they formed a new denomination—Wesleyan in theology but democratic in governance. There were no bishops or presiding elders. Appointments were made at annual conference by the stationing committee which often consisted of the conference members acting as a committee of the whole.

The Methodist Protestant Church experienced success in the eastern United States, but the vast distances in Texas presented problems. In the MEC and MECS, bishops and presiding elders traveled thousands of miles per year and, in doing so, provided the glue that held the denomination together. Since those offices did not exist in the Methodist Protestant Church, organizational matters were in the hands of the preachers. The problem was that many of the preachers were part time and had difficulties traveling.

The vast distances and lack of bishops contributed to the Methodist Protestants in Texas forming annual conferences when membership did not really justify their existence. So it was that on Oct. 18, 1861 the McCaine Conference was organized at Flat Creek Camp Ground in Leon County, part of the Keechie Circuit. There were twelve preachers, but only six of them attended. The Keechi Circuit was basically Leon, Freestone, Limestone, and Navarro Counties. The other circuits were the Navasota Circuit and Trinity Circuit.

At least two churches in the Texas Annual Conference of the UMC, Carroll Springs UMC and Slocum UMC, were originally in the McCaine Conference of the MP Church.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 7

Union Baptist Association Organized October 8, 1840

The core region of Texas Protestantism during the earliest years of the Republic was centered on the La Bahia Road between the Brazos and Colorado Rivers. It was along that corridor in present day Fayette, Austin, Burleson, and Washington Counties that Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians achieved “critical mass” to create organizations and schools. It is no coincidence that those three denominations created church organizations within both a few miles and a few months of each other.

The year was 1840. Cumberland Presbyterians had organized a presbytery in 1837, but the “Old School” Presbyterians, “Regular” Baptists, and Methodist Episcopals were all mission efforts of church organizations based in the United States or individual efforts.

The Presbyterians were first to organize. On April 3 three preachers and one layman organized the Texas Presbytery in a school house near Chriesman’s in northern Washington County a few miles west of Indpendence on the La Bahia Road. They reported five churches, Bethel (near San Augustine), Independence, Austin, Houston, and Galveston. The Baptists were next. On October 8 the Reverends R. E. B. Baylor, T. W. Cox, and J. L. Davis met at Travis and formed the Union Baptist Association. The three churches, at Independence, LaGrange, and Travis, had a combined membership of forty-five. The Rev. Z. N. Morrell of Plum Grove (near Bastrop) was unable to attend because of illness. He later wrote that the Plum Grove church had more members than any of the three that did form the Association.

The Methodist Episcopal Church was the last of the three to form an independent Texas organization. It did so at Rutersville, on the LaBahia Road about five miles northeast of LaGrange on December 25, 1840. Although it had more members and preachers than did the Baptists and Presbyterians, its denominational governance was more cumbersome. A new annual conference could be created only by the General Conference which met quadrennially. The General Conference of 1836 was obviously too early. Texas independence was not yet assured by that time. The Texas Conferences had to wait until the General Conference of 1840 for its authorization and then had to wait for a bishop to come from the United States for its organization.
The attached map is from 1851. It shows Rutersville and Travis but not Chriesman's School House. (Use Independence as a reference.) Viewers can enlarge the image by holding down the control key while using the mouse wheel.