Saturday, November 24, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History November 25

Ma Ferguson Pardons 105 Inmates on Nov. 25, 1925. Central Texas Conference Condemns Action.

If Texans think of Governor “Ma” Ferguson at all, they usually do so with a certain sense of amusement. They remember her campaign slogan in 1924, “Two governors for the price of one.” Everyone knew that her husband, James Edward Ferguson, who was barred from office by impeachment, would be the governor in all but name. Others may remember her response to calls for foreign language instruction in Texas schools, “If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for Texas.” She was best known for her liberal use of the pardon power of the governor, releasing about 100 inmates per month. Those pardons tended to peak right before the holiday season. After her Thanksgiving pardon of 1925, the Central Texas Conference passed a resolution condemning that action. To understand why the CTC was so incensed over the pardons, one must go back a previous decade.

The battle over prohibition of beverage alcohol was the central issue in Texas politics and also in Methodist social action in the opening years of the 20th century. The Democratic Primary of 1914 provided a bit of irony. The “Drys” decided to choose one candidate so they would not split their votes. They met and chose Thomas Henry Ball, a Houston lawyer and ex-congressman. Ball was the son of the Reverend Thomas Henry Ball who had been president of Andrew Female College in Huntsville. Ball was born six weeks after his father’s death from typhoid fever so he never knew him.

The “Wets” also caucused to pick a standard bearer, but James Edward Ferguson refused to attend. Ferguson likewise bore the name of his distinguished Methodist preacher father. Like Ball, he also never really knew his father who died when the younger Ferguson was four years old. The elder Ferguson had achieved great fame as a powerful preacher at revivals. The wet caucus was fearful that any candidate they chose would split the wet vote. They picked Ferguson.

So it was that in July 1914 the two sons of famous Methodist preachers, each bearing his father’s name, lined up on opposite sides of the issue most important to Methodists of the era. Ferguson was by far the more able orator. He hammered Ball for his corporate connections and promised relief for tenant farmers. He won the Democratic Primary and the general election in November.

This is not the place to relate the events between Pa’s victory in 1914 and Ma’s pardons in 1925, but why was the Central Texas Conference so incensed? Part of the answer lies in the fact that the Ma and Pa were from Bell County, one of the strongest counties in the Central Texas Conference. Another factor was the nature of the crimes committed by the pardoned inmates. A large percentage of the pardons went to convicted bootleggers! The preachers felt betrayed. For a whole generation they had worked to enact Prohibition. They were finally successful, and now that success was being undercut by laxity in enforcement and letting the criminals out of prison. No wonder they were upset.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History November 18

Chauncey Richardson Reports on Tour of Galveston District November 22, 1846

The main duty of presiding elders in the 19th century was to visit all appointments in his district four times per year and hold quarterly conferences. In addition to his duties as President of Rutersville College, Chauncey Richardson was also Presiding Elder of the Rutersville District. That district comprised an area roughly bounded by the Colorado River settlements from Austin to Egypt on the east to San Antonio, Victoria, Goliad, and Gonzales on the south and west.

Even with those two responsibilities, in the fall of 1846 Richardson toured the Galveston District presided over by Robert Alexander. Having two presiding elders at a quarterly conference was fairly common.

When he returned to his home in Rutersville, Richardson wrote a report of his tour to Missionary Society. Earlier that year the first General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church South had approved a resolution to send $1000 each to the two annual conferences in Texas. Richardson was reporting on the success of the missions.

Richardson focused on the two pastors, Henry Young (originally Heinrich Jung) and Charles Rottenstein, who was missionaries to the Germans. Young had been able to organize a church in Galveston that reported twenty members and a nearly-complete chapel. The next year the Galveston German Mission reported sixty members. Rottenstein reported less success

. . .the prospect of extensive usefulness , in some of the German settlements, is not as flattering as he anticipated before he visited them. The fluctuating condition of some of them is unfavorable to missionary operations.

Richardson then thanked the Missionary Society for its aid and informed them that aid would continue to necessary.

The aid extended to the Texas Conference by the mission society, pursuant to the recommendation of the General Conference was very timely, and failed not to meet a most grateful response in the hearts of the faithful missionaries in this interesting and promising mission field. The appropriation was greatly needed, and afforded special relief to many. Similar aid must be extended this conference for a few years longer, or some of our most useful men will be compelled to retire from itinerant work, and devote themselves to some business which will secure a comfortable support for their families.

This entire state should be considered missionary ground, in part at least, for a short period. Foreign aid is essential to the successful prosecution of our work, in extending our labors to the unoccupied sections of this country. There are numerous neighborhoods entirely unsupplied with the means of grace. I have seen children grown who have never heard a sermon. . .

Saturday, November 10, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History--November 11

Durwood Fleming Preaches First Sermon at St. Luke’s November 11, 1945

The end of World War II was a glorious moment for many reasons. Service personnel were finally out of harm’s way and could return home after painful separation. For Texas Methodists it meant a boom in church expansion. New church construction had slowed to a crawl during the Depression and World War II, but wartime industrialization had resulted in dramatic population increases in Texas cities. Many veterans had resolved to lead Christian lives upon their return to civilian life. The church’s mission was clear. It had to engage in a concentrated effort of church expansion.

All Texas cities were impacted in some way by wartime industrialization, but none more so than Houston. Its petroleum-related industries were absolutely vital for Allied victory, and its population grew according to its importance. By January, 1945, a group of laity from First, St. Paul’s, and Bering met to discuss the possibilities of a new church on the west side of Houston. The planning group continued to meet during the spring. As the headlines reported the collapse of the Nazi Reich and the tightening noose around Japan, planners were making rapid progress for a new church. On June 14 organizers met at Lamar High School, and District Superintendent Guy Jones appointed committees to continue the work.

The committee went to work with a November deadline since annual conference would be the appropriate time to appoint a pastor to the new church. (The Texas Annual Conference met in the fall until 1947. See post for June 3, 2006) By October organizers were ready to go to Eastland, Texas to meet the pastor there, the Rev. Durwood Fleming. The Flemings then came to Houston for a visit.

Bishop A. Frank Smith then offered Fleming the exciting and challenging appointment to St. Luke’s. His first worship service was in the auditorium at Lamar High School on November 11. Bishop Smith presided over the services. At the end of Fleming’s sermon, “Spiritual Foundations from the First,” over 200 members came down the aisle to join. St. Luke’s was off to a roaring start.

The congregation continued to worship in Lamar High School and Lanier Junior High until 1951. They then moved into their own facilities. Durwood Fleming’s appointment had been fortuitous. He was a strong leader and effective preacher who guided St. Luke’s through those early days. He remained at St. Luke’s until 1961 when he assumed the Presidency of Southwestern University.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History November 4

MEC and MECS Conferences Meet in Houston November 3-8, 1936

The 1934 Centennial Celebration of Texas Methodism held in San Antonio was not an isolated event. It was, in fact, part of an interest in Texas Methodist history that extended over several years. 1936 was particularly important as the annual conferences met in Houston. First Baptist, First Presbyterian, First Christian, First Methodist, and St. Paul’s Methodist provided facilities for the conferences. The City Auditorium accommodated the combined Conferences. Delegates were able to make special excursions to the San Jacinto Battlefield where construction of the San Jacinto Monument had just begun. The design of the Monument had been suggested by Jesse H. Jones, head of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and a lay member of St. Paul’s in Houston.

The 1936 Texas Annual Conference must have set the record in number of gavels presented to Bishop A. Frank Smith. J. E. Buttrill gave him one made from a sill taken from Seth Ward’s home. Charles Smith gave him one made from wood from a yard tree of pioneer preacher Robert Rankin. Olin Nail of the West Texas Conference then presented a gavel made from wood from a tree under which William Stevenson may have preached near Davenport.

Special recognition was given to Robert Alexander’s daughter and granddaughters, Fannie Campbell, Anne and Francis Lide and Mrs. Earl Sweeney. Littleton Fowler’s granddaughter, Laura Woolworth Fowler was also recognized.

The Conference also dealt with historic preservation. A. J. Weeks (Advocate editor), Ed Harris (Galveston District), and J. W. Mills (First Beaumont) introduced a resolution calling on the annual conferences in Texas to raise $20,000 for improvements at McMahan’s Chapel.

The reading of appointments, the last business item of a Methodist annual conference, was like no other in Texas history. It was conducted in the City Auditorium. Bishop Boaz read the Central Texas, North West Texas, and West Texas appointments. Bishop Smith read the North Texas and Texas Conference appointments. Bishop Charles Meade of the MEC read the Southern Conference appointments. The Northern and Southern branches of the church were united by their common devotion to Texas history.