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.


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