German Mission Conference of Texas and Louisiana of the MECS Organized at Houston December 16, 1874
Texas had been a popular destination for German immigrants before 1861, and after the Civil War became even more so thanks to cheap steamship fares and an abundance of available farmland. Texas Methodists were often of two minds about Germans. On the one hand, 19th Century Germany was the home of philosophical rationalism and higher criticism of the Bible. German academic theology replaced Calvinism as the bete noire
for that small group of theologically-minded Methodists. The propensity of German Catholics and Lutherans to spend their Sunday afternoons drinking beer, playing cards, shooting for prizes, and otherwise desecrating the Sabbath provided material for many letters to the editor in the Advocate.
On the other hand, thousands of hard working German farmers in Texas lived exemplary lives and were obviously good citizens contributing to the state. They were attractive candidates for missionary efforts.
Before the Civil War both the Texas Conference and the Rio Grande Mission (now Southwest Texas) Conference had German Districts. The Civil War was particularly difficult for the churches in those districts. I. G. John, superintendent of the Austin District of the Texas Conference of the MECS, reported that an emissary of the MEC came to Texas and offered to guarantee minimum salaries for all MECS German preachers who would switch to the MEC. Changing to the MEC would also allow them to take better advantage of the publishing efforts centered at Cincinnati directed by the formidable William Nast.
Several of the most prominent MECS pastors did switch to the MEC and took their congregations with them. Harris, Austin, Fayette, Waller, and Washington Counties, in particular, became MEC strongholds. From 1867 to 1872 all MEC churches in Texas were in a single conference that consisted of African American, English speaking Anglo, and German speaking churches. The 1868 and 1872 General Conferences of the MEC struggled with the tri-ethnic nature of its southern conferences. Perhaps we will deal with the details of that struggle in another column, but in brief, the 1872 General Conference of the MEC authorized separate conferences for each of the ethnic groups. So it was that the MEC created the Southern German Conference for the Texas German churches in 1872.
The 1874 General Conference of the MECS responded by creating the Texas and Louisiana German Mission Conference. That conference was organized at the Texas Annual Conference which convened in Houston on December 16, 1874. The new conference had three districts, New Orleans (333 members), Houston (239 members), and New Braunfels (338 members). One of the preachers admitted on trial was Frederick William Hardt, the brother of your columnist’s great-great grandfather.
The German Conference existed until 1918 when almost all its churches became part of the West Texas (now Southwest Texas) Conference. Three churches, Beneke and Bering in Houston and East Bernard, became part of the Texas Conference. The Louisiana churches of the conference became part of the Louisiana Conference in 1886.
As previously noted, the MEC was quite strong in eastern German settlements. The MECS strength lay further to the west. One was to show that is by listing the annual conference sites for the conference. Houston was home to 15 annual conference sessions, but much smaller towns showed where the MECS was strongest.
New Fountain –6 sessions of annual conference