Saturday, December 29, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 30

Ike Strickland Founds Church in Montgomery December 30, 1838

Last week’s column told how Jesse Hord left Houston and spent Christmas 1838 slogging through the mud on the way to his circuit to the southwest of Houston. He and Ike Strickland had traveled together from the Tennessee Annual Conference meeting in Huntsville, Alabama to Texas. They parted on December 22 in the bounds of Strickland’s Montgomery Circuit as Hord pressed on to his circuit. On December 30 Strickland organized the Montgomery Church in William Sander’s house.

Strickland’s ministry on the Montgomery Circuit was very brief. In January he accompanied Fowler to accept the gift of land at Robinson’s Campground in southwestern Walker County. Joseph Sneed then arrived as another volunteer for the Texas Mission. Fowler appointed Sneed to the Montgomery Circuit and directed Strickland to assist Hord on the Houston Circuit. Strickland did so from March 1, 1839 until his death on July 2, 1839 at Mary Bell’s house in West Columbia. His body was buried in the Bell family cemetery, but later moved to Chance’s Prairie on the San Bernard.

Strickland’s death and Abel Stevens’ return to the United States in June dealt a serious setback to the Texas Mission. Two of the first volunteers (Ruter and Strickland) had lasted less than a year. Lewell Campbell and Abel Stevens both complained publicly about the attachment of the Mission to the Mississippi Annual Conference. The disincentives for volunteers for Texas in 1839 created opportunities for “home grown” preachers. Daniel Carl, Henderson Palmer, Robert Hill, and Robert Crawford, all of whom had been serving as local preachers, were admitted on trial to the Mississippi Conference in December 1839 and received Texas appointments.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 23

“The King’s business requireth haste.” Jesse Hord starts his circuit. 1838

Jesse Hord volunteered for the Texas Mission of the Mississippi Conference in the summer of 1838. He and Ike Strickland crossed the Sabine on November 29, and Hord pressed on to Houston. Here is his account of Christmas and the days following:

Dec. 25 This sacred day I spend in travel through mud and
water, in transit from Houston to Richmond, on the Brazos.

Dec. 26 Spent in Richmond; preached at night to a good
congregation; good feeling ; much interest; the Holy Spirit rests
upon many.

Dec. 27 I made a detour for San Felipe, travelling through
mud and water under foot, and water falling violently from
above; and last though not the least, I met a violent norther. I
embraced the first opportunity to enter a house.

Dec. 28 After a hard day's travel I reached San Felipe;
put up with Dr. Matthews, a Methodist preacher, well educated
and intelligent, with whom I counseled with reference to leaving
an appointment ; he pronounced it impracticable under existing
circumstances ; so I declined any subsequent visit.

Dec. 29 This morning I started for Egypt. Between me
and it is a vast flat, muddy prairie, in width forty miles ; but by
a desperate effort I made the ride. I called at the first house
and asked to be entertained for the night. The gentleman of-
fered some objections. "Sir, if you please, I am wet, tired and
worn out. I am a Methodist missionary, and wish to preach in
the settlement on to-morrow. " ' ' Enough ; get down. " ' ' Thank
you, sir. ' ' I went in and was made comfortable and happy, too,
for the night. This was my first acquaintance with Dr. John
Sutherland, of precious memory.

Dec. 30 I preached this morning to a good congregation,
which came together on short notice. The "word was with
power." All seemed glad and quite happy; for the time I
forgot my cold, wet fatiguing ride to this settlement. Among
them was a number of "old-time Methodists." The congrega-
tion seemed to vie with each other in hearty expressions of wel-
come. Here I felt as if I should love to rest; "but the King's
business requireth haste."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 16

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
East Bernard—2
San Antonio—2
New Orleans—1

Saturday, December 08, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 9

Delegates Assemble in Baltimore to Celebrate Centennial Dec. 9, 1884

300 delegates from the MEC, MEC South, AME, AMEZ, CME, Primitive Methodist Church, and the Methodist Church of Canada assembled in Baltimore’s First Methodist Church, the descendant of Lovely Lane Meeting House, to celebrate communion on Tuesday, December 9, 1884. They were in Baltimore for the Centennial Celebration in honor of the founding of the Methodist Episcopal Church in that place in 1784.

The service began with the hymn, See How Great a Flame Aspires, Kindled by a Spark of Grace. After a prayer, the congregation sang, I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord. Bishop E. G. Andrews (MEC) delivered the welcoming address. Responses were given by J. B. McFerrin (MECS) and J. C. Price (AMEZ). McFerrin, well known to many Texans in his role as Mission Secretary, claimed to be the only delegate present who had also been at the 1836 General Conference (Cincinnati) and 1840 General Conference (Baltimore). He claimed sixty years in the itinerant ministry—a record no one there challenged.
The Texans who were named delegates were as follows:

MEC The Rev. C. L. Madison—Austin
MECS Clergy
Ygnacio Sanchez Rivera—San Antonio
Homer Thrall—San Antonio
A. H,. Sutherland—San Antonio
R. S. Finley—Tyler
M. H. Neeley—Terrell
Thomas H. Rogers—San Felipe
T. R. Bonner—Tyler
August Bering—Houston
Thomas Folts—Austin
D. H. Snyder—Georgetown
Asa Holt—Terrell
Wm. Headen--Laredo

An examination of the Proceedings reveals at least some of the Texans participated in the program and discussions. Homer Thrall served as celebrant at one of the worship services. Ygnacio Sanchez Rivera addressed the delegates for fifteen minutes on the evangelization of the Mexican border. He spoke in Spanish, and Rev. Sutherland translated. Jesse Boring, a Georgian who served for a while in Texas, delivered an historical address on Francis Asbury.

The program for the following week consisted of worship and lectures followed by discussion. The real value was probably maintaining relations among the various branches of the Wesleyan movement. Events such as this were one factor in keeping alive the prospect of the reunification of the northern and southern branches of the church. That was finally accomplished in 1939.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 2

Bishop Keener opens West Texas Conference in Gonzales. Three Spanish Speaking Preachers admitted--December 2, 1874.

Alejo Hernandez’s transfer to the Mexico City Mission (see column for Sept. 23, 2007) did not mean an end to evangelistic efforts directed toward Spanish speaking Texans. Bishop John C. Keener, who often presided over the West Texas Conference, was particularly interested in expanding the number of Spanish speaking congregations. When Keener presided over the West Texas Conference of 1874, he admitted Doroteo Garcia, Felipe Cordova, and Fermin Vidaurri. Bishop Keener’s hopes were fulfilled. The number of Spanish speaking churches increased in the 1870’s. They were placed in a Mexican Mission District with A. H. Sutherland of Laredo as Presiding Elder. The use of a separate linguistic district was also used for German and Swedish speaking Texans. In all three cases, German, Spanish, and Swedish, the linguistic district eventually evolved into its own annual conference.

In 1878 Keener once again presided over the West Texas Conference. Here are the appointments for the Mexican Mission District.

San Antonio Mission----Crecencio Rodriguez
Lodi and Medina Mission ----Alejandro DeLeon
Bandera Mission---------Jose Polycarpo Rodriguez
Corpus Christi Mission---James (Santiago) Tafolla
San Diego and Presenos—Trinidad Armindarez
Conception Mission---Doroteo Garcia
Hidalgo Mission-------Cruz Martinez
Rio Grande City and Roma—Metilde Trevino
Mier and Carmargo—Gumercindo Paz
Laredo—Joseph Norwood and J. M. Cassanova
Eagle Pass---Josue Acosta
Brackettville—Roman Palomares

The twelve appointments in the Mexican Mission District made it the largest district in terms of both area and number of appointments. (The other districts were San Marcos, San Antonio, Texana, and Corpus Christi.) The vigorous expansion of the Mexican Mission District gave conference members confidence that it could support a school. They passed the following resolution:

In view of the present great necessity for Christian education in our Mexican Mission District, your committee would earnestly recommend that the Conference respectfully request the appointing power to take such steps as are necessary for the establishment of a Mexican and American High School at some point on the Rio Grande as soon as possible.

That resolution was the enabling act that led to the founding of Laredo Seminary in 1880. The Seminary was later renamed Holding Institute. ( see column for Oct. 15, 2006)