Sunday, January 27, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 27

Littleton Fowler Dies January 29, 1846

Littleton Fowler, missionary to the Republic of Texas, died at his home in Sabine County on January 29, 1846 at the age of 42.

Most modern Americans have their last days on earth managed by teams of professionals. They become passive objects of attention rather than active participants in “shuffling off this mortal coil.”

In nineteenth century America, “good deaths” were often choreographed by the dying person. A good death occurred at home in the presence of family and friends. The dying person said appropriate farewells and often distributed keepsakes. Sacraments were administered. Hymns and prayers were sung and prayed. Christian ministers were expected to offer some sort of testimony about the assurance of their entrance into heaven--sort of a final sermon that he had kept the faith.

Littleton Fowler’s death conformed to the social expectations of the era. An account of Fowler’s last hours was widely distributed. This one is copied from John McFerrin’s History of Methodism in Tennessee, (1873).

Some time before his last illness, he requested Rev. S. A. Williams to preach his funeral-sermon from the text: ' I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.' The last time Mr. Fowler himself preached, he used that text. It was in Douglass, and the sermon was equal to one of his best efforts. Mr. Fowler retained his intellectual faculties unclouded till the last. On the day before he died, he addressed his physician, who was skeptically inclined: ' Doctor, I have tried the religion of Jesus Christ for more than twenty-five years, and I find it now what I believed it to be all the time. It gives me consolation in my dying hour. I have no fear of death. I shall be happy and live in heaven forever. 0 I hope you will study the gospel more, and yet believe in it to salvation !' After this his friends sang a favorite hymn—' 0 land of rest, for thee I sigh !' During the ensuing night, he turned to his brother, Judge A. J. Fowler, and said : ' Jack, am I not dying ?' His brother told him he thought he was. 'Well,' said he, 'you should have told
me so. It does not alarm me. I feel that I must die; death to me has no terrors. I feel that I can walk through the valley and shadow of death, and fear no evil. God is with me.' His children were called to his bedside. He gave each one a Bible, a word of advice, and an affectionate farewell. Still later, and after a brief season of repose, he awoke as from a dream, and exclaimed : ' 0 what a glorious sight! I have seen the angelic hosts, the happy faces of just men made perfect,' and repeated the couplet: -. Farewell, vain world, I'm going home; My Saviour smiles, and bids me come. "His sight failing him, he inquired of Mr. Woolam if there were no lights in the room. He was told there were.. 'Ah, well,' said he, ' my sight grows dim. Earth recedes, heaven is approaching. Glory to God in the highest!' Soon after this he expired. ' There was no struggle,' says Mr. Sexton, ' no violence, but there was the cold reality, too real.'

Saturday, January 19, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 20

Joint Commission on Unification Convenes in Savannah, Jan. 23, 1918

Most readers of this column are familiar with the creation of the Methodist Church in 1939 with the unification of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Methodist Episcopal Church South, and the Methodist Protestant Church. Less well known is the unsuccessful attempt during the 1910s and 1920s to unify the MEC and MECS. The General Conferences of 1914 (MECS) and 1916 (MEC) authorized the creation of a Joint Commission on Unification. Although the Commission recommendations were eventually rejected, its deliberations were part of the process that led to the 1939 merger.

There were fifty members of the Commission, five bishops, ten clergy, and ten laity, from each denomination. All were male. Two were African American, including Robert E. Jones, elected Bishop in 1920 and famous for the founding of Gulfside in Mississippi.

Texans on the Commission included Bishop Edwin Mouzon of Dallas, President Robert S. Hyer (laity) of SMU, and President C. M. Bishop (clergy) of Southwestern University. Texans could also claim Horace DuBose of Nashville since he held appointments at Galveston (St. James), Houston (Shearn), and Marvin in Tyler (twice). John M. Moore had served both Travis Park in San Antonio and First Methodist Dallas. Moore later wrote The Long Road to Methodist Union (1943) about the events under consideration.

The Commission convened five times from December 1916 to July 1919. The 500 pound gorilla in the room was the status of African Americans after a potential reunion of the MEC and MECS. The problem stemmed from the different methods by which the two denominations implemented segregation during Reconstruction. The MEC created segregated annual conferences, but did not segregate general conference. The MEC sponsored a separate general conference that was known first as the Colored MECS, then the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, and eventually the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

The three Texans all participated. Hyer’s contributions mainly consisted of asking clarifying questions and seeking more precision in the recommendations. Both Mouzon and Bishop participated much more fully.

At the second meeting, in Traverse City, Michigan, Bishop Mouzon was obviously irked by the difficulty of travel arrangements he had undergone. As the meeting was concluding, New Orleans and Savannah were offered as possible sites for the next meeting. Mouzon then nominated Browsnville. His motion lost to Savannah.

The third meeting of the Commission opened in Savannah on January 23, 1918. During the two week session, President Bishop defended the MECS positions at great length. MECS delegates wanted the African American MEC conferences to be organized into a separate General Conference. MEC delegates were willing to put them in a separate Jurisdictional Conference. That is, of course, what eventually happened in 1939.

Much of the Commission’s time was debating terminology. It coined the terms “Jurisdictional Conference” (rather than “Regional Conference”), “Judicial Council” (rather than “Supreme Court”). Delegates debated “Negro,” “Colored,”, and “Afro American,” eventually accempting Robert E. Jones’ preferences on the subject. During one of the deliberations about terminology, Mouzon passed on the famous “Ura Hogg” canard as follows.
Once upon
a time, in the good State of Texas, we had a great Governor
whose name was Hogg and he called himself Hogg, and further
more the story runs that he had a boy whose name was Ura
Hogg and he had a girl whose name was Ima Hogg. I think
that is a true story, but whether it is fable or fact, the principle
is all right. A name ought to mean something and not some
thing else.

Friday, January 11, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 13

Rev. E. P. Newsome Tours Prison, Eats ‘Possum for Christmas Dinner January, 1899

It was common for preachers to write letters to the Advocate soon after moving to a new appointment. Preachers often had new experiences and reunions with old friends to write about. The following letter appeared in the January 1899 Advocate from Rev. E. P. Newsome who had moved from Brenham to Huntsville.

We are here in the hilly town of Huntsville, the Athens of Texas. We are well pleased with our new appointment. The pastor that serves Huntsville Station not only has the opportunity of preaching to a loyal and intelligent people, but the privilege of touching with his influence the entire State of Texas, for here annually gather the representatives of well-nigh every county in the State to attend the Sam Houston Normal. They are the future teachers of Texas, and a fine body of young men and women they are. A large per cent of them are Methodists. Here too, is located the State’s largest penal institution. There are between eight hundred and one thousand inmates in this penitentiary. We are not making any denominational claims in this connection, but some of these poor fellows have likely come through Methodist homes. Through the courtesy of Capt. Gerard and wife myself and family spent an entire afternoon in going through this seven-acre city of crime. The discipline and management of this institution is well-nigh perfect. From kitchen to dark rooms everything is kept a clean as a pin. The prisoners are well fed and are humanely treated. As I looked into the faces—bright and intelligent—of many young men, some of whom are doomed to wear stripes for life, it made me sad. I could not but think of what “might have been” had the proper influences been thrown around them ere sin had wrought its awful work. But sadder still was the sight of old men, whose steps were slow and feeble, whose heads were silvered with gray and whose hearts entombed all that makes life worth living. As we came out, the huge iron doors clanging ominously behind us, we saw in the corridors a man who had been sentenced for life. His wife had come to visit him, and his three little children were climbing upon his knees and tangling their tiny hands in his hair. This man, criminal though he was and ostracized forever from the world without, was yet the dearest one in all the world to this wife and these children. As they performed their holy ministries of love I thought of the the thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians.

But to leave the somber side of Huntsville. When I first came here I was entertained by Prof. H. C. Pritchett. He asked me how I liked the looks of the country. I told him it reminded me very much of my native State (North Carolina), I surmised that persimmons were probably abundant in the regions round about. Prof. Pritchett doesn’t have to be knocked down to take a hint, so he immediately proposed a ‘possum hunt for Friday night before Christmas. Alas! The weather was too bad to go. However, my good friend saw that his preacher had ‘possum for his Christmas dinner. And how delicious! It was the first I had eaten in seventeen years. . . .

Sunday, January 06, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 6

Herring Avenue Methodist Built in One Day January 11, 1911

Even a casual reader of Methodist documents from the turn of the 20th century will notice a spirit of optimism and confidence. There were ample grounds for such optimism. The Epworth League and Sunday Schools were in their heyday. Women were empowered as they had never been in Texas Methodism. The fruits of that empowerment included home and foreign missions, parsonage acquisition, and political activism in the fight for prohibition of alcoholic beverages. Many Texas Methodist institutions were finally financially sound. One expression of that confidence was a movement to create a university. (With the exception of medical education, previous efforts in higher education had been liberal arts colleges.) The Methodist Home in Waco was performing admirable service, thanks in part to the financial backing it received from evangelists Abe and Louisa Mulkey.

The Methodist Home provided the stage for a curious expression of the exuberant spirit of the times on January 11, 1911. It was on that day that a church building was constructed in a single day. The church, Herring Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church South, had 150 members. Many of them volunteered on that day. By 7:00 p.m. the Rev. Henry Munger was able to hold a worship service in the building which cost $1500.

The church was located across Herring Avenue from the Home. It served as the main worship venue for Home residents until the construction of the Home’s Chapel in 1941. On can view sequential photographs of the church construction in the Methodist Excitement.