Saturday, April 26, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History April 27

Texas Christian Advocate Devotes Entire Issue to Missions April 29, 1909

One of the strands of Texas Methodist history that has persisted through its entire history has been mission efforts to ethnic and linguistic communities. Those efforts can be roughly divided into four phases.

a. The beginnings until Reconstruction—missions to African Americans and Germans
b. The Progressive Era—missions to immigrants
c. Post Mexican Revolution—missions to Mexican immigrants to Texas
d. Modern era—missions to Asian Texans.

All four eras deserve extended treatment, and your columnist hopes to be able to provide that in future columns. This week’s column highlights the Progressive Era missions and lifts up the special edition of the Texas Christian Advocate of April 29, 1909 which was devoted to the subject.

As historians of the era have long pointed out, Progressives were often motivated by both hope and fear—Hope that the immigrants would add their labor and talents to an expanding economy and eventually lose their identity in the “melting pot” of America and fear that the immigrants would bring diseases, radical political traditions, trade unionism, and bossism. When Progressives considered the religions of the immigrants, Orthodox Christianity, Judaism, and Roman Catholicism, many were alarmed. They saw synagogue and immigrant church as barriers to the assimilation and “Americanization” which Progressives desired.

Most of this story played out in the northeastern United States, but Texas also played a minor role. Proximity to Mexico made Mexican-American missions the centerpiece of efforts in Texas, but evangelization efforts directed toward Japanese, Italian, Bohemian, and Swedish immigrants also occurred. There were French missions in nearby Louisiana.

Women played a central role in the missions. Houston, Galveston, Thurbur, Fort Worth, and Terry (in Orange County) were the most important sites. Some had Wesley Houses that provided social services, English language instruction, pre-natal and maternal education, child care, and rudimentary medical care.

Another model was appointment of a missionary who spoke the language. The Central Texas Conference supported Czech speaking missionaries, and the Texas Conference had Italian speakers who were stationed sometimes in Beaumont and sometimes in the Brazos Valley.

The missions tended to be short lived. The coal mines at Thurbur which had attracted Italian and Bohemian miners closed. The Japanese agricultural colony at Terry did not survive the Great Depression.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History April 20

Former Advocate Editor Saved From Jail by Man He Converted Years Earlier
April 21, 1909

George W. Briggs assumed the editorship of the Texas Christian Advocate in June 1884. A graduate of the University of Alabama in 1878, he rapidly gained fame in New Orleans churches, and then transferred to Galveston, the home of the Advocate. In consultation with the publishers, the denominational newspaper threw itself in the prohibition campaign. Briggs wrote numerous editorials on the evils of drink, regularly published prohibitionist poems, and included news items about the ill effects of alcohol. As his reputation grew, he was invited to numerous debates on the subject all around the state. He became one of the most prominent prohibition advocates in the state. He remained editor until the publishers gained approval to move the Advocate from Galveston to Dallas in 1888.

Twenty-five years later he was literally a “Bowery Bum” in New York City. The skid row alcoholic was in court on a charge of shoplifting three atomizers from a drug store.

His son, Wood Briggs was with him in the courtroom, and asked the judge to set a low bail so he would not have to stay in jail until his trial. Judge House looked down from the bench and said the lowest he could set was $100, and wondered if he could pay it. At that moment Walter B. Mayer, chief postal inspector for the New York District, interrupted and said, “Ill pay it.” Mayer went on and addressed the court as follows:

This prisoner was in his time one of the most eloquent and stirring of pulpit orators. When I was rather wild young man in Galveston I happened one day to go into one of his Bible classes. What he said and the way he said it gave me a new purpose in life. I was converted and became a Christian under his ministry. I was distressed . .. when I saw in the papers this morning that he had been arrested. I hastened here to do everything in my power for him.

This columnist does not know the events that turned one of the most prominent advocates for prohibition down the road to ruin but one can read the dramatic courtroom events in the April 21, 1909 New York Times.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History April 13

Peter Moelling Asks General Conference to Help German Methodists in Texas
April 14, 1866

As delegates to the MECS General Conference of 1866 assembled in New Orleans in April 1866, they were confronted with a series of the most daunting problems ever considered in a General Conference. The General Conference of 1862 had been cancelled because of the Civil War. The corps of Bishops was aging and unable to give vigorous leadership. African American members of the denomination were leaving to join other denominations by the tens of thousands. The denomination schools and missions had been devastated by the war. Recruitment of new ministers had all but come to a halt in the war years. Church revenues had fallen to mere fractions of pre-war giving.

As the delegates confronted these serious problems, a preacher from Texas took the floor to add one more problem to the list. He was Peter A. Moelling of Galveston. Moelling was well known to the group through his editorship of the Christliche Apologete before the war and his published travel account Reise-Skizzen in Poesie und Prosa . Gesammelt auf einer siebenmonatlichen Tour durch die Vereinigten Staaten von Nord Amerika. 1858.

Here is way the New York Times reported Moelling’s appeal:

Rev. Peter Moelling of Texas submitted a long letter. . .in reference to the German missions under the superintendence of this church. . .He said that they were poor and even wanting many of the necessaries of life, but their religious principles had not forsaken them as had their fortunes during the war. They had been appealed to by the Northern Methodist Episcopal Church . . .to go with them, promising them all the means necessary to meet their wants, and supply them with missionaries without any cost. . .it was a great temptation. . .
Two weeks later the General Conference replied to the plea for help. The reply was basically, “We’ll do all we can, but don’t expect much. We’re broke.” The General Conference did shift all the German charges to a district in the Texas Conference. Before the war both the Rio Grande Mission Conference and the Texas Conference had German districts.

The Texas Annual Conference of the MECS met in Galveston in the October following the General Conference in April. Enoch Marvin, who had been elected bishop in New Orleans the previous April, presided. The minutes of that conference show that Peter Moelling, William Harms, Edward Schneider, Carl Biel, and Gustavus Elley located. August Engel, another German Methodist preacher, was put on the supernumerary list. The following January three of these Germans joined the newly-organized Texas Conference of the MEC. I guess Moelling was right—the inducements offered by the northern church were tempting.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History April 6

John Wesley Carhart and Bishop Bowman dedicate new MEC church in Sherman
April 7, 1878

Regular readers of this column will know that the MEC left North Texas on the eve of the Civil War. Less than twenty years later the MEC returned. It did so mainly because Texas was being integrated into the national economy via railroads being built into the state. North Texas became the pivot around which that economic integration turned. Although Dallas eventually became the city which took greatest advantage of the rail connections, Sherman was the first beneficiary.

The population boom associated with rail construction was enough to build a magnificent new MEC (northern) church in 1878. The pastor, the Rev. L. H. Carhart, invited his brother John Wesley Carthart, P. E. from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to help Bishop Thomas Bowman dedicate the building.

Carhart’s trip to Texas was an illustration of how much transportation had improved in the mid 19th century. He left Oshkosh on a Wednesday night for a Sunday preaching appointment. The dedicatory service for the $5000 church was a success, and J. W. Carhart then spent the next month touring Texas..

Both L. H. and J. W. Carhart were about to change their life situations and in doing so, impact Texas history.

L. H. did not stay in the comfortable church in Sherman. Instead he obtained financing and went west to establish a Methodist colony on the Plains. He named the town after his wife Clara. You know his settlement as Clarendon. By 1880 he was back preaching in Dallas and then went to Fort Worth. The Plains called again, this time not as pastor, but as land developer. He went to England and obtained financing for the Clarendon Land Development and Agency Company. The blizzards and drought of 1886-7 wiped him out, and he returned to the ministry.

His brother’s life story is even more amazing. Even while serving pastorates in New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts, he managed to find time to work as an inventor. One of his inventions, a valve for steam engines, brought him several thousand dollars. He transferred to Wisconsin, and in 1871 invented a steam powered buggy. It worked, but his neighbors in Racine made him dismantle it because it frightened horses. In 1903 the magazine Horseless Age named him “father of the automobile.” In 1905 the French government invited him as an honored guest to an international exposition and gave him a cash prize for his invention.

After returning from his 1878 excursion to Texas, the ran afoul of church politics. Charges were brought against him. Although he “beat the rap,” he was disgusted and decided to change professions. He became a physician and in 1885 moved to Texas where his son Ed had established a printing operation in Clarendon. He stayed there briefly and moved to Lampasas, where he practiced medicine and founded a newspaper. He then moved to LaGrange, Austin, and San Antonio where he became a distinguished physician specializing in diseases of the skin and nervous system. He published widely in medical journals.

He also found time to write two novels. The first, Norma Trist (1895) was one of the first American novels to include the theme of homosexuality. Carhart was arrested for violating the obscenity laws. His other novel, Under Palmetto and Pine (1899) dealt with problems of African Americans.

John Wesley Carhart, inventor, Methodist preacher, physician, journalist, and novelist, died in 1914. You may read more about him and his brother in the New Handbook of Texas. You may read his autobiography, 4 Years on Wheels (1880) written when he left the ministry and thought his interesting career was over at Google Books. That volume tells about his month in Texas in 1878.