Saturday, July 26, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 27

Littletown Fowler Licensed as Exhorter, July 1826

Your TWITMH editor often receives genealogical inquires concerning Methodist ancestors. Many families have traditions about some Methodist preacher in the family tree. Finding information about fully ordained conference members is easy. Those records are available in Journals and General Minutes.

Research becomes much more difficult when the family tradition stems from one of the other categories of leadership available to early century Methodists, local preacher, exhorter, and class leader.

The difficulty is compounded because the categories were not mutually exclusive. In many cases these offices were stepping stones to full ordination. In many cases a fully ordained preacher would decline an appointment and become a local preacher.

The key element to keep in mind when researching 19th century Methodist leaders is to determine which body authorized the person to exercise the office.

The Annual Conference admitted applicants on trial (O.T.) as deacons for a probationary period that usually lasted two years. At the end of that probationary period the deacon was ordained an elder. Membership in the annual conference took the place of membership in a local church. By joining the annual conference, the preacher agreed to submit to the appointment process in which the bishop assigned him to a particular station (one church) or circuit (group of churches).

Class leaders, exhorters, and local preachers all related to the church through the quarterly conference rather than the annual conference. The closest modern equivalent to the quarterly conference is the charge conference. In 19th century Methodism each station and circuit had four conferences per year. The main duty of presiding elders, equivalent to the modern office of district superintendent, was to preside at these conferences. All three of these offices required annual re-licensing

19th century Methodists were organized into classes. Class members met regularly to help one another pursue the Christian life. One of the members was designated “leader”. One should remember that most Methodist lived on circuits where the circuit rider might hold services only once per month—or even less frequently--. Class leaders held the church together in the interim.

EXHORTER An exhorter functioned as sort of assistant preacher. A primary task of exhorters occurred at revivals. The main purpose of revivals was to bring people to a sense of their own sin and then accept God’s forgiveness. A feature of revivals was a “mourner’s bench” at the front of the assembly. Unconverted persons who wished to experience conversion would sit or kneel –often for hours- hoping to receive the Holy Spirit. The preacher needed to be in the pulpit to deliver the sermon. Exhorters mingled with those persons, prayed with them, and helped them in their agony.

LOCAL PREACHER Local preachers were either fully ordained conference members who declined to take an appointment or men who were authorized to serve as preachers only in the particular church that licensed them.

These three categories of leaders are underrepresented in the historical literature of 19th century Methodism. They performed invaluable service by keeping the churches together during the long intervals between circuit rider visits. That service was neither as dramatic nor as well documented as that of the bishops and circuit riders. It is understandable that it is often remembered only in family tradition.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 20

Rev. Z. H. Matthews Signs First Marriage License Recorded in Houston

The first recorded marriage license in Harrisburg County (now Harris County) was signed by the Rev. Z. H. Matthews who officiated at the wedding of Mary Smith and Hugh McCrory. McCrory was a solider in the Army of the Republic of Texas. Smith was born in Arkansas Territory but moved to Brazoria and participated in the Runaway Scrape. The family later relocated to Houston where Smith married McCrory the week before her 18th birthday.

The marriage did not last. McCrory died the following September. The young widow did not remain single. She married Anson Jones in 1840. Jones was elected president of the Republic of Texas so Mary became first lady. They established their home at Barrington. Their house still exists and has been relocated to Washington on the Brazos State Park.

Jones’ 1858 suicide created financial distress for the family. Mary moved several times after that. She lived in Galveston, Willis, and Houston. She served as honorary president of the Daughters of the Texas Revolution and died in 1907.

The Rev. Matthews is possibly the same as Henry Matthews who was also a physician. He is mentioned as meeting with Jesse Hord in 1838 and advising him not to try to start a church at San Felipe. Your TWITMH editor would appreciate any more information readers can contribute about Dr. Matthews.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 13

John Wesley Hardt Elected Bishop of the United Methodist Church July 14, 1980

The South Central Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church met in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1980. The main business of the conference was the election of bishops. On July 14 John Wesley Hardt, District Superintendent of the Houston East District, was elected. Bishop Hardt was assigned to the Oklahoma Area where he served for eight years and then assumed the postion of Bishop in Residence at Perkins School of Theology of Southern Methodist University.

Hardt was born in San Antonio on July 14, 1921 to the Rev. and Mrs. W. W. Hardt. His boyhood was spent in a succession of parsonages in the Texas Conference. He graduated from Arp High School and enrolled in Lon Morris College and then Southern Methodist University. His first appointment was to the DeKalb Circuit which he served while still a student at SMU. Upon his father's death in April, 1943, Bishop A. Frank Smith appointed him to take his father's place in Malakoff, Texas. In September of that same year he married Martha Carson of Malakoff. Subsequent apointments took him to Pleasant Retreat (Tyler), Atlanta, Marshall, and Beaumont.

In addition to his local parish ministry Hardt served on a variety of boards, agencies, and commissions. He also preached at many revival meeetings and was involved in a variety of civic organizations in all his pastorates.

It is perhaps ironic that being elected on his birthday made his career as active bishop shorter than it otherwise would have been. According to the mandatory retirement rules in effect in 1980, if he had been one week younger, he would have been eligible to serve another quadrennium as presiding bishop of a conference.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 6

Harding-Alderson Debate Begins in Bruceville, July 8, 1895
Regular readers of this column will know that summer in late 19th century Texas was revival season, and that camp meetings and protracted meetings attracted tens of thousands of attendees. The closing decades of the 19th century were also a golden age of debates. Political campaigns often featured debates between candidates or their surrogates. The success of the Populist Movement was in part due the skill of debaters who carried the message of soft money and low tariffs to crowds across America. As hard as it may be for us in the 21st century to understand it, it was common for farmers with grade school educations to stand for as long as four hours at a time to listen to debates on monetary policy.

Church audiences of the era also relished debates. Judging by articles in the Texas Christian Advocate, the favorite opponents for Methodists seem to have been Adventists and Campbellites.

One of the great debates of the era began at Bruceville on July 8, 1895. The debate topic was infant baptism. The Methodists were represented by Eugene. W. Alderson, Presiding Elder of the Dallas District. His opponent was James Alexander Harding, principal and co-founder of Nashville Bible School. Harding was a graduate of Bethany College where he had studied under Alexander Campbell’s son-in-law. After graduation, he embarked on an evangelistic career that included at least fifty debates. One of the published debates—against Baptist J. B. Moody in Nashville, lasted sixteen nights.

Alderson was obviously matched against a formidable opponent whose background was similar to his. Both men were in their 40’s and both had been born and raised in Kentucky. Both had founded church schools.

Even though they had much in common, the theological divide over infant baptism separated them. They debated the subject 10 days in a tabernacle at Bruceville. The event had been publicized and drew a huge crowd.

In debates such as this, denominational loyalties rather than debating skill determined winners and losers, but Alderson later commented that Harding was the most able debater he ever faced. He said that Harding relied on logic and scripture instead of rhetorical tricks.

Both men went on to lead productive lives for their respective denominations. Alderson was a delegate to four General Conferences. He died in 1939 and is buried in Bonham. Harding died in 1922 and is buried in Bowling Green, KY. His ministry is remembered through Harding University in Searcy, AR.