Saturday, November 29, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History November 30

Bobby Wilson Makes "$85,000 Catch," November 30, 1935

The Wikipedia entry for SMU Mustangs refers to the November 30, 1935 game against TCU as “the greatest game in SMU history.” The SMU football site ranks it as the 2nd most important event in SMU football history (behind Doak Walker’s winning the Heisman Trophy in 1948). It pitted the #1 Mustangs against the #2 Frogs. Bobby Wilson’s three touchdowns propelled SMU to a 20-14 victory against Sammy Baugh’s team from Fort Worth. The winning touchdown was a 4th down pass from a fake punt that Wilson caught on the 5 yard line and dived into the end zone.

The victory earned the Mustangs a invitation to the Rose Bowl to play Stanford University on January 1, 1936. Although SMU lost the Rose Bowl, the team brought home a check for $85,000. The university desperately needed that money to pay off the mortgage on Ownby Stadium. The pass from Bob Finley to Bobby Wilson is therefore referred to as the $85,000 pass.

Both of the stars of the game on November 30 had further connections with Texas Methodist History. Wilson was a faithful member of First United Methodist Church Beaumont where he served in a variety of leadership positions. The Methodist Home’s group home for foster children in Jayton is the Sammy Baugh Cottage.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History November 23

East Texas Conference Opens as Two Preachers Released from Jail November 29, 1849

The fifth session of the East Texas Conference convened in Paris on November 29, 1849 with Bishop Paine presiding. Although the conference had quite a lot of substantive business to transact, the attention of the preachers was directed to the release from jail of two of their colleagues. One had been charged with forging land certificates, the other with horse stealing. Both were freed by the sheriff with the promise that they leave the area and never return—an offer too good to refuse.

Once the buzz over the criminal preachers died down, the conference got down to business. In that era pensions for widows and orphans were determined by conference vote rather than formula. The conference had to know how much had been collected for that benevolence before they could dole it out. The figure in 1849 was a miserable $17.61. The conference sent $2.60 to Daniel and Jane Poe’s children who had been taken back to Ohio by their uncle, Adam Poe. Littleton Fowler’s widow and children received $5.00. Two other widows received the remainder.

One of the real success stories of the conference was the growth of church membership in and around Marshall. In 1847 Marshall had reported 233 white members. In only two years the membership had grown to 707.

The area around Marshall and Jefferson was growing and on its way to becoming the most industrialized area of Texas in the 1850s. . Immigration to Texas increased after annexation in 1845. The Marshall/Jefferson corridor became one of the main entryways for immigrants from the United States. Jefferson developed water connections to Shreveport, but Marshall had better land connections, and in the long run, became the larger city. US Highway 80, Interstate 20, and the Texas and Pacific Rail Road all followed that same route.

One conspicuous example of Marshall’s antebellum prosperity is the historic church building still used by First United Methodist Church. Readers of this column may see an image of that church at its website

Sunday, November 16, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History November 16

Alexander Meets Ruter and Ayres at the Sabine, November 21, 1837

Have you ever fantasized about being a “fly on the wall” at some historic event? If your editor could time travel, one of the events he would like to observe would be the night of November 21, 1837 when Robert Alexander, David Ayres, and Martin Ruter stayed up all night talking about the future of the Texas Mission.

Regular readers of this column will know the background. After a few efforts at preaching in Texas directed mainly from the Mississippi Conference, the Methodist Episcopal Church authorized a three-man Texas Mission. Martin Ruter, one of the most distinguished preachers in Methodism was to lead two younger men, Littleton Fowler and Robert Alexander.

Alexander was the first to arrive. He came in the summer of 1837 and quickly organized classes, preaching points, and camp meetings. Ruter had the longest journey. He left Pennsylvania with his family and stayed quite a while in New Albany, Indiana to let the threat of epidemic disease diminished. Meanwhile, David Ayres, a lay participant in the camp meeting that had requested missionaries, had travelled to New Albany. Both Ruter and Ayres had brothers living in New Albany. Ruter and Ayres travelled together down the Mississippi River to Rodney, Mississippi, and thence overland to Gaines Ferry on the Sabine.

Meanwhile Alexander was en route back to Mississippi to attend annual conference. He missed the west-bound travelers, but learned that he had done so. He doubled back to meet them. The records show that the three men stayed up all night talking about the prospects for Texas Methodist missions. Oh to have been a fly on the wall!

In less than three months the men were together again. This time they were in the Ayres house at Centre Hill. Ruter performed the marriage ceremony as Robert Alexander married David Ayres’ daughter Eliza.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History November 9

Bishop McTyiere Rules Against L. L. Pickett November 13, 1884

The North Texas Conference convened in Sulphur Springs on November 13, 1884. Bishop McTyiere presided. As most readers of this column know, one of the main items of every annual conference is the ordination of deacons and elders.

Ordination is a holy occasion and usually proceeds with appropriate solemnity, but not this time. A local preacher, L. L. Pickett, was in the class of prospective deacons. His declaration that he would refuse to baptize by immersion created a problem for the conference. Pickett’s service as local pastor had shown him to be acceptable in all other ministerial duties. Methodist custom and law emphasized the meaning of baptism rather than its method. Adults presenting themselves for baptism in a Methodist church had the option of sprinkling or immersion. Pickett’s insistence on sprinkling placed him at odds with the rest of the church.

Bishop McTyiere had little difficulty in ruling that Pickett should not be ordained. He said, “. . .the validity of baptism can not depend on the mode of administering it.” That should have been the end of the story, but Pickett appealed the ruling of the chair. In May 1886 the General Conference of the M.E.C.S. sustained the bishop’s ruling. Pickett continued as a local preacher.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History November 2

Political Excitement Saves Godbey from Delivering Sermon, Nov. 6, 1884

The Rev. J. E. Godbey was saved from delivering a sermon on church extension by Waco residents celebrating the election of Grover Cleveland in 1884.

Godbey, editor of the Southwestern Methodist (St. Louis),was in Texas to report on the annual conferences. He arrived in Waco, site of the Northwest Texas Annual Conference, exhausted from his day and one-half on the railroad and wanted nothing more than to check into his hotel and rest. As soon as he checked in, conference members came and begged him to talk about church extension since the speaker who had been assigned that topic failed to arrive. Godbey was extremely reluctant to undertake such a task but finally agreed with the provision that Horace Bishop and another preacher would share the pulpit duties.

Godbey began his sermon for the evening conference session of Thursday, November 6, but ten minutes into it, he was interrupted by fire bells and steam whistles. The din was so great that everyone in the church assumed all Waco was on fire. They rushed to the exits to see what was going on. They soon learned that the commotion was a celebration to mark the news that Grover Cleveland had been elected president.

The nation had been awaiting the results for 48 hours. Cleveland, the Democrat had beaten James Blaine, the Republican, 48.5% to 48.2%. The electoral vote margin was wider, 219-182. Democrats remembered the stolen Tilden-Hayes election just eight years earlier, and could not celebrate until they were certain of victory. From Godbey’s perspective, the 48 hour delay in announcing the winner was just right. It solved his problem of giving a sermon he really didn’t want to give.