Saturday, December 27, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 28

Soule University Reopens with Twenty Six Urchins, January 2, 1869

Soule University in Chappell Hill started instruction in 1856. Its prospects were bright. It had two endowed chairs, its own building, and the backing of the entire Texas Conference. The East Texas Conference later participated so it could rightly claim to be the central university of Texas Methodism. The Civil War brought an end to this enterprise. In 1865 Soule once again accepted students, but in the fall of 1866 a yellow fever epidemic swept the Texas coastal plains. Soule closed again and Chappell Hill itself was all but abandoned.

In 1868 the trustees offered the presidency to Francis Asbury Mood of South Carolina. He arrived in November and began the task of restoring Soule. He found the institution $17,000 in debt. One of his first tasks was climbing onto the roof to repair the holes with molten lead.

Soule advertised for students, and on Monday, January 2, 1869 the school reopened. Here’s how Mood reported the event

We went over to the University building at the appointed hour—for the whole staff of instructors were living in the same house---and there what? We found some four trustees, about ten citizens and some twenty six little urchins! Here was the enthusiasm of a new opening! Here were the “students” which we were to send forth—eight or ten years hence I suppose—to represent the great central Methodist University of Texas.(from For God and Texas, Autobiography of Francis Asbury Mood, edited by Mary Katherine Metcalf Earney, 2001)

Mood soon began making plans for a larger central Methodist university, Southwestern University in Georgetown.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 21

Texas Conference Convenes With Most Members Absent Dec. 22, 1852

The thirteenth session of the Texas Conference convened at Bastrop on December 22, 1852. In a strange reversal of common practice of the era, the presiding bishop was present, but most of the conference members were not.

Most modern Methodists would not recognize the current system of episcopal oversight of annual conferences. Today the usual pattern is for each annual conference to have its own resident bishop whose main job is administering that conference.

In the 19th century bishops itinerated (as did preachers and presiding elders). Each year the bishops would meet and announce their visitation schedule. That schedule showed which bishop would preside over which annual conference and the dates the annual conferences would convene. Over the course of time, each bishop would preside over each annual conference. For example, the first twenty sessions of the Texas Annual Conference were presided over by ten different bishops. Robert Alexander, a member of the conference, presided over two of those sessions because the bishop did not arrive.

The advantages of an itinerating episcopacy are obvious. Each bishop learned about the preachers, laity, and churches throughout the denomination. Each preacher had the opportunity to have personal contact with each bishop. One result was that denominational loyalties were strengthened.

There were also disadvantages. One disadvantage that plagued the denomination until railroad construction made transportation easy was that bishops would often arrive late to annual conference.

Before the Civil War all the MECS bishops lived far away from Texas, and getting here to preside over annual conference was often problematic. Bishop Andrew’s 1843 trip to Robinson’s Settlement to hold conference is particularly noteworthy.

Since the Texas and East Texas Conferences usually met in November or December, the travelling bishops often encountered winter storms and muddy roads which delayed their travel. Accounts of annual conferences convening, electing one of their own as temporary chair, and conducting business while awaiting the arrival of the bishop are common.

That is what made the December, 1852 session in Bastrop so odd. Bishop Robert Paine was there, but the preachers were not! The Texas Wesleyan Banner had had erred in announcing the date as Friday the 24th rather than Wednesday the 22nd. The first order of business was a sad one. Chauncey Richardson, who had served as secretary for the previous seven sessions had died. The conference elected Homer Thrall to take his place.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 14

Church Building Dedicated in Austin December 19, 1847

Austin, the capital city of the Lone Star Republic, was a city of particular interest for Methodist evangelism from that city’s founding. The first Methodist preacher to organize Methodists was John Haynie who had moved to nearby Bastrop County in March, 1839. That was the same year that commissioners laid out Austin. Mirabeau B. Lamar, Sam Houston’ successor as president of the Republic, had made the relocation of the capital from Houston a high priority. Settlers were moving west. Texas had huge land claims in the west. It made sense to move the capital so it would be more central to the projected population. The hostility between Houston and Lamar was another factor.

Although Haynie was older than most of his contemporaries (b. 1785) he was vigorous enough to conduct Methodist business in Travis and Bastrop Counties, first as a member of the Mississippi Conference, and then in the newly organized Texas Conference. That organizational conference had been held in December, 1840 at Rutersville. Bishop Beverly Waugh made a side trip to Austin before he convened the conference.

Even though it was a national capital, Austin was a crude frontier town. When Sam Houston regained the presidency, he was reluctant to live in the city founded by his political rival. The Mexican invasion of Texas in 1842 provided him with the excuse to remove the capital. Congress met in Houston and then Washington-on-the-Brazos until the summer of 1845 when the annexation convention met in Austin. (The national archives remained in Austin even though Houston sent an armed force to seize them and bring them to Houston.)

From 1842 to 1845 both the city and the church languished, but after annexation, Austin was confirmed as the state capital, and prospects improved for both. Homer Thrall was appointed to Austin. He preached in the Capitol and organized a school that met in that same building when the Legislature was not in session. He also supervised the construction of a church building. That building was dedicated on December 19, 1847. That building housed Methodists until 1853 when it was sold to the Christian church.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 7

John McFerrin Addresses Texas Annual Conference about Missions, December 9, 1872

John B. McFerrin, Secretary of the Mission Board of the MECS, addressed the Texas Annual Conference meeting at Bryan on December 9, 1872. The Secretary recalled taking up collections for the Texas Mission decades earlier.

McFerrin (b. 1807) was the most prominent MECS minister of the mid-nineteenth century not to have been elected bishop. He joined the Tennessee Conference in 1825 and became editor of the Christian Advocate (Nashville edition) in 1840. He remained as editor until serving in the Confederate chaplaincy. After the war, he became Secretary of the Mission Board.

His denominational activities and published works made him well-known across the MECS. He had wide support for election to the episcopacy, but his wife had just died before the 1854 General Conference, and he was deathly ill during the 1866 General Conference.

McFerrin’s participation in the 1872 Texas Annual Conference was in support of the Mission Board. He recalled that when he was a young preacher in Tennessee, he took up a collection for the Texas Mission. One of the missionaries supported by that collection, was, of course, Robert Alexander, who was in attendance. McFerrin commented on Alexander’s presence.

. . .while many whom he had named had died, he in the providence had lived to see Dr. Alexander in a missionary meeting in Texas, laboring to raise means to send the Gospel to regions beyond.

McFerrin served as Mission Board Secretary for 12 years. He was a delegate to several General Conferences and the 1884 Centennial Celebration in Baltimore. He wrote several valuable books including the History of Methodism in Tennessee. He died in Nashville in 1887.