Saturday, June 27, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History June 28

Special Session of MECS General Conference Convenes in Chattanooga. July 2, 1924

Most readers of this column will be aware of the 1939 union of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Methodist Episcopal Church South, and the Methodist Protestant Church that created the Methodist Church. Perhaps less well known are the efforts from the World War I era through the middle 1920s to achieve union between the northern and southern branches of Methodism.

The MEC and MECS authorized a Joint Commission on Unification. That commission met from 1916 to 1920. The Commission’s plan for unification was presented to the 1924 General Conference of the MEC meeting in Springfield, MA. The delegates voted to adopt the plan 802 to 13—evidence of overwhelming support. The ball was now in the MECS court. The next regular session of the MECS General Conference would not be until 1926. Proponents of union felt they had momentum, and at the 1922 MECS General Conference delegates had instructed their bishops to call a special session of General Conference if the MEC approved the unification plan.

The MEC General Conference vote triggered the instruction so on May 20, 1924 the MECS bishops issued a call for a special session of General Conference to convene on July 2, 1924 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Not so fast said four dissenting bishops (Candler, Denny, Darlington, and Dickey)! We don’t think that the General Conference instruction to us is constitutional. They filed a minority report objecting to the call by the majority bishops (Boaz, DuBose, Mouzon, Moore, Ainsworth, Cannon, Beauchamp, Hay and McMurry). At the time there was no Judicial Council that could answer the constitutional question. Ironically, the unification plan did include the creation of a Judicial Council. After tense debate the plan was approved 298 to 74, a comfortable majority, but far less robust that the MEC approval two months earlier.

The bishops were instructed to take the plan of union to the annual conferences during the calendar year 1925. The special session, having completed its business in three days, adjourned. It was the shortest General Conference.

In 1925 the Texas Conference met at First Methodist Jacksonville. Bishop John M. Moore presided. The fact of his presiding created a delicate situation. Moore had been one of the most active proponents of unification since the creation of the 1916 Joint Commission. He later wrote, "My activity for ten years in behalf of Unification very naturally raised the question as to what would be my attitude and action in making the appointments of anti-unificationists."

On the morning of the second day Moore perfected the roll of delegates, seated the clergy and lay delegates in separate sections of the sanctuary, and appointed E. L. Ingrum and P. S. Wilson tellers and J. H. Carlin secretary. Jesse Lee moved that the vote be taken by ayes and nays, but H. C. Willis moved for a written ballot. Willis’s motion prevailed. The conference roll was called, and as each clergy and lay delegate’s name was called, that person walked to the chancel and deposited a written ballot. The tellers then retired to count the ballots.

The tellers completed their work quickly so that before the noon recess, they were able to report 205 for unification and 103 against.

Those votes were added to the votes from all the other annual conferences of the MECS. Unification received a majority—4,528 to 4,108—but fell far short of the 3/4 super majority required. Union with the MEC waited fifteen years. Perhaps that was for the best. In those fifteen years the Methodist Protestant Church entered the unification talks and became part of the Methodist Church created in 1939.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History June 21

Evangelical Church Youth Assemblies of the 1920’s-1950’s, Third Week of June

The Texas Conference of the Evangelical Church was organized at Temple on November 25, 1887. Four elders, one deacon, two probationers, two local elders, and one local deacon served churches in Galveston, San Antonio, Post Oak (near San Antonio), Denison-Sherman, Temple, and large Northwestern Circuit embracing preaching points in Archer, Clay, and Taylor Counties. The conference claimed 253 members.
The conference added new churches slowly. In the twentieth century clusters of Evangelical Churches existed around El Campo, Temple, Wichita Falls, Houston and San Antonio.
An important activitiy of the Texas Conference of the Evangelical Church was a youth camping program, usually held during the third week of June. The conference used a variety of facilities. Belton City Park was the site from 1925 to 1934 (except 1930 when no institute was held). Center Point Christian Church Camp Grounds hosted the event in 1935 and 1937-39. Camp Tejas near Houston was the site in 1940 and Camp Tahuaya near Belton in 1940-42.
After the war, the exception of 1946 when El Campo hosted the event, the Lutheran Camp at Round Rock became the usual location.
Meanwhile the denomination was undergoing significant changes. In 1946 the Evangelical Church merged with the United Brethren to become the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB). That denomination merged with the Methodist Church in 1968 to become the United Methodist Church.
The Texas Conference of the EUB merged with the Oklahoma Conference in 1956 to create the Texas-Oklahoma Conference. The Texas Conference Youth Fellowship at the time had 132 members from 7 churches.
The Oklahoma Conference also had a youth camping tradition. After the 1956 union of the conferences, the new conference continued to hold youth camps in both Oklahoma and Texas. They also held other youth meetings, called variously, Spiritual Life Clinics, Youth Retreats, Religious Education Institutes, Fall Rally, and Spring Rally. Through the 1950s the Texans continued to go to Round Rock and Center Point. In 1964 they began using a HEB campground near Leakey. The most popular site during that period in Oklahoma was Redlands.

After 1968 the Evangelical Church/EUB summer camp tradition continued in the United Methodist Church.
Ref. Davis and Polson, Eighty Years in Texas and Oklahoma, 1968

Saturday, June 13, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History June 14

Episcopal Area Reduction Meetings Stimulate Interest in History
A mandate to reduce the number of episcopal areas in 2012 has spurred an interest in Methodist history in the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. Methodists are re-examining historic patterns of episcopal leadership, changes in annual conference boundary lines, and the historical demography of the eight states that make up the South Central Jurisdiction.

A little background—The basic organizational unit of the United Methodist Church is the Annual Conference. The term can be a little confusing to outsiders since Methodists use the term to mean different things. It may mean a geographic area, the churches within that geographic area, the clergy who belong to that conference, and a yearly meeting of the clergy and lay delegates elected by the local churches and the districts.

An annual conference is presided over by a bishop whose authority is general rather than specific to that conference. The general authority of the bishop means that a bishop is not limited to presiding over a single conference. She or he may preside over multiple conferences.

As a matter of fact, that was the historic pattern. Bishops of both the MEC and MECS met and formulated visitation plans. The number of annual conferences over which the bishop presided varied according to the number of bishops and number of conferences, and the bishops rotated the conferences among themselves. Considerations for travel difficulty and age and infirmity were taken into account. A newly-elected young bishop could expect to be assigned to one of the more distant episcopal circuits that required more rigorous travel.
There was no expectation that the bishop live in any particular conference. In the 19th century the majority of the MECS membership, schools, and publishing efforts were east of the Mississippi River so most of the bishops were elected from conferences in the southeastern United States. After their election most of them continued to reside in that region.

In 1886 Bishop Joseph Key moved to Waco and became the first MECS bishop to become a Texas resident. After his marriage to Lucy Kidd, he moved to Sherman. (see post for June 1, 2009)

The tradition of bishops choosing their residence continued into the 20th century. A. Frank Smith was elected bishop in 1930 while serving at First Methodist Houston. His first assignment was five conferences, Missouri, Southwest Missouri, St. Louis, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma Indian Mission. Although Smith gave serious consideration to relocation to Oklahoma City or Missouri, he stayed in Houston. He presided over those conferences for a quadrennium while living in Houston. In 1934 he was assigned to the Texas, North Texas, Oklahoma, and OIM and moved into an episcopal residence in Houston provided by the Texas Conference.

There was a movement in the middle years of the 20th century of conferences wanting their own resident bishop. They offered inducements such as episcopal residences, and the church responded by increasing the number of bishops so that more conferences could have a resident bishop.

A series of consolidations (East and West Oklahoma, North and South Arkansas, East and West Missouri) further increased the number of conferences which did not have to share a bishop. As of 2009 there are four episcopal areas which contain more than one conference (North West Texas/New Mexico, South West Texas/Rio Grande, Kansas East/Kansas West, and Oklahoma/OIM).

The situation in 2009 also finds gross disparities between the conferences in terms of population, church membership, financial resources, and land area. Those disparities should surprise no one since, in the case of Texas, the conference boundaries were drawn in 1910 to reflect demographic realities of that day.
The historical demography of the states of the South Central Jurisdiction since 1910 has been shaped by several macro trends. Some trends have produced exponential population increases. Among those are the industrialization of the coastal plains, the near universality of air conditioning, immigration from Mexico and Central America, and the development of north central Texas as a national and international transportation and manufacturing hub.

While the growth factors are dramatic and obvious, they do not tell the whole story. Disparities are also enhanced by population decline. The demographic loss that most effects the South Central Jurisdiction is the out migration from the agricultural lands above the Ogallala Aquifer. That aquifer underlies portions of five of the eight states that make up the SCJ. In 1910, when the Texas conference boundaries were put into their present form, the railroad companies that had received land in exchange for laying track were subdividing those lands into small farms and encouraging settlement. With the invention of a submersible pump able to extract aquifer water for irrigation, the population boomed again.

The Methodist appointment system worked well in such situations. Pastors could be appointed at annual conference to go immediately to new settlements and organize churches. By contrast other denominations such as Baptists might have to wait until the new settlers organized themselves into a church and called a pastor.

Increasing mechanization of agriculture and consolidation of small tracts resulted in a decrease in demand for agricultural labor and therefore decline of population. Many small towns withered and took their churches with them. The Methodist system that was so well suited for organizing churches in times of rapid population growth experienced stresses in times of population decline.

One result of these historic demographic trends is that the SCJ contains conferences that are among the fastest growing in the United States and some in population decline.

The bishops of the SCJ have been tasked with presenting a plan to the 2012 Jurisdictional Conference to reduce the number of episcopal areas. They have conducted a series of listening sessions to gather ideas from throughout the conferences. This writer attended the one in the Texas Conference and has access to the notes from two others.

The ideas generated by those listening sessions are literally “all over the map.” The following categories of ideas have been generated in order of amount of disruption entailed:
1. Put two conferences that currently have a resident bishop into a single episcopal area.
2. Merge two conferences that currently have a resident bishop.
#1 and #2 would involve only two conferences.
3. Redraw all the conference lines throughout the jurisdiction according to one of the criteria suggested at the listening session (transportation, media, economic interest, heritage, etc) and eliminate one conference in the redrawing.
#3 would potentially involve all the conferences
4. Just as conference boundaries no longer represent demographic realities, neither do the jurisdictional boundaries. The SCJ should lead a movement to redraw or abolish jurisdictional lines.
#4 would involve the whole denomination

Saturday, June 06, 2009

This Week in TExas Methodist History June 7

Texas Conference Elects Committee to Formulate Policy on Racial and Social Relations at Lakeview, June 7, 1957

At its 1957 Annual Conference the Texas Conference took one small step in the agonizingly slow process that eventually led to the desegregation of the conference. Less than ten years earlier the Conference had created Lakeview in the forests of Anderson County. Lakeview provided camping, recreational, and retreat facilities to a variety of church groups, especially the youth. Summer camps for high school and junior high school students were especially important in helping hundreds of youth deepen their faith. There were shorter versions of the camping experience called Midwinter that reinforced those commitments. Only white children attended those camps because in the 1950s the churches in the Texas Conference of the South Central Jurisdiction were segregated by race.
There was also a Texas Conference of the Central Jurisdiction which had been created in 1939. The Central Jurisdiction contained the African American conferences of the former Methodist Episcopal Church. Its churches may have been only a few blocks from some of the Texas Conference (SCJ) churches, but there was practically no interaction between the two.
The high school and junior high school camps did not raise questions about racial segregation, but camps for college students did. On March 1, 1956, a committee of older youth (college students) asked the Lakeview Executive Committee for permission to hold a racially integrated event at Lakeview. They indicated that if their request were denied, they would take the matter to the Annual Conference. On May 15 the Executive Committee put off the request by naming a committee that would conduct a year-long study. One year later on May 30, 1957, they asked for still another year to study the matter.
The next week, on the opening day of Annual Conference, Stewart Clendenin moved that the Lakeview Board not be given another year. Instead he moved that that the Annual Conference elect a committee to formulate a policy.
The Clendenin motion passed, and so on the last day of conference, Friday, June 7, the conference members cast ballots. Three clergy, John Wesley Hardt, William Harris, and Myers Curtis, were elected. The lay members were M. G. Mell, Bryan Butts, Mrs. Harmon Lowman, and E. C. Clabaugh who chaired the special committee.
That committee worked through the fall of 1957, and its recommendation was accepted. Each organization that used Lakeview facilities would determine eligibility for participation. The older youth could hold a racially integrated event at Lakeview. It may seem today a small victory in the long struggle against racial segregation, but the actions of the older youth in prodding the Texas Conference to adopt a race-neutral policy should not be forgotten.

Ref. Hardt, John Wesley, Lakeview: A Story of Inspiring Unit