Saturday, July 25, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 26

Peter W. Gravis Debates Infant Baptism—500 Head of Cattle at Stake July 29, 1866

Peter Gravis was one of the most interesting frontier circuit riders. He joined the Texas Conference in 1859 and received appointments to Blanco and Llano. He volunteered for the Confederate chaplaincy, but returned to the itinerant ranks in 1865 and was appointed to the Stephenville mission. That circuit became part of the new Northwest Texas Conference in 1866.

Gravis referred to the Anglo settlement frontier as “outside territory” or the “outside row” and used that phrase in his memoir, Twenty-five Years on the Outside Row. He said, “As I was light for running and small to shoot at by the Indians, the bishop gave me the outside row.”

In April 1866 Gravis organized a church in Dublin, Erath County, which until that time had been a Baptist stronghold. Controversy erupted. The other denomination issued a challenge in which it offered 500 head of cattle to anyone who could prove the doctrine of infant baptism from scripture. Naturally Gravis took up the challenge. On July 29, 1866 a bond was signed and a day for set for Gravis to expound on the scriptural basis of infant baptism.

Crowds came and listened for two hours as Gravis proved to the satisfaction of the listeners that infant baptism was scriptural. He did not get the cattle. The bond had used the work “give” rather than “pay,” and that was the loophole the judges used to invalidate the bond.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 19

Bishop A. Frank Smith Preaches Consecration Service at McMahan’s Chapel July 19, 1956

Regular readers of This Week in Texas Methodist History are aware of the significance of McMahan’s Chapel in our heritage. It is one of only two Heritage Landmarks of the UMC in Texas. You can read about it at or

Although it is best known for the pioneers of the 1830s, we should not forget the efforts of a dedicated group of East Texans who began working in the 1930s to build the beautiful chapel that now occupies the historic site over Littleton Fowler’s grave.

Several events of the 1930s came together to create renewed interest in McMahan’s Chapel and start the ball rolling on a building project. The celebration of the Texas Centennial in 1936 heightened interest in Texas history. Some of the most important projects of the era include the San Jacinto Monument in Harris County and Fair Park in Dallas County. There were numerous smaller projects including the erection of granite markers along the Old San Antonio Road—and just a few miles off the OSR the creation of Littleton Fowler State Park and the construction of a highway spur to access that park and the adjacent spring and cemetery.

There were also Methodists who treasured their family history and East Texas roots. Bishop A. Frank Smith was a Texas history buff as were several of the leading preachers of the Texas conference including Ed Harris, C. A. Tower, C. A. West, and J. Walter Mills. Advocate editor A. J. Weeks whose family roots were in Ryan’s Chapel in nearby Angelina County was able to keep the conference informed about the historic site. There were also interested lay persons including Littleton Fowler descendant Mrs. J. D. Woolworth of Shreveport, Louisiana, Mr. and Mrs. R. S. Noble,

There was no Conference Commission on Archives and History in the 1930s, but thanks to the efforts of persons mentioned above, the Texas Conference did authorize a McMahan Chapel Committee. That committee met regularly and began the process of planning for construction and raising money.

Raising money during World War II was difficult, but the committee kept at its task, and finally at the annual conference session of 1948, authorization to borrow $10,000 was granted. The new building was opened in July 1949. Bishop Smith preached. He came back in 1951 to preach at the laying of the cornerstone. Finally on July 19, 1956, he came back again, this time to preach the consecration service. A photograph from the day shows Bishop Smith at the pulpit flanked by C. A. West, Bryan Butts, W. W. Hawthorne, E. O. Dubberly, and R. W. Jenkins.

The site also includes the Jack and Charlsie Maund Museum/Events Center that was dedicated in 2002. The links above provide directions and information about visiting this historic site.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 12

James Montgomery, Poet, Hymn Writer, Publisher

One of the striking differences between early Methodist hymnbooks and modern ones is the total number of hymns included. Early hymnals did not contain the music. The choir master or preacher was instructed to find suitable tunes for the hymns. The absence of music meant there was much more room for hymns. Each hymnal revision has been a painful exercise in deciding what hymns to leave out since new hymns are always being written, and modern Methodists demand their inclusion in new hymnals.

One of the prolific hymn writers of two hundred years ago who is little know today is James Montgomery (1771-1854). Montgomery was a poet, publisher, and lecturer. He also wrote 400 hymns. The readers would probably be familiar with Angels from the Realm of Glory, and Hail to the Lord’s Anointed.

During this second week of July when newly appointed pastors have been with their new congregations for one month, we lift up a Montgomery hymn intended to be sung when a new pastor came to a church. It is a powerful expression of the covenant relationship that should exist between a pastor and congregation and deserves to be brought back into common use.

We bid thee welcome in the name
Of Jesus, our exalted Head.
Come as a servant, so He came,
And we receive thee in His stead.
Come as a shepherd—guard and keep
This fold from hell and world and sin;
Nourish the lambs and feed the sheep;
The wounded heal, the lost bring in.
Come as a teacher—sent from God,
Charged His whole counsel to declare.
Lift o’er our ranks the prophet’s rod
While we uphold thy hands with prayer.
Come as an angel—hence to guide
A band of pilgrims on their way,
That, softly walking at thy side,
We fail not, faint not, turn nor stray.
Come as a watchman—take thy stand
Upon the tower amidst the sky,
And when the sword comes on the land,
Call us to fight, or warn to fly.
Come as a messenger of peace,
Filled with the Spirit, fired with love;
Live to behold our large increase
And die to meet us all above.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 5

Waxahachie District Conference Held at Chatfield July 7-11, 1870

The MECS General Conference of 1866 authorized district conferences but left the powers and duties of such conferences fairly ambiguous. That ambiguity allowed presiding elders to make of the district conferences what they wished.

Macum Phelan reports on the Waxahachie District Conference which met in Chatfield July 7-11, 1870 under Presiding Elder Andrew Davis.

Consider first the length of the conference—five days—longer than most annual conferences meet now. There were only ten appointments in the district in 1870. How the needs of those ten appointments could occupy five days makes one wonder.

Davis organized the district conference along the same lines as General and Annual Conference by appointing ten committees. (Remember that there were only ten appointments in the district.) Some of those committees such as Committee on Boundaries and Committee on Itinerancy would have power only to recommend since both district boundaries and questions about itinerancy would be in the jurisdiction of the annual conference.

With so much time and so little real power, the district conference at Chatfield turned into a gripe session. One grievance pointed to the annual conference’s action in redrawing the district boundary lines. They suspected a sinister motive in doing so—that it was a subterfuge to allow presiding elders to serve more than the Disciplinary limit. A more objective observer would probably conclude that the North West Texas Conference needed to continually redraw district lines as the population moved west.

One result of the district conferences of the late 19th century was that annual conferences had to deal with petitions and resolutions passed by the numerous district conferences. Most of these were brushed aside, but they allowed the disaffected parties one more chance to air their grievances.

The United Methodist Church still has district conferences, but the era of five-day district conferences is over. At the one this writer attended in May, 2009, the business was conducted in thirty minutes—a far cry from the Waxahachie District Conference of 1870. (Most of the 2009 business was electing committees to manage district activities and trustees to oversee the district parsonage.)