Saturday, October 31, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History November 1

Texas Conference Meets, Guest Preacher is Robert Shuler of Los Angeles Nov. 3-7, 1937

The guest preacher for the 1937 Texas Annual Conference was Robert Shuler from Los Angeles. No, it wasn’t Robert H. Schuller who is well known for the Crystal Cathedral. The preacher was Robert P. Shuler, known in his time as “Fighting Bob,” and probably better known in his day than Robert H. Schuller is in our day.

Annual Conference met in Texarkana that year, from Nov. 3 to 7, with Monroe Vivian as host preacher. It was sort of a homecoming because Robert P. Shuler had once served First Methodist Paris, less than 100 miles away. He had come to Paris from University Methodist in Austin where he was succeeded by A. Frank Smith who was now the presiding bishop of the Texas Conference.

Shuler transferred from Paris to Trinity Methodist in Los Angeles in 1920. He used that platform to become one of the nation’s first radio preachers who mixed religion and politics. In 1926 (the same year as Father Coughlan began his broadcasts) he launched station KGEF (Keep God Ever First) from Trinity. His favorite topic was prohibition, but that interest naturally expanded to police corruption, gambling, and vice. (Remember this is Hollywood during the Roaring 20s). The mayor of Los Angeles unsuccessfully sued him for libel in 1929.

In 1931 the Federal Radio Commission (predecessor of the FCC) revoked his license because of his hysterical rants against African Americans, Jews, Roman Catholics, the President of the University of Southern California (evolution was taught there), the YWCA (they allowed dancing), and other evangelists including Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson. He was not opposed to everything. He supported the Ku Klux Klan. He appealed the license revocation to the U. S. Supreme Court where he was defended by the ACLU which, ironically, was another one of his targets. The justices upheld the revocation so he moved his program to another station.

In 1932 he ran for the U. S. Senate on the Prohibition Party ticket and received over 25% of the vote, carrying Orange and Riverside Counties. That was not the end of his political career. In 1942 he received a dual nomination from both the Prohibition and Republican parties for the 13th congressional district. He lost to Jerry Vorhees 53,000 to 40,000.

In spite of what seems like a full time radio and political career, Shuler continued to be reappointed to Trinity. When he finally retired in 1953, his son, Robert, Jr., took his place. He died in 1965.

Shuler’s participation in the 1937 Texas Annual Conference raises some questions. Who invited this “father of hate radio”? Was there a large factor of conference preachers who agreed with him? What about the relationship between Shuler and Bishop Smith? In his excellent biography of Bishop Smith (Growing a Soul, SMU Press, Dallas, 1979) Norman Spellman recounts some of the problems Shuler created at University Methodist that Smith had to solve. How did the two men regard each other twenty years later? The 1937 Journal offers few clues. The resolution of thanks to Shuler is pure boilerplate. Questions remain.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist HIstory October 25

Evangelical Church Dedicated in Galveston October 30, 1886

Bishop John Jacob Escher of the Evangelical Association travelled to Texas to dedicate the denomination’s new church building in Galveston on October 30, 1886. The church had literally risen from the ashes. Less than one year before, a huge fire destroyed over 40 city blocks of the island gateway to Texas. Over a thousand families had been left homeless, and property damage, including the EA church, topped $2,000,000.

The founding of the Evangelical Association church in Galveston is an interesting story of interdenominational cooperation. It all started when there was a split in the MECS German congregation in Galveston. The pastor, Rev. Young, became a Presbyterian and took half his church with him. The pastor at the Houston MECS German church which is known as Bering UMC today, Frederick Vordenbaum (see post for Sept. 12, 2009), wrote Bishop Escher and suggested that Galveston might be a possible mission field for the Evangelical Association. In a coincidence, a MEC German pastor in San Antonio also suggested that San Antonio would also welcome a pastor from the EA.

The Mission Board approved missionaries to both Galveston and San Antonio. The missionary to Galveston was J. A. Gomer of the Indiana Conference. He arrived in Galveston in April 1880, rented the now vacant MECS German church and began calling on the former members who had not become Presbyterians. They advised him that because of the unpleasant demise of the former church, it would be unwise to try to use that building. Gomer first rented and then bought property at the intersection of 19th Street and Ave. H. With help from the Mission Board and private citizens, they were able to erect a church.

On Nov. 13, 1885, at 1:40 a.m. a fire broke out in the Vulcan Foundry and Car Repairing Shop at Ave. A between 16th and 17th Streets. A strong wind was blowing that thwarted all attempts to contain the fire. By 5:00 a.m. the fire had reached Ave. J (Broadway) and the fire fighters were watching helplessly. By 8:00 a.m. the wind finally died down, but by that time the fire had pushed all the way to Ave. O. Four hundred houses, stores, and the Evangelical Church were all destroyed.
The value of the property (church and parsonage) was $10.000. They carried $4,000 insurance. The Mission Board came through again. Exactly 50 weeks after the fire Bishop Escher preached the dedication sermon in the new $5,000 church beside the $1,500 parsonage.

In the enthusiasm accompanying the dedication of a new church building, they decided to hire an assistant pastor so that Rev. Gomer could spend more of his time organizing EA churches in the rest of Texas. Gomer had been especially interested in the Temple area which was easily reached by the Gulf Coast & Santa Fe Railway which ran between Galveston and Temple. When the Texas Conference was created in 1887, Gomer became Presiding Elder and travelled even more.

Unfortunately the assistant pastor, a probationer named P. Ilgen, was not up to the task. He could not hold the congregation together during Gomer’s absences. Ilgen resigned after only 15 months, but several of the members had already left.
The Galveston church limped along through fire and hurricanes. Brother Gomer died in 1891. It never reported more than 70 members. In 1934 it asked the conference to be dissolved. The property was sold to the Greek Orthodox Church.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 18

Centenary Camp Meeting Begins in Washington County, October 24, 1839

“Centenary” was once a favorite Methodist word. There are churches named Centenary. The denominational college in Shreveport, Louisiana, is Centenary. There are many examples of centenary campaigns for causes such as missions, church extension, and so on. The word seems to have lost its place to “centennial” in recent years.

Perhaps the three most important centenary celebrations were held in 1839, 1884, and 1919. The 1839 celebrations honored the memory of the organization of the first Methodist societies in England in 1739. In 1884 Methodists remembered the creation of the Methodist Episcopal Church at the Christmas Conference in Baltimore. The 1919 celebration was in honor of the organization of the Methodist Mission Society and the first official Methodist missionary enterprise. It was to Wyandot Indians in Ohio in 1819.

Although Texas was still a remote area of the Mississippi Conference in 1839, Texas Methodists gave special emphasis to the Centenary in their fall camp meetings that year. One such was held in Washington County about eight miles south of Independence. Homer Thrall reports that over one hundred conversions occurred there. This camp meeting lasted six days.

How did the preachers maintain the interest of the campers for six days? One answer, of course, was by employing as many preachers as could be found. Another was the use of theatrical effects. The most dramatic of such effects was reported to have been used by John Haynie, famous for his work in Travis and Bastrop Counties. It is reported that Haynie, who was already a mature man when he came to Texas, would dismiss the campers to their tents. At midnight, after the campers had retired, he would blow a trumpet, light torches, and appear in the pulpit with a white robe, long white beard, and preach a sermon. “No, this wasn’t Judgment Day, but it might have been. Would you have been ready? Etc.” After a few camp meetings, the performance lost its surprise effect.

D. N. V. Sullivan preached so poetically at the Centenary Camp Meeting in Washington County, that a record of his sermon has been preserved. Sullivan was winding up the meeting. One of the business items was announcing the schedule of future camp meetings. Let’s pick up the story from Homer Thrall.

. . .. . .the time of the next big camp meeting could not definitely be fixed. It would be held on the bank of a river near a large spring whose waters were as clear as crystal. It would be a beautiful campground shaded with trees bending with fruit. None of the campers would suffer from sickness. All would be happy, as they would leave sorrow and sighing behind them, and God would wipe the tears from their eyes. They would need no light, for God would illuminate the scene. And, as to death, those who pitched their tents on the bank of the river would die no more. The wreaths they wore would be fadeless. The songs they sung would roll on ceaselessly throughout eternity. The fine poetic taste of Mr. Sullivan enabled him to make such a talk with inimitable pathos. As the people caught his meaning, a tide of emotion rose in every bosom, and by the time he had his congregation assembling around the big spring, one universal shout was heard over the encampment.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 11

Daisy Davies and Mabel Head Begin Whirlwind Mission Blitz of Texas, October 17, 1908

The work of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society and the Woman’s Home Missionary Society during the Progressive Era is an example of how dedicated individuals can make a huge difference in the life of the church. The author was recently reminded of the work of the two societies by a donation to the Texas Conference Archives. It is a simple trifold brochure announcing the Texas tour of a mission campaign conducted by Misses Daisy Davies and Mabel Head. Miss Davies was Secretary of Young Peoples Work of the Woman’s Board of Foreign Missions. Miss Head was Associate Secretary of the Woman’s Board of Home Missions.

The first rally was at Amarillo on Sunday, October 17, 1908. That was the first of 28 “Institutes and rallies” ending with Beaumont on Sunday, December 13. In between were Clarendon, Childress, Wichita Falls, Stamford, Dublin, Brownwood, Burnet, Georgetown, Austin, San Marcos, San Antonio, Beeville, Cuero, Brenham, Waco, Corsicana, Dallas, Fort Worth, Denton, Sherman, Paris, Terrell, Marshall, Jacksonville, Crockett, and Houston. What a Texas tour!

The two secretaries depended upon local committees, (adverting, finance, arrangements, and hospitality) in all 28 cities. The schedule varied somewhat depending upon whether a Sunday was included in the stop. All featured mission talks, Bible study, maps, charts, and mission literature. One focus of the rallies was the recruitment of “educated young women who should be choosing a life work and who are free to give themselves into definite Christian service.”

Both women who toured Texas in the fall of 1908 went on to greater service. In 1915 Daisy Davis became the first female president of the historic Methodist female college in LaGrange, Georgia. She kept hat post until 1920 when she became head of relief work in Poland. Mabel Head, who had been educated at Cornell, Vassar, and New York State Teachers’ College, became Educational Secretary of the Board of Missions of the MECS.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 4

Ohio Conference Adjourns After Six Preachers Volunteer For Texas Mission October 4, 1842.

The Ohio Annual Conference, met in Hamilton, about thirty miles north of Cincinnati, from Sept. 27 to Oct. 4, 1842. Events at that conference had an impact upon Texas Methodism that can hardly be overstated. There were six recruits for the Texas Conference. They joined Isaac Williams who had volunteered from the North Ohio Conference three weeks earlier. Two of these seven preachers, Homer Thrall and John Wesley DeVilbiss, became two of the most important figures in Texas Methodist history.

By 1842 Cincinnati, Ohio, was already well-established as the center of western Methodism. It had been the site of Book Concern and publishing efforts since 1820 when the General Conference chose Martin Ruter to establish such a presence. In 1842 there were six Methodist churches and a German mission in the “Queen City of the Ohio.” This was the steamboat era, and Cincinnati took full advantage of that technology to become the main commercial center for the growing Ohio Valley.

When Bishop Morris gaveled the Ohio Conference into session, there was already a Texas buzz. Bishop Morris had conducted the Texas Annual conference in San Augustine the previous December. He then visited many of the churches in Texas on a trip to Austin. In all, Bishop Morris had been in Texas from December 17, 1841 to February 11, 1842. During that sojourn he met most of the preachers and many of the laity. -While in Austin, he met his son, Francis Asbury Morris, who had recently resigned the Attorney Generalship of the Republic of Texas so he could return to Ohio. The father and son were able to make it back to Ohio in time to be with Mrs. Morris when she died.

Littleton Fowler was also at the annual conference. Bishop Morris had relieved him of his presiding elder duties the previous December and appointed him Agent of Rutersville College. He was therefore free to travel. His mother-in-law lived in Hamilton, the site of the Ohio Annual Conference, so he combined family visits and church business.

Fowler’s call for Texas volunteers resulted in a rush forward. Even the “Old Chief” of the conference, James Finley, went forward, only to be pushed aside by one of the younger brothers. Eventually six preachers transferred, Thrall, DeVilbiss, William O’Conner, Daniel Poe, Wilbur Thurber, and Richard Walker.

What happened to the transfers? Thurber and Walker did not make much of an impression. O’Conner died in October, 1843. On his way to New York City to attend the 1844 General Conference Fowler stopped by Hamilton to visit his mother-in-law and also to console O’Conner’s parents. Immediately upon his return to Texas in July, 1844, he was called to pray with Daniel and Jane Poe on their death beds in San Augustine. As for Homer Thrall and John Wesley DeVilbiss, they served for decades in Texas and were involved in almost all the important events of Texas Methodism.