Saturday, December 26, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 27

Fowler Gets Earful Concerning Red River Appointments, December, 1844

The MEC General Conference of 1844 is best known for the arguments over slavery that led to the division to the denomination into northern and southern branches. The General Conference also divided the Texas Conference into the Eastern and Western Texas Conferences and shifted appointments in the Red River and Sulfur River settlements from the Arkansas Conference to the newly-created Eastern Texas Conference. It was planned that the Western Texas and Eastern Texas Conferences would meet concurrently at San Augustine on Jan. 8 with Bishop Janes presiding.

As 1844 drew to an end, and the first opening date for the first session of the Eastern Texas Conference neared, Littleton Fowler received advice about the appointments to the churches that had formerly been filled by Arkansas Conference preachers. J. W. P. McKenzie wrote Fowler a confidential letter from Itinerant’s Retreat near Clarksville. He suggested which preachers should be reappointed and which should be moved to new circuits. He even suggested that he would be willing to take over a district lying between the Red and Sulfur Rivers all the way to the headwaters of the Trinity, possibly extending all the way to Daingerfield.

Meanwhile, Jacob Custer, Presiding Elder of the Washington District of the Arkansas Conference also wrote to Fowler with a nomination for presiding elder of the newly-created Clarksville District in the Eastern Texas Conference. He suggested Mordecai Yell who was transferring to Texas from the Memphis Annual Conference. Yell was the brother of Archibald Yell congressman and governor of Arkansas. Another brother, Pleasant M. Yell was also transferring from the Memphis Conference to Texas.

As it turned out neither McKenzie nor Yell took over as Presiding Elder of the Clarksville District. That appointment went to Daniel Paine. McKenzie continued as schoolmaster. Yell didn’t even join the Eastern Texas Conference. He joined the Western Texas Conference and received a choice appointment, Presiding Elder of the Washington District. His brother Pleasant was in his district on the Nashville Circuit.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 20

13th Session of Texas Annual Conference Marked by Sadness

13 is widely regarded as an unlucky number, and the 13th session of the Texas Annual Conference provided plenty of ammunition for persons who wished to believe it so. Bishop Paine conducted the East Texas Conference in Rusk the first week of December, 1852, and was on his way to Bastrop, the site of the Texas Conference. He had not been home since September and would not return until February. It was customary in that era for the conference to provide a travelling companion for the bishop who was coming to preside at annual conference. Besides the advantages of companionship, it provided a way for the bishop to learn of conference affairs and begin thinking about the appointments.

Bishop Paine’s travelling companion on the way to Bastrop was the Rev. Josiah Whipple, one of the Texas Conference stalwarts who had transferred from Illinois with John Clark in 1841. With eleven years of service in Texas, Whipple was one of the veterans of the conference. He had made his home near Bastrop, married and had one son, Wilbur Scott Whipple, age 6. Before Paine and Whipple arrived at Bastrop, they received horrible news—Wilbur had drowned in the Colorado River, and his body could not be found. Upon reaching Bastrop, the tragic news was confirmed.

On Wednesday, December 22, Bishop Paine opened the annual conference even though only a few preachers were there. The Texas Wesleyan Banner had publicized the opening date for conference as Friday, December 24. The conference couldn’t really conduct much business, but on Wednesday Wilbur’s body was found. Conference recessed, and Bishop Paine conducted a funeral service. When conference reconvened, it had to deal with another sad task, replacing Chauncey Richardson who had been Conference Secretary for several years. The previous year he had been appointed Presiding Elder of the Galveston District and died at Richmond after finishing his first round of quarterly meetings. The conference chose Homer Thrall as the new secretary.

The rigors of winter travel were showing on Bishop Paine. He had already conducted conferences in Missouri, Indian Territory, Arkansas and Texas. At one ordination service he had to get out of his sickbed. “with chills, spasms of the intercostal muscles, very sore chest, ribs drawn up as if corded, slow pulse, etc.”

Whipple was a major force in Texas Methodism for another forty years. He married three times, but poor little Wilbur was his only child. He died in Austin in 1894.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist HIstory December 13

CME Organized at Jackson, Tennessee, December 16, 1870

One of the most distressing problems delegates to the MECS General Conference of 1866 had to deal with was the mass exodus of African American members from the denomination. As reported in the Journals of the MECS annual conferences, about 208,000 members were “colored” before the Civil War. Although membership statistics were more difficult to obtain in 1866, it now appeared that the number of African American members had fallen to about 78,000.
Much of the loss could be attributed to the organizing efforts of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and the Methodist Episcopal Church. All three denominations were now free to organize congregations among freedmen. They were having great success. Other freedmen preferred the flexibility of the congregational polity which Baptist churches afforded. It is little wonder that the MECS was losing so many of its African American members.

A committee of 1866 MECS General Conference delegates was charged with answering the question, “what shall be done to promote the religious interests of the colored people?” That committee advised creating a parallel structure of districts and conferences. When two annual conferences existed, then a general conference would be authorized.

By May 1870 when the MECS General Conference met again, that minimum standard had been exceeded. There were now five annual conferences so an organizing general conference was called for Jackson, Tennessee, for the following December. In the meantime three more annual conferences, including Texas, were organized so that when delegates assembled in Jackson in December, Texas was represented by the Rev. William Taylor.

The General Conference elected two bishops, defined the conference boundaries, established a publishing arm, and adopted a Discipline. The theology and polity was very similar to the other branches of Methodism already in existence.

The new denomination was called the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (changed to Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in 1954). It prospered in Texas, especially in eastern Texas. Its growth in Texas resulted in the formation of annual conferences and the creation of Texas College in Tyler in 1894. The MECS and the CME continued to share close relations. The MECS quadrennial Disciplines called for special offerings for Lane College in Jackson, TN, and Paine College in Augusta, GA. Well into the twentieth century CME representatives attended the MECS Texas Annual Conference where a collection was taken up to support the CME. When the Methodist Church became the United Methodist Church in 1968, the historic relationship with the CME was acknowledged with the creation of “a Joint Commission on Cooperation and Counsel to continue the historic relationship between the Methodist Church and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.” (paragraph 1074 #4)

The CME now has about 900,000 members in about 3,000 churches in the USA and conferences in Liberia, Jamaica, Haiti, Nigeria, and Ghana.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 6

Bishop Waugh and Thomas Summers En Route to Rutersville, December, 1840

Most regular readers of this column will know that Bishop Beverly Waugh organized the Texas Conference at Rutersville on Christmas Day, 1840. Did you ever wonder how Bishop Waugh got to Rutersville?

His journey began in his home town of Baltimore. He left his family which he described as “like the separation of death,” on August 4. He knew travel difficulties would lie ahead, and said “no secular pursuit” would induce him to undertake such a journey, but was willing because of the Methodist desire of “reforming this continent and spreading scriptural holiness over these lands.”
From Baltimore Waugh went westward through upstate New York where he became a tourist and visited Niagara Falls. He took boat passage from Buffalo to Detroit, and then visited the Michigan Annual Conference at Marshall, Michigan. Bishop Hedding presided over those annual conference sessions so Waugh was an honored guest.

He crossed Lake Michigan and arrived at Chicago where Rev. John Clark, who was later to transfer to Texas, met him, and conveyed him the 120 miles to Lacon, Illinois, the site of the Rock River Annual Conference.. Waugh conducted the Rock River Conference which included appointments in northern Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin, and set out Springfield, Illinois, where he presided over the Illinois Annual Conference.

He then conducted the Missouri and Arkansas Annual Conferences at St. Louis and Little Rock respectively and headed for New Orleans. On December 1, 1840, Waugh departed New Orleans on the steamship Savannah. He arrived at Galveston on Dec. 5. Rev. Thomas O. Summers met him and found accommodations. The next day was the Sabbath, and Waugh preached three times in an empty warehouse since there was no Methodist church in Galveston yet. On Tuesday, Dec. 8, Waugh and Summers left Galveston. They obtained a carriage and rode down the beach to San Luis Pass. They found someone to row them across the treacherous currents of San Luis Pass and spent the night in short-lived town of San Luis.

Most of the next week was consumed with struggling through the muddy Brazos bottoms. They had to abandon their carriage and go by horseback. They made it Rutersville by the 16th, but they soon pressed on to the new capital city of Austin where Waugh was invited to give the invocation before the Congress of the Republic of Texas. They spent a few days visiting government officials and then headed back to Rutersville via Bastrop. They arrived in Rutersville on Christmas Eve just in time for the organizing session of the Texas Annual Conference.

When the conference adjourned, Bishop Waugh’s business was over, but he was still a long way from home. His route home took him back to Galveston, then New Orleans on the Savannah again. He sailed from New Orleans to Mobile, then up river to Montgomery. Finally in Georgia he was able to make a rail connection and eventually home the first week of February.

Bishop Waugh had been gone from home six months. He had attended the Michigan, Rock River, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas Annual Conferences. He had travelled by rail, river boat, ocean steamer, horseback, stage coach, private carriage, and on one stretch of Georgia road too muddy for the stage, he had walked. The five annual conferences over which he presided embraced the extreme western limits of Methodism. All along his route he accepted preaching invitations from the local churches. Accommodations were sometimes nothing but “log pens.” Such privations counted for little because truly, “scriptural holiness was being spread across the land.”