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.


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