Saturday, January 30, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 31

Preachers Declare Allegiance During Roll Call at Opening of East Texas Conference, Feb. 4, 1846

It is the custom of most annual conferences to establish the roll of clergy and lay members by asking them to register rather than actually answering to a roll call. While such a procedure is certainly more efficient, it lacks the drama that once accompanied the calling of the roll of annual conference.

No roll call was more dramatic in Texas Methodist history than that of the East Texas Conference when it convened in Marshall on Feb. 4, 1846. The reader will remember from last week’s column that Littleton Fowler had died the previous week. Even though everyone there would have been aware of Fowler’s death, his name would have been called anyway. After a short interval of silence, one of the brothers would say something like, “He’s in heaven now,” and the roll call would proceed.

Francis Wilson was the presiding officer since Bishop Soule had not yet arrived from Houston. Robert Crawford was secretary. Crawford’s job was not merely recording those present and those absent. Each preacher was asked to respond to the roll call with either “North” or “South.”

When the plan of separation which resulted in the MEC and the MEC, South, was adopted, a stipulation maintained that each preacher could choose “without blame” the General Conference with which he would be affiliated. Feb. 4, 1846 was decision day for the preachers of the East Texas Conference. Each had to declare his allegiance publicly.

All the preachers present answered “South.” Three absent preachers, Henderson Palmer, A. J. Fowler (Littleton’s brother), and F. H. Blades, sent word that they would also adhere to the MECS. Only Lester Janes, the president of Wesleyan College in San Augustine, did not. He sent a request for a transfer back to the north, not out of dissatisfaction with the southern organization, but “because his business interests requires him at present to remove North.”

There was even more to the roll call. Each preacher was also asked to report on the sentiments of the Methodists “among whom they had been travelling,” as to their wishes on separation. Within the bounds of the East Texas Conference, all of Texas east of the Trinity River, only “three sisters and two brethren” objected to the separation and preferred the North.
The East Texas Conference thus cast its lot with the southern branch of Episcopal Methodism.


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