Saturday, February 20, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History February 21

Travis Park Cornerstone Laid at Travis Park Methodist Church in San Antonio February 25, 1883

During the middle years of the 19th century San Antonio was among the most difficult cities for Methodist evangelization. John Wesley Devilbiss had established a church on Soledad Street in 1846, but as Macum Phelan said, “Methodism was of slow growth there.” As compared to other Texas cities such as Marshall, Houston, and Dallas, the population was more ethnically diverse and also unsettled. San Antonio was a military center, the starting point for cattle drives to the north and for routes to the west. It was a distribution center for a vast area of south and west Texas, but not particularly fertile ground for church building.

The situation changed in the early 1880’s. On January 12, 1883, Thomas Pierce of the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway drove the silver spike signifying the completion of the railroad between San Antonio and El Paso. The Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean were now connected by rail, eventually called the Southern Pacific system. Although the Union Pacific had been the first intercontinental rail link, the Southern Pacific offered gentler grades and fewer delays due to ice and snow. It soon became one of North America’s most important transportation links.

San Antonio was transformed. Its economy added industry and tourism to the existing military and agricultural foundations. It boomed. By 1900 it was the largest city in Texas, boasting a population of over 50,000.

One of the great churches of Texas Methodism grew up with San Antonio. On February 25, 1883, just five weeks after the completion of the railroad, Methodists laid a cornerstone for a new church on Travis Street, diagonally across from Travis Park in downtown San Antonio. The new church, now named Travis Park Methodist Episcopal Church South prospered along with San Antonio. From 1900 to 1960 it was always one of the ten largest Methodist churches in Texas and always the largest church in its annual conference.

Some of the most famous preachers filled its pulpit. Travis Park preachers including John M. Moore, Arthur Moore, Paul Kern, Edwin Mouzon, and Kenneth Copeland were later elected bishops.

In recent years Travis Park UMC has embraced a wide range of ministries including those to homeless persons. A particularly innovative program is its electric vehicle recharging station. Travis Park UMC—Unconditional Love and Justice in Action


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