Monday, March 15, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History March 14

R. T. Nabors Preaches Last Sermon March 10, 1884

The meteoric career of a prominent Texas preacher came to an end before his great potential could be realized on April 1, 1884. The Rev. R. T. Nabors, Chaplain of Vanderbilt University, died in Nashville at the age of thirty-three. Nabors was born in Shelby County, Alabama, in 1850. He attended a local academy and took a student appointment. He showed such promise that members of the Alabama Conference arranged from him to attend Southern University in Greensboro, Alabama. He graduated in 1873.
A common feature of 19th century university life was for a graduate to deliver an address as part of the commencement ceremonies. Few such addresses have had such life-changing impact. Bishop Keener was in the audience, and during the Nabors oration, the bishop decided to send Nabors to St. James Methodist in Galveston.

Most twenty-two year old preachers finishing their education in the 1870s could expect a circuit of perhaps a dozen preaching points, probably as a junior preacher. For such a young man to be appointed to a church in the most prosperous, sophisticated city in Texas was really remarkable. The transfer to the Texas Conference was not remarkable. Bishops had supervision of multiple conferences and often moved preachers between them.
Nabors served St. James for two years and was then appointed to Shearn Church in Houston, the predecessor of First United Methodist Church in Houston. The young preacher was a dynamo. He revived the Sunday School, created a Ladies Missionary Society (before the MECS created a similar organization), preached revivals, delivered countless commencement speeches, and delivered public lectures to raise funds for church projects. He even had time to return to Alabama and marry.

In the 19th century there was a four-year limit on pastorates so in 1879 it was time for Nabors to leave Shearn. He had just preached night and day for a six week protracted meeting, and was afflicted with “hemorrhages of the throat.” Bishop McTyeire believed, as did everyone else, that part of the problem was the oppressively hot, humid climate on the Texas Gulf Coast. The bishop transferred Nabors back to Alabama where he filled Tuscaloosa Station.

Nabors was such an accomplished preacher that job offers poured in. He refused them all, including the presidency of his alma mater, Southern University. In 1883, at the age of thirty-three, he was offered the Chaplaincy of Vanderbilt University in Nashville. That was an offer he could not pass up. Nashville in 1883 was to Southern Methodism as Rome was to Catholicism.

Nabors arrived at his new post, which included the spiritual leadership of the 500 students as well as the 300 hundred member campus church, on October 8, 1883. While he was setting up his new household, he stepped on a tile which broke and caused a laceration. Blood poisoning set in. He spent three months recuperating. In January Nabors returned to work, but his old throat problems recurred. He preached his last sermon on March 16 on the text, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” He died on April 1 and became the first person buried in the Vanderbilt Cemetery.

Wait. There’s more! Most of the information in this column is from Blandin’s History of Shearn Church 1837-1907. She is probably mistaken about the Nabors burial being the first one in the Vanderbilt Cemetery. Thomas O. Summers died in May, 1882, at General Conference, and was buried at Vanderbilt. That’s really a coincidence Summers, like Nabors, had served Galveston and Houston (1840-43) and then transferred to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, before going to Nashville.


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