Saturday, April 24, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History April 25

Dallas Announced as Site of 1968 General Conference, April 28, 1964.

One might think that the selection of a city to host General Conference might not be controversial, but from the formation of the Methodist Church in 1939 until the later 1960’s, there was a always a problem. The Discipline recommended that the site of General Conference be rotated among the jurisdictions, “provided satisfactory arrangements can be made for entertainment, with special reference to the requirements for equality of accommodations for all races, without discrimination or segregation”.

Obviously non-discriminatory arrangements could not be found in the states of the former Confederacy. Racial segregation was not just the custom; it was enforced by local governments throughout the South. Even if a non-discriminatory convention hall could be found, African American delegates attending a General Conference in the South would be subject to discrimination in hotels, restaurants, taxis, city busses, depots, air terminals, and the like. Attending a General Conference in the South would have been a constant humiliation for African American delegates.

The General Conference locations since the creation of jurisdictions in 1939 had been as follows:
Atlantic City (1940) Kansas City (1944) Boston (1948) San Francisco (1952) Minneapolis (1956) Denver (1960) and Pittsburgh (1964).

The Committee on Entertainment met at Pittsburgh to decide the location of the 1968 General Conference. It was obvious that the suggestion to rotate among the jurisdictions had not been met. The Southeastern Jurisdiction had never hosted a General Conference and the South Central only one and that in the border state, Missouri. The Committee on Entertainment consisted of two members from each of the six jurisdictions. When Dallas was proposed as the site of the 1968 General Conference, the two delegates from the Central Jurisdiction, Thurman L. Dodson, a lay delegate from Washington, D. C. and Dr. L. Scott Allen, editor of the Central Christian Advocate from New Orleans, dissented vigorously.

In addition to segregation in public accommodations and the well known control of Dallas by a conservative oligarchy, less than six months earlier Dallas had been the scene of the Kennedy assassination. William A. Holmes of Northhaven Methodist Church in Dallas preached a sermon on Sunday, November 24, 1963 on the assassination from the text of Pilate’s washing of his hands and saying “I have no responsibility for the death this man.” The sermon linked the climate of hate in Dallas to the tragedy. The sermon included the report that local school children had cheered the assassination. National news outlets picked up the story, and Dallas became known, not only as the site of an infamous murder, but as a city in which children had been taught to hate.

The internal deliberations of the Committee on Entertainment are not part of the historical record, but it finally voted 9-3 to hold the 1968 General Conference in Dallas.

At the same the General Conference was deliberating in Pittsburgh, another deliberative body was considering a proposal that would make Dallas a more hospitable place for African American delegates four year hence. That body was the U. S. Senate.

In June, 1963 President Kennedy called for the passage of a civil rights bill that would guarantee non-discrimination in public accommodations. That bill was going nowhere, but on November 27, in his first address to Congress after the assassination, President Lyndon Johnson announced his determination to see it passed.

The main obstacle to passage was a filibuster organized by Johnson’s mentor, Senator Richard Russell of Georgia who was a Methodist lay man. Johnson turned to Republican leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois for help and finally broke the filibuster after 57 days. President Johnson signed it into law on July 2. When African Americans came to Dallas in 1968, they would find the law on their side rather than opposing them.

The 1968 General Conference turned out to an historic one. The Evangelical United Brethren and the Methodist Church became the United Methodist Church. It was also the General Conference that finally took action on abolishing the Central Jurisdiction.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History April 18

Bishop Morris Informs Fowler of His Missionary Commission April 20, 1837

In April 1837 the Missionary Board of the MEC met in New York City and approved a mission to the Republic of Texas. Martin Ruter would head the mission. He would be joined by Robert Alexander and Littleton Fowler. Bishop Hedding should have written all three men to tell them of their assignment, but he did not have Fowler’s address so he asked his brother bishop, Thomas A. Morris to write the letter.

On April 20, 1837, Morris wrote to Fowler. In doing so he was renewing an old relationship. Morris had been Fowler’s first Presiding Elder. Fowler would later name his son Littleton Morris Fowler. The bishop told him that Ruter was being asked to head the mission, but if Ruter declined, Fowler would have that role.
Morris might have been aware that he was writing on the one year minus one day anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, because he closed the letter with a rhetorical flourish that is worth repeating.

I know this will be welcome inteligence to you as it is to me. Some have fought there for an earthly inheritance with the weapons of death; you will contend on the same ground for a crown of life with weapons which are not carnal but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds, casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God. May you conquer thro’ the blood of the Lamb.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History April 11

Henry Young Organizes First German Methodist Congregation in Texas, April 12, 1846

Texas became a favorite destination for German immigrants in the 1840s. They came both as members of immigration companies, as family groups, and as individuals. On January 25, 1845 one of Isaac Addison’s sons already had reason to complain about not being able to find work in Galveston because “the place is overstocked with Dutch carpenters, no less than three brigs now lying in port from Bremen.” That complaint hits close to home since the following November 20 the author’s great-great-great and great-great Grandfather arrived in Galveston aboard the Strabo from Bremen. Although the passenger list records their occupations as wheelwright, they became carpenters in Texas.

German immigrants in New York and the Ohio Valley had already attracted the attention of Methodists. William Nast was already publishing a Methodist newspaper in German in Cincinnati in the 1830’s. Louisville also had a German mission. As German immigration increased in New Orleans, Galveston, and Indianola, it was natural for Methodists to look upon them as potential objects of evangelization. At the Mississippi Annual Conference of 1845 Bishop Soule appointed Henry Young (originally Heinrich Jung) as a missionary to the Germans in Galveston. Upon his arrival he announced that he would preach in the open on the shores of Galveston Bay. The sources claim that on January 25 he preached 1000 Germans. A modern reader might find that large number suspect, but there were enough serious Germans to think about organizing a church. That organization occurred April 12, 1846. By November they had finished construction of their church at 19th Street and Avenue H.

The next year Young was sent to Houston where he helped lay the foundation for what is today Bering Memorial UMC. His place in Galveston was taken by Ulysses Salis and then Karl Rottenstein. Neither of those men had a very successful ministry, but then Peter A. Moelling came to Galveston from New Orleans. Moelling had been educated for the Roman Catholic priesthood and was an accomplished writer and speaker. The congregation prospered enough so that it was able to build a parsonage beside the church. In 1855 Moelling began publishing the Deutsche Christliche Apologete (name changed three months later to Evangelische Apologete). He also wrote poetry and travel accounts. Unfortunately the mission report for 1855 also says of the Galveston German Mission, “much wasted by yellow fever.”

The church recovered so that Young was called back to Galveston. He and Moelling served together, and Moelling continued his journalism. .In October 1856 the congregation asked that its name be stricken from the list of MECS missions. It said it no longer needed denominational financial support.

Perhaps it was too much of a good thing. Young and Moelling had difficulties working with each other. Young became a Presbyterian and took many of the members with him. The 1860 Census shows Moelling living in Galveston with three daughters, 7, 5, and 3 years old, but with no wife.

The Civil War, paper shortage, increasing assimilation, and Moelling’s move to the north all contributed to the decline of both the church and the publishing effort. The church sold the property in 1870.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

this Week in Texas Methodist History April 4

“Some One” Urges Prayer League For Texas Methodists April 4, 1885

The Texas Christian Advocate sometimes served as an outlet for persons wishing to vent their anger toward the decline of civilization as they knew it. The editor allowed anonymity, and on April 4, 1885, printed a classic anonymous diatribe. As usual, it was prefaced by a call to pray for the sinners and ended with a reminder to love our enemies. It’s too long to reproduce in its entirety, but here are eight categories of persons needing our prayers.

1. We have wicked law-makers, both in our Federal Congress and in our State Legislature, who strive, by every political intrigue, to enact laws for the benefit of the rich, and for the oppression of the poor. We have corrupt executive officers who. . fail to enforce the laws against the vilest and boldest offenders. We have unscrupulous lawyers who. . .labor to convict the innocent. .and strive to collect unjust debts. We have unjust jurors who, . .strive to render verdicts in accord with the pleadings of mercenary lawyers. . .
2. We have slanderers, swindlers, thieves, and murderers, who render good people’s lives, property, and reputation insecure.
3. We have profane swearers and Sabbath-breakers
4. We have whisky and beer saloonists who entice our young men into their soultraps.
5. We have operas, theatres, skating rinks, dancing schools, balls and play-parties by which our young people are enticed from the serene enjoyments of religion to the exhilarating joys and vexations of vice. .
6. We have heterodox churches who use the subtlety of the old Serpent to persuade people that the transforming office of God’s Holy Spirit. . .is confined to apostolic age.
7. we have hypocrites in the church who disgust the avowedly wicked at the profession of Christianity.
8. And we have in the church luke-warm professors of religion, who labor much for the things of this life and but little for the life to come.

.. ,. (for all of these people)O, brothers! O, sisters! Have compassion on them, for Christ’s sake. Let us humbly set them our best example, and meekly tender them our best advice

Signed “Some One”