Saturday, June 26, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History June 27

La Trinidad UMC, Fort Worth, Celebrates Founder’s Day, June 27, 2010

Fort Worth’s historic La Trinidad UMC will celebrate Founder’s Day on June 27, 2010. The special day will lift up the life and legacy of Eugenia Smith, a deaconess of the Methodist Episcopal Church South who worked in Wesley Houses in Thurber, Fort Worth, and Houston during her long and distinguished career.

Wesley Houses were a prominent feature of Progressive Era Methodism. They provided a variety of social services such as health education, child care, vocational training, language instruction, Sunday school classes, and recreation. They were often staffed by deaconesses such as Eugenia Smith. The MECS established the office of deaconess in 1902, following the lead of the MEC which had done so in 1888. The office of deaconess provided women opportunities for Christian vocation when full ordination was denied to them on account of sex.

Before coming to Fort Worth, Smith had already worked at Thurber among the Mexican, Italian, and Bohemian immigrants who had come to work in the coal mines. She secured a donation of property from the Texas and Pacific Rail Road and established Marston Hall. After only a few years she came to Fort Worth where she worked in Jerome Duncan Wesley House which was located on the north side of the city to serve the multi-ethnic community that had grown up around the packing houses and flour mills. A 1908 report gives a good idea of the services offered in Fort Worth. In addition to a campaign to have kindergarten included in the public schools, it “maintains a library; playground; kindergarten; day nursery; stamp savings; rummage sale room; classes in sewing; cooking; fancy work; clubs for boys; mission Sunday school.”

Smith later moved to Houston where she continued to work in a Wesley House. It was located on the near north side of downtown near the old McKee Street Methodist Church and received much of its support from First Methodist Church. The author’s grandmother, Ida Wilson Hardt was a good friend of Eugenia Smith and often stayed with her at the Wesley House when annual conference met in Houston.

La Trinidad UMC in Fort Worth traces its origins to the Progressive Era efforts of dedicated women like Eugenia Smith. We salute the church for lifting up her example of ministry.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History June 20

Noted Historian, Henderson Yoakum, Delivers Address to First Graduating Class of Soule University, June 23, 1856

Soule University in Chappell Hill was not the first school established by Texas Methodists, but when it was authorized by the Texas Annual Conference in December, 1855, Methodists hoped they had learned from their experiences, and were going to get it right this time. The big difference this time was a broader base of support. Although a creature of the Texas Conference, the East Texas Conference later added its sponsorship and thereby strengthened the school.

Among the original trustees was a Walker County attorney and historian named Henderson Yoakum (1810-1856). Yoakum was well qualified to serve in that position. He had been involved in the establishment of Andrew Female School, and he wrote the charter for the Presbyterians when they established Austin College (later relocated from Huntsville to Sherman). He was also superintendent of the prison. Sam Houston was one of his law clients and became one of his close friends. In 1853 Yoakum moved out of the city of Huntsville, seven miles to Shepherd’s Valley. It was there that he completed his two volume work, The History of Texas from its First Settlement in 1685 to its Annexation by the United States in 1846. That work, which has been useful to generations of Texas historians, was completed in 1855.

In December of that year the Texas Annual Conference named the Board of Trustees for Soule University. They quickly went to work and were able to open the preparatory department by February. That first class of students finished their work in June and graduation ceremonies were held to mark their accomplishment. Henderson Yoakum gave the commencement address.
Although he was a relatively young man, he would not be alive to attend the second graduation. He died in Houston on November 30. Yoakum County is named in his honor.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History June 13

Cecil Peeples Named President of Lon Morris College June 14, 1935

On June 14, 1935 the Board of Trustees of Lon Morris College, meeting at the Palace Café in Jacksonville, Texas, offered the presidency of the struggling institution to a thirty-two year old preacher from Livingston. Cecil Peeples accepted the offer. He was to remain president until 1972 and remain active as a fund raiser for years after that.

Peeples had been in eastern Texas only four years. He and Mrs. Peeples were teaching school at Texline when he received a call to preach at Garrison. He accepted the call, and served at Garrison, then Weirgate, and then Livingston, all in the Texas Annual Conference.

Meanwhile Lon Morris was feeling the effects of the Great Depression. Many young people could not afford to continue their education past high school. Many donors to church institutions could no longer afford to help out. Lon Morris, like most other private colleges of the era, had debts that seemed overwhelming at the time. Some colleges failed, and closing Lon Morris became a topic of discussion.

Peeples accepted the offer of the presidency and threw himself into the new task. He knew he had to deal with the debt. He wrote personal letters to the creditors and enclosed a portion of the amount owed with a promise that he would pay off the entire debt. Such an approach brought good will to the college.

He wore many hats. He was the development officer (fund raiser). He recruited students. He counseled students with personal, academic, and vocational advice. He taught classes. He crisscrossed the Texas Conference building support for the college.

His typical approach was to load up his car with a student musical group and drive them to some church in the Texas Conference. The students would sing, he would preach, and then he would solicit donations from the congregation and recruit prospective students. Hundreds of East Texans owe their college education to the encouragement Cecil Peeples gave them in such settings. Naturally many prospective students were held back by finances. Much of the encouragement was along the lines of “You come, and we’ll find a way to pay for it.” Many of these trips were held at Sunday night services. That often meant a long drive back to Jacksonville, getting to bed late, and then hitting the ground running on Monday morning with his characteristic energy.

Slowly but surely Peeples chipped away at the debt. He solicited donations from philanthropists. He and his family took meals in the dining hall as part of his salary. The College operated a dairy and grew vegetables. That saved money, provided work for needy students, and furnished the dining hall with fresh produce and milk.

When Peeples retired in 1972, he was named President Emeritus and Chairman of the Permanent Endowment Fund Committee. His total service to Lon Morris thus amounted to more than fifty years. It all began on June 14, 1935.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History June 6

Texas Annual Conferences Convene in Dallas, June 6, 1966

The bicentennial of Methodism in America provided the opportunity for a rare meeting of all the annual conferences in Texas at Dallas in June 1966. Thirty years earlier, in 1936, the annual conferences met in Houston to commemorate the centennial of Texas independence. In 1966 clergy and lay members of the various annual conferences came to Dallas to conduct conference business, worship, and to take some small steps toward ending racial segregation. The joint sessions, unlike those in 1936, were to be racially integrated.

Annual conference sessions were conducted at area churches during the day, and at night all the conferences gathered at Moody Coliseum for combined activities.

Monday night June 6 began with a communion service led by the host bishop, Kenneth Pope. Retired Bishop W. C. Martin preached the sermon, and Bishop Paul Galloway delivered the benediction. Other bishops participating included Paul Martin of the Texas and Rio Grande Conferences, Eugene Slater of the Southwest and Northwest Texas Conferences, and Noah Moore of the Texas and West Texas Conferences of the Central Jurisdiction. The choir from First Methodist Church Wichita Falls provided the music.

On Tuesday night the combined conferences heard an address from Governor John Connally, a Methodist lay man, who had been tragically thrust into the national spotlight less than three years earlier when he had been wounded in the John Kennedy assassination. Part of Connally’s address contained hints of what later became the denomination’s motto when he said, “Methodism has stood in the front ranks for social and economic progress with open minds and open hearts.”

On Wednesday night the conferences came back to Moody Coliseum for a musical-dance-drama pageant entitled “The Church is Here!” The presentation spanned the 200 years from the colonial era in which Methodism had come to America to the secular society and radical theology of the 1960s. A co-producer of the pageant was Johnnie Marie Brooks Grimes, assistant to SMU President Willis Tate, and one of the most outstanding Methodist lay women of the mid-twentieth century.

On Thursday afternoon Moody Coliseum was packed to the rafters for a joint ordination service for deacons and elders of the various conferences. The honor of preaching the ordination sermon went to retired Bishop Ivan L. Holt who had been elected bishop in 1938. One of the powerful ideas in Bishop Holt’s sermon was sage advice for the ordinands. He said

It is not the function of religion to answer every question. A twelve year old boy can ask questions nobody can answer. It is the function of religion to give to women and men the courage to carry on in the face of questions nobody can answer.

On Thursday night the conferences came back to Moody Coliseum one last time. After the usual opening music, prayer, and courtesies, Bishops Moore, Galloway, Martin, Slater, and Pope read the appointments. After the appointments, all sang A Charge to Keep I Have, and Bishop Slater pronounced the benediction.

These four days in June, 1966, which had been set aside to honor an important historic event, did not wallow in the past. The conferences were fully engaged with the vital issues of the day. On June 6, the opening day of the conferences, James Meredith was shot as he began a protest march from Memphis to Jackson. The Conferences responded with resolutions and prayers for peace. The various annual conferences invited Professor Albert Outler of Perkins School of Theology to report on Vatican II at which he had been an official observer. The Boards of Christian Social Concerns of the conferences presented resolutions dealing with racial and ethnic justice. For example, the Rio Grande Conference asked other Methodists to share their concern about barbers in Dimmitt, Alton, Lockney, and Crosbyton who refused service to Latin Americans. The presence of the African American conferences in the joint sessions was a step on the road to complete desegregation of the church. Delegates who came to commemorate history found themselves fully involved in contemporary events.`

The author is grateful to Retired Bishop John Wesley Hardt for sharing his memories of this event.