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.


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