Saturday, August 28, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist HIstory August 29

Thomas Summers Crashes Camp Meeting and Shows Horned Frogs, September 1843

Thomas O. Summers, the preacher at Galveston and Houston toured the United States in 1841 to raise money for church construction in Texas. In June 1843 the first service was held at Ryland’s Chapel in Galveston. Unfortunately the building was not paid for. Summers embarked on another trip in the late summer of 1843. September found him in Alabama where he invited himself to a camp meeting. His arrival caused a stir, not because of the eloquence of his preaching, but because he brought some Texan exotica –horned frogs preserved in alcohol.

His appearance at the camp meeting is described in Anson West’s History of Methodism in Alabama (1893). An excerpt from that work follows. DeYampert was Lucius Q. C. De Yampert. Pierce was Lovick Pierce, then stationed at Mobile.

The Rev. Thomas O. Summers was . . . from the Republic of Texas. He was making a tour of Alabama and other states soliciting funds to pay debts incurred in the erection of houses of worship for the use of the Methodist Episcopal Church at Galveston and Houston, Texas. He was a native of England, at the time herein mentioned he was about thirty-one years old, had been in the United States about thirteen years, had been preaching nine years, and was unmarried, and was in search of a good wife. In his manners in the social circle he was brusque; in the pulpit he was stormy and fidgety. He exhibited at that Camp-meeting at DeYampert's Camp-ground some horned frogs in alcohol preserved, which he had brought with him from Texas. It is quite easy to imagine the impression which he made on the minds of the Camp-meeting folks of Alabama concerning himself by the exhibition of his frogs, and the interest which he created thereby in the peculiar product of the then neighboring Republic of Texas. Tradition says that about the second day of that Camp-meeting the Rev. Mr. Summers was put up to preach, and that the effort of that hour was unacceptable to the congregation, and to Brother DeYampert it was quite offensive. He was offended by the matter of the sermon and the manner of the preacher. The other preachers filled the pulpit at the different hours from that on, leaving Summers to himself, his horned frogs, and his Agency for funds for erecting Churches in the land from which he had brought his exhibits. Summers, true to his business, solicited a contribution from DeYampert to assist his Churches in Texas. DeYampert gruffly refused to make a contribution. The meeting went on, Sunday approached, Dr. Pierce continued sick. Hopes were entertained, so tradition says, that Dr. Pierce, the great preacher, would recover sufficiently by Sunday to preach on that day; but on the arrival of Saturday evening the physician who had charge of the sick man pronounced against his preaching. There was an emergency. The presiding elder called a Council, constituted of the home preachers. The business of the Council was to improvise and provide for the services of Sunday, the great day. The Council met in the capacious tent of DeYampert. The perplexing question was: Who shall preach at 11 o'clock A.M. Sunday? It was first suggested that, of course, the presiding elder was the preacher for that hour, but he humbly declined in favor of any one who could and would meet the emergency. The home preachers were suggested, one after another, until all had declined. Not one was willing to attempt to preach at that hour in the face of the expectation created by the trumpeted fame of Dr. Pierce. At last one in the Council moved that the Rev. Thomas O. Summers be appointed to preach at 11 o'clock A.M. Sunday. That proposition stirred the indignation of Brother DeYampert, who railed out, " He cannot preach the gospel! The poorest preacher here can preach better." The council adjourned and dispersed without making any appointment for the great hour, and the presiding elder had the responsibility and the prospect of occupying the hour himself. While the preachers were engaged in the consultation about the appointments for Sunday the Rev. Mr. Summers, who was being entertained at Brother DeYampert's tent, was in his room in the tent adjoining the one in which the preachers were assembled, and in such proximity that he could not avoid hearing what was said.

The gathering of that multitude was impressive. As the dusty crowds from the hills and woods swelled the throng, and as the numerous groups of the rich, with the roar and clatter of wheels and hoofs, the glare and glitter of trappings and fixtures, approached the outskirts and rolled through the encampment the interest became intense. The scene was really impressive.

The presiding elder looked upon the vast throng, and beheld the array of wealth and elegance, and at the very last moment his courage failed, and instead of preaching himself, as till that very moment he had really expected to do, he, upon his own responsibility, and at the risk of incurring the lasting displeasure of Brother DeYambert, led the Rev. Thomas O. Summers on the stand, and informed him that he must preach. Mr. Summers knew the situation, but he was not in the least abashed. He at once proceeded with the services. He read a hymn after the manner peculiar to himself, and then prayed. The prayer was seldom equaled. It was characterized by devotion, unction, propriety of utterance, variety of petition, and heartiness of thanksgiving. To use one of Mr. Summers's own phrases it was "good to the use of edifying." When through with the introductory part of the services, and ready to proceed with his sermon, Mr. Summers took his position at the bookboard, and looking Brother DeYampert, who was near the stand, and in full view, squarely in the face, said: "I heard it declared last night I could not preach the gospel. May the Holy Ghost enable me to preach this day to this dying people, ' not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.'" He then read his text: " But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.". . ., and he was that day at his best, and he drew, the Holy Spirit assisting, the audience to the theme, and before he was through with the exposition of the text the assembly gave demonstrations of great enthusiasm. At the close of the sermon the spacious altar was crowded with penitent sinners. The meeting went on for some days longer with intense interest and with glorious results, the Rev. Mr. Summers working efficiently, and working till the conclusion of the last doxology. Brother DeYampert changed his mind, reversed his verdict, gave Mr. Summers a liberal contribution for his Churches in Texas, and he became one of Mr. Summers's greatest admirers and warmest friends.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History August 22

Littleton Fowler Leaves Tuscumbia, Alabama, For Texas, August 22, 1837

Three days after Robert Alexander crossed the Sabine into Texas as the first officially appointed missionary to the Republic of Texas, his colleague, Littleton Fowler, left Tuscumbia, Alabama, to join him. Fowler was two weeks shy of this 34th birthday and had been working as an agent for LaGrange College near Tuscumbia in northwestern Alabama for three years. (This LaGrange College should not be confused with LaGrange College of Georgia which still exists or Hannibal-LaGrange College in Missouri. The LaGrange College in Alabama did not survive the Civil War.)

Since Fowler was embarking on a new phase of his life, he started a new journal. Here is what he wrote on August 22, 1837.
Tuscumbia, Alabama, August 22, 1837. This day I leave this place for the Republic of Texas, there to labor as a missionary, having lately been appointed to this field by the Board of Foreign Missions of New York. The impression made on my mind to go as a foreign missionary to Texas is as strong as the one which first called me to the ministry, consequently I shall expect the presence and the blessings of God to attend me. In view of the labor and privations which must await me my soul is firm and undaunted. I rather rejoice that I am worthy to labour and suffer for my blessed Master. Yet the fact of being severed from my country, my kindred, my friends and brethren fills me with deep sorrow and affliction. Rev. Dr. Martin Ruter and Rev. Robert Alexander are to be my fellow-labourers in the Texas mission.

Fowler was undoubtedly filled with a sense of holy purpose, but his statement about being severed from his kindred is exaggerated. In August, 1837, he had two brothers, John Hopkins Fowler and Bradford Fowler already living near their mother’s family, the Wrights, along the Red River near Pecan Point and Jonesboro. A younger brother, Andrew Jackson Fowler, would join them in Texas later in 1837. Although Bradford would later move back to Kentucky, Littleton always had many “kindred” in Texas. Only ten months from this journal entry he would also have a wife when he married a widow, Missouri Lockwood Porter in Nacogdoches.
This was not Fowler’s first trip to Texas. In January, 1833, immediately after his appointment as agent for LaGrange, he had been to Texas to visit his relatives. Fowler thus had some first hand knowledge about Texas and must have heard about Texas from his brothers, cousins, and aunt and uncle. John Hopkins Fowler served in 1836 with Col. Robert M. Coleman’s First Regiment, Texas Rangers, and the Wright and Fowler families were among the most prominent in northeastern Texas.

Fowler took his time en route. He visited with his family, spent two weeks sick in Jonesboro and went to Hempstead County, Arkansas where he performed the wedding ceremony for this brother. He also recruited John Bunyan Denton to join him. They arrived in Nacogdoches on October 16, almost two months after leaving Tuscumbia.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History August 15

Seven People Completely Sanctified at Cedar Bayou Revival August, 1895

In the second of his two volumes on Texas Methodist history, Macum Phelan reports that the Holiness Movement reached its peak in Texas around 1894-95. Depending on one’s point of view, the Holiness Movement was either a vital outpouring of the Holy Spirit that energized Methodists or a deeply divisive force that split congregations and conferences. Phelan’s sympathies were with the second viewpoint.

A hallmark of the Holiness Movement was the doctrine of entire sanctification. According to this doctrine a person was sanctified when he or she received the assurance of salvation through the witness of the Holy Spirit. A “second blessing” or “entire sanctification” was also the work of the Holy Spirit. It allowed the believer to be free from the worldly desires that led to sin. It then became possible to lead a holy life.

The Holiness Movement was closely tied to revivalism, and especially to travelling revivalists. Much of the tension in the 1890s revolved around station preachers (that is preachers appointed to a particular church) who resented the incursions of travelling revivalists. The revival preacher would sometimes earn as much in two weeks as the station preacher earned in six months. Station preachers complained that revivalists swooped in and worked their members into a lather and then left. The station preacher was then responsible the day-to-day ministry to the people.

The General Conference of the MECS dealt with the issue by passing a rule that that the station preacher had to give permission for a travelling evangelist to hold a revival in his parish. Such a rule naturally led to some of the revivalists surrendering their credentials so they could preach where the Spirit directed them. Several Christian denominations were founded during the Holiness era by preachers who had once been Methodists.

The situation was not always contentious. In August, 1895, the Texas Christian Advocate reported on a sixteen day meeting at Cedar Bayou in which several preachers cooperated. Seth Ward, the presiding elder of the Galveston District and later bishop, started the meeting with a quarterly conference. Four other preachers including E. L Shettles also took the pulpit. The Cedar Bayou preacher, E. M. Meyers, reported that nine of the “best members of my church” claimed to have been entirely sanctified by the blood of Christ.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist HIstory August 8

Committee Convenes at Rutersville to Examine Charges Against Preacher Aug. 9, 1854

An incident in June, 1854, led to formal charges against Rev. Joshua Shepard. Henry Tatum was the accuser, and the formal charge was engaging in “unministerial, immoral, and unchristian behavior.” The victim was Rev. Walsh, a recent transfer from the Memphis Conference. Josiah Whipple, the Presiding Elder of the Rutersville District assembled a committee consisting of Homer Thrall, I. G. John, and George Tittle. They heard eight specifications.

1. When at the Tatum home, Mrs. Tatum asked Shepard how Rev. Walsh was getting along with his congregation. Shepard answered in a “reproachful, envious, and blasphemous manner, they think he is next to Jesus Christ.”
2. Several weeks later at the Wallace home, Shepard lured Walsh outside and assailed him with oaths and blows.
3. He had an armed accomplice with him to help him if necessary, in the incident in #2.
Specifications 4 through 8 all deal with Shepard’s lying about beating Walsh. The lies were not denials of the beating, but exaggeration of the violence including the use of a stick he had deliberately prepared for the purpose.

The committee answered “not sustained” to all nine charges even though Shepard admitted the beating. How did he get off? Shepard’s defense was that Walsh had insulted the memory of his dead mother, and the insult had put him in such a state of mind, he wasn’t responsible for his actions. Now that he had calmed down, he sincerely repented. Thrall, John, and Tittle concluded their report, “”We consider his course hasty and imprudent, and in order to honor the law of the Church, we would direct his Presiding Elder to administer such reproof as he may see property.”

You may read the entire report in the pages of the Texas Ranger, Aug. 17, 1854. at the Portal to Texas History. Use the :advanced search.” Use Whipple as the search term and limit the date range to 1854.