Saturday, September 11, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 12

Texas Conference Enters Computer Age September 13, 1968

Few persons present at a special session of the Texas Annual Conference on September 13, 1968, could have predicted the pervasive influence electronic computing would assume in all areas of life. Delegates were asked to approve a plan to count ballots by computer at that session. In only a few decades computers would transform both workplace and home, but in 1968 they were like “a cloud no larger than a man’s hand” on the horizon.

Setting the stage—The General Conference of 1968 was momentous. It created the United Methodist Church by the merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren. It mandated the abolition of the Central Jurisdiction and in doing so mandated the integration of the races in the new United Methodist Church.

Only a few weeks after the General Conference of 1968 adjourned, the various annual conferences met and set up committees to work out the details of the mergers. There were two Central Jurisdiction annual conferences in Texas, the Texas and West Texas. With the exception of a few charges in the Texas Conference (CJ) that went to the North Texas and Central Texas Conferences (SCJ) and a few West Texas Conference (CJ) charges in Wharton, Robertson, Falls, and Milam Counties that came into Texas Conference (SCJ), the boundaries of the Texas Conference (CJ) and Texas Conference (SCJ) were virtually identical. The plan of merger stipulated that the former Texas Conference (CJ) would be renamed the Gulf Coast Conference until a final merger that would occur June 1, 1970.

A Committee on Inter-Conference Relations was charged with presenting a merger plan at the June, 1969, annual conferences. The plan of merger would require a 2/3 vote of both the Texas and Gulf Coast Conferences.

There was another transition for the Texas Conference in 1968. Bishop Paul E. Martin completed eight years as presiding bishop of the Texas Conference (SCJ)and retired. Bishop Noah Moore who had presided over the Houston Area for the Central Jurisdiction transferred to Nebraska and the bishop in Nebraska, Kenneth Copeland, was reassigned to the Houston Area. Copeland began September 1, and just two weeks later, a called session of annual conference convened to welcome him and Mrs. Copeland.

In addition to the official welcome, a few business items had accumulated in the three months since the regular session adjourned. Those included a retirement, a readmission, a request for disability leave, several new nominations for committees, and so on.

Because the merger of 1968 still had so many details to work out, a special called session of General Conference was to be held in 1970. An ad hoc committee charged with “studying the feasibility of employing the techniques of Computer Science in casting ballots for the election of delegates to General Conference” came to the September 1968 session with a resolution. Rev. Kenneth Lambert presented the report of the committee which had been chaired by Ed Curry. He moved that the conference adopt electronic counting for its ballots. The motion passed, and Rev. Emmitt Barrow moved that an expenditure of $600 be authorized to implement electronic balloting. The Texas Conference thus entered the computer age.

The conference was opened for announcements, and the Rev. Frank Richardson announced that the Reverend John Goodwin had died. (Mrs. Goodwin died the previous February.) Perhaps some of the attendees with historical imagination paused to consider the pace of technological change. Goodwin had been born in 1873. When he was born, there was not a single telephone in Texas, and now the conference was entering the computer era—all in the span of one man’s life!

Not so fast. . . No elections were held after all. When the 1969 Texas Conference met, Asbury Lenox brought a Conference Council recommendation to the floor to rescind the enabling legislation that called for the election of new delegates to the 1970 General Conference. The Lenox motion passed 404 to 74, and the delegates elected to the 1968 General Conference were named to the 1970 General Conference. Counting of ballots by computer would have to wait.


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