Friday, February 25, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History February 27

TUMHS Annual Meeting Announced

The Texas United Methodist Historical Society will be meeting at Chappell Hill United Methodist Church and Brenham from March 24-26. The theme of the meeting is Robert Alexander and His World 1811-2011. The meeting will begin on Thursday, March 24, at noon with registration. The Rev. Paula Behrens, the host pastor will welcome the group at 1:00 p.m. The Rev. William Lanigan, the Texas Conference historian will speak on the life of Robert Alexander, one of the first commissioned Methodist missionaries to the Republic of Texas. Chappell Hill UMC historian Tom Stevens will provide a history of the host church. A banquet on Thursday evening at the church will feature An Evening with Robert Alexander.

Friday, March 25 will be devoted to a tour of Methodist heritage sites in the area. Participants will visit historic churches, the graves of Robert Alexander and Martin Ruter, and Rutersville, the site of the organization of the Texas Conference on December 25, 1840. The tour will feature interpretation by expert guides. A lunch is included.

On Saturday, March 26, the group will meet at Chappell Hill UMC. The winning paper in the Essay Contest for university students will be read. The Kate Warnick Award for best local church histories of the past year will be announced, and the Society will conduct its business meeting.

Included in the registration fee of $45 are the banquet meal on Thursday night, lunch on Friday, tour transportation, and interpretative materials. If you would like registration materials delivered via email, please request them from TUMHS President Wm. C. Hardt at

Saturday, February 19, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History February 20

J. Waskom Pickett, Bishop of Methodist Church in India, Born in Jonesville, Feb. 21, 1890

How did a preacher’s son from a very small town in East Texas become a bishop in the Methodist Church of India and a confidante of the founders of the modern Indian state? There must be a story there.

J. Waskom Picket was born on February 21, 1890, to the Rev. Leander Lycurgus Pickett, one of the leading lights of the Holiness Movement. L. L. Pickett had been a MECS preacher, but in 1884 had been denied reappointment because of his refusal to baptize by immersion. (See post for Nov. 9, 2008) L. L. Pickett continued preaching independently and became one of the leaders in the Holiness Movement. In 1887 Pickett conducted a powerful revival that led to the establishment of a Holiness campground in Scottsville, just a few miles from Jonesville and Waskom in eastern Harrison County.

When J. Waskom Pickett was still a young child the family moved briefly to South Carolina and then to Wilmore, Kentucky, the site of Kentucky Holiness College (founded 1890). Kentucky Holiness College soon changed its name to Asbury College. L. L. Pickett became an important author and publisher until his death in 1928.
J. Waskom Pickett graduated from Asbury in 1907 and taught for three years. In 1910 one of his classmates, E. Stanley Jones, recruited him to take over a church in India that Jones was leaving.

Pickett accepted the call and spent the next forty-six years in India. He served as pastor, district superintendent, and in 1935 was elevated to the office of bishop.

His years in India were marked by the end of British rule, and both Jones and Pickett formed friendships with Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. At Nehru’s urging, Pickett visited Gandhi just two days before the Mahatma’s assassination.

Upon his retirement Pickett taught at Boston University. He died in 1981 in Ohio and is buried in Wilmore, Kentucky.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History February 13

Methodists Participate in Large Interchurch World Movement Meeting in Dallas February 1920

There is no finer example of the vision and optimism that characterized progressive Protestantism of the early 20th century than the Interchurch World Movement. There is also no finer example of how quickly such optimism can fizzle.

Setting the stage—Proponents of the Social Gospel were accustomed to working across denominational lines to fight the evils of an increasingly urban, industrial United States. There were inter-denominational organizations with Texas chapters that promoted woman’s suffrage, anti-lynching laws, Prohibition, YMCA’s, YWCA’s, and Sunday Schools. The horrors of World War I prompted many Christians to turn their attention to world peace. World War I draftees were given medical and intelligence screening. The aggregated data from those screenings revealed that America had huge problems with disease, malnutrition, drug abuse, and illiteracy.

The main thrust of reformers in the MECS had been prohibition. With the passage of the Volstead Act, it now looked like that battle was won. The armies of volunteers that had been mobilized for prohibition were still intact. The crusading fervor was still there. There were still massive social ills. What direction would the social reformers take?

One of the directions was the creation of the Interchurch World Movement. The IWM had its origins immediately after World War I. The Southern Presbyterian Mission Board convened a conference on December 17, 1918 to consider its post-war mission. Moving more rapidly than is usual in such matters, they convened a much larger meeting in February, 1919. It was at that meeting that the IWM was formed. It was now no longer a Presbyterian mission program, but an ecumenical body. They hoped to unite the missionary efforts of all the Protestant denominations into a mighty crusade. William Adams Brown called the IWM the religious counterpoint to the League of Nations.

The IWM soon had serious financial backing. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., bankrolled it. (One should remember that Rockefeller’s philanthropy was handled by Raymond Fosdick, brother of Harry E. Fosdick.) In January, 1920, the IWM convened in Atlantic City and wrote its platform. Its goal was to unite the Protestant denominations to finish the educational and missionary objectives of the church.
One month later, February, 1920, about 800 church leaders convened in Dallas. Their main task was to support the Atlantic City declaration and to create a regional organization for the IWM. Methodists figured prominently in the gathering. Robert S. Hyer, founding president of SMU, was on what we would call today the “platform committee.” Other Methodists on the committee were J. C. Williams, a Methodist Protestant from Tehuacana, Charles DeBow (MEC), and W. J. Johnson (MECS). In an interesting side note, J. Frank Norris was also on the committee. (Can one imagine Hyer and Norris on the same committee?) Bishop Mouzon addressed a session of the meeting on the importance of continuing the revival spirit. Delegates passed a resolution calling for the cabinet-level Department of Education, something that was done in 1979. Another goal was building 1000 new buildings on college and university campuses in five years.

Methodist participation in the IWM was somewhat compromised because the various Methodist denominations were simultaneously engaged in their Centenary Campaign. The first Methodist mission had been in 1819. In 1919 Methodists adopted a seven-pronged mission effort. (See post for May 20, 2007) The goals of the Centenary Campaign coincided in the large part with the IWM, but there were still questions about the relations between the programs.

The IWM began with great enthusiasm and solid financial backing, but in five years it was dead. Both Northern Baptists and Northern Presbyterians pulled their denomination out almost immediately—later in 1920. The optimistic mood of winning the whole world for Christianity and lifting millions up out of poverty, disease, illiteracy, and hunger seemed but a distant memory.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History February 6

Joseph P. Sneed Enters Texas February 8, 1839

On February 8, 1839 Joseph P. Sneed crossed the Sabine River at Gaines Crossing on his way to Brazoria Circuit. The previous December Bishop Thomas Morris had appointed him to the Brazoria Circuit of the Texas District of the Mississippi Annual Conference. February 8 was a Friday, but Methodists in the Republic of Texas had preaching any day they could get it, not just on Sundays, so Sneed preached that night. He spent the night with the Stovall family, and then pushed on to meet Littleton Fowler. The next few weeks were full of more travel, preaching, and meeting his new colleagues, and, by the way, he didn't made it to Brazoria.

Joseph Sneed was born near Nashville, Tennessee, in 1804. In 1829 he joined the Mississippi Annual Conference and served several appointments. In 1834 he assisted Henry Stevenson at McMahan’s Chapel just west of the Sabine in Mexican Texas. Several years later he volunteered for Texas.

On Feb. 9 he rode the four miles from Stovall’s to McMahan’s where Fowler was holding a quarterly meeting. Moses Speer and Samuel Williams were also there. Sneed reported for duty with a letter of recommendation from Bishop Morris to Fowler, “I am sending you a man who is not afraid to die or sleep in the woods.” Bishop Morris also entrusted Sneed with $800 of missionary money to be distributed as salary for the preachers in Texas. After a love feast on Sunday the 10th, Sneed, Fowler, and Missouri Fowler headed for “West Texas.”
It took them until February 27 to reach the Brazos River. On the way they picked up Ike Strickland, the Montgomery Circuit preacher. The party visited Martin Ruter’s grave and spent the night with the Gates family.

Fowler had previously instructed the preachers in West Texas to meet him at William Kessee’s, near present-day Chappell Hill. I suppose the prospect of being paid ensured good attendance because most of them showed up and stayed five days. There was, of course, a quarterly meeting and love feast, but Fowler used the meeting to override the appointments Bishop Morris had made at annual conference and reassign Strickland to Brazoria and Sneed to the now vacant Montgomery Circuit. He also reassigned Abel Stevens from Houston to Washington to take the place of Robert Alexander who had moved to Rutersville the previous fall.

Stevens rode the Washington Circuit for only 3 months and then returned to the United States. Fowler instructed Sneed to take over the Washington Circuit in addition to his Montgomery Circuit. He was thus responsible for Texas Methodists west of the Trinity River all the way to the settlements on the Colorado River from Spring Creek in the south to Waco in the north.

Sneed was up to the challenge of riding long circuits. Except for a ten year location in which he farmed near Gay Hill in Washington County, he served honorably in appointments until his superannuation in 1867. He died in 1881 at his son’s home in Milam County.