Saturday, April 09, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History April 10

Jesse Hord Founds Methodist Church in Houston, April 14, 1839

First United Methodist Church of Houston dates its founding to April 14, 1839 when Rev. Jesse Hord received 14 original members by transfer of letter from other churches. This was not the first Methodist activity in Houston. Littleton Fowler served as Chaplain of the Texas Senate from Nov. 19, 1837 to May 24, 1838 (except for the Christmas recess when he divided his time between Nacogdoches and San Augustine) and preached in the Senate Chamber. Later in 1838 Jesse Hord was appointed to ride a circuit that included Methodists scattered along the Coastal Plains from Houston to near Victoria. He arrived in Houston on December 23, 1838, but he was aware that Abel Stevens had been appointed to Houston/Galveston, so he hurried on to Richmond, San Felipe, Matagorda, Egypt, and Texana.

Houston was on Hord’s circuit which took about a month to complete. He was back in Houston from January 17-21, 1839. When he arrived in Houston on the 17th, he was overjoyed to discover that Abel Stevens had arrived in Houston and was accompanied by Schuyler Hoes, another Methodist preacher, who was an agent for the American Bible Society. The joy turned to disappointment was both Stevens and Hoes refused Hord’s invitation to preach on Sunday night, January 20. Presbyterian preachers, James Burke and William Y. Allen did accept his invitation. We now know that Stevens had no intention of accepting the Houston/Galveston appointment he had received at the Mississippi Annual Conference in December. Instead he immediately began a successful campaign to have Littleton Fowler re-assign him to the Washington Circuit. On Monday the 21st Hord left Houston to start another round of his circuit, but a winter storm caused him to miss his February appointment in Houston. He was able to come back to Houston during the middle of March.

The April 14th organizational meeting that founded the first Methodist church in Houston had thus been preceded by preaching, Sunday School, tract distribution, and canvassing the city to learn who had been Methodists before their immigration to Houston. In a curious coincidence the April meeting included Abel Stevens. Fowler had acceded to Stevens’ request to ride the Washington Circuit which he started about March 1. Now, just six weeks later, he was in Houston on his way to Galveston and his permanent departure from Texas. On this occasion Stevens did accept Hord’s invitation to preach the sermon at the Sunday night service. He had accomplished a great deal during his brief time in Texas and later was to achieve fame as an author.

At the next session of the Mississippi Annual Conference in December, 1839, Edward Fontaine was appointed to Houston and Thomas O. Summers to Galveston. After Fontaine’s departure, Summers assumed both the Galveston and Houston pastorates. It was Summers who was able to build Methodist church buildings in both cities. He did so by fund raising campaigns in which he travelled widely in the United States. In his absence the Houston church depended upon local pastors and lay leaders such as Charles Shearn (merchant) and Francis Moore (journalist/politician).

The Methodists eventually named their church in honor of Charles Shearn. When they built a new church building at the corner of Main and Clay, they renamed the church First Methodist Church.


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