Saturday, May 07, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History May 8

Woodland and Norhill Churches Sign Articles of Union May 8, 1938

The unification of the Methodist Episcopal, Methodist Episcopal South, and Methodist Protestant Churches to create the Methodist Church in May, 1939, is widely known as the great historic event of 20th century Methodism. What is less well known is that several Northern and Southern churches merged with each other before their denominations did. One such merger occurred on the north side of Houston when Woodland Methodist Church (Southern) merged with Norhill Methodist Church (Northern). The merger was highly publicized and recognized as an important step toward the unity both denominations would embrace one year later.

Norhill’s origins dated to 1875 and the organization of Emanuel German Methodist Episcopal Church. They built their church on a lot at Hamilton and Preston (one block east of Minute Maid Park). About 15 years later they relocated to the corner of White and Lubbock (between Washington and Memorial, just east of Glenwood Cemetery) and renamed the church Zion Methodist Episcopal Church. Another relocation in 1924 took the newly renamed congregation of 11th at Norhill. (immediately north of Hogg Middle School).

Meanwhile the MECS was also at work organizing a church on Houston’s north side. Woodland Heights had its first service in 1913. Woodland Methodist Church prospered and began to think about expansion. In 1927 they bought a lot in the 600 block of Pecore in contemplation of a move. The Great Depression put a damper on church building plans. Obviously people who were out of work could not contribute to a building fund, and the sale of the old church property to Woodland Christian Church brought far less than they hoped.

As the leadership of Woodland Methodist struggled with the difficulties of planning a church construction project in such difficult economic times, the idea of merger with Norhill emerged. Both churches’ membership was too great for their existing facilities. Norhill had 539 members and Woodland Heights 650. Since Woodland Heights already owned property between the two churches, a merger and construction of a new church building on that lot seemed like a solution for both of them. Early in 1937 D. L. Landrum, the Woodland pastor, and Presiding Elder H. M.Whaling went to Kansas City to approach Bishop Charles Meade of the MEC about the possibility of a Norhill-Woodland merger.

Meade reacted positively to the idea and brought A. A. Leifeste, the Norhill preacher, into the conversation. The membership of both churches embraced the idea, and committees composed of MEC and MECS members worked through 1937 to work out the details of merger, raise funds, and plan the construction of a new church.

On Sunday, May 8, 1938, the two congregations worshiped together and signed the Articles of Union which had been carried to the altar in the form of a scroll by a procession headed by the pastors’ sons, Billy Leifeste and Lawrence Landrum, Jr..
The combined churches were able to implement their building program. On February 4, 1940, Bishop A. Frank Smith preached the first sermon in the new sanctuary on Pecore Street. The merger and move had brought about a name change. The church was now named St. Mark’s Methodist church. It is now known as St. Mark’s United Methodist Church. Its history may be found in Twelve Adventurous Decades: 1875-1990 by Raymond Moers.

Postscript: The Norhill-Woodland merger one year before the Methodist unification was a major news story covered throughout the United States by both the religious and secular press. One effect of the merger was advancing the career of the Woodland pastor, D. L. Landrum. He was only 34 at the time, but had shown considerable organizational ability. His next appointment after St. Mark’s was First Methodist Longview. He was then Superintendent of the Galveston District, Lakeview, and the Beaumont District.


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