Friday, August 26, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History August 28

Report on McKenzie Institute in Texas Christian Advocate, September 1, 1855

The premier educational institution in pre-Civil War Texas was McKenzie Institute near Clarksville. At its height it enrolled 300 students and employed 9 instructors. It was created through the efforts of one of the great Texas Methodist preachers, John W. P. McKenzie. He imposed a strict discipline on the students such as requiring prayers at 4:00 a.m., and provided what was probably the best education available in Texas in 1850’s. Unfortunately the Civil War came. Students went into the military and McKenzie was formally closed in 1868.

J. W. P. McKenzie’s efforts are not forgotten. Southwestern University claims McKenzie College as one of its four root institutions.

Here is a report from a visitor to McKenzie which appeared in the Texas Christian Advocate, September 1, 1855.

"Having pulled and trudged through that miserable black mud, in the midst of a splendid prairie farm, yonder is the McKenzie Institute. Oh! how changed in nine years. Then the dwelling was a rude log house, shedded in barn fashion, with a few offices in the yard—the school-room, a rude log cabin, a few hundred paces distant in the woods. Now, as you approach from an opposite direction, you behold the splendid white mansion, two stories high. This is the dwelling—also, the upper stories, the female department of the institution. A wise arrangement this, as the young ladies are the constant inmates of the family of the Principal. About one hundred paces distant, stands the main college building, three stories high. And, about fifty or sixty paces distant from the college, stand two large buildings, each two stories high, with galleries—all well furnished and ventilated; so that students may, in comfort, pursue their studies summer and winter. These are the dormitories. They will accommodate, with convenience, about one hundred and fifty pupils. Young men had better apply soon, or they will be disappointed in getting a place the next session in this institution. As I reached the examination at a late period, and there being a regular visiting committee appointed to report the examination and prospects of the institution, I forbear saying more than that the large audience seemed highly delighted with the exercises. The speeches of the young men were highly creditable. One would suppose, as a hearer, that some of them breathed rather strongly in party political atmosphere.
But the most stupendous thought of all connected with this institution is, how did one man, with limited means, commence fifteen years ago, and build up such an institution? Let no one say that it was the Church that helped and sustained him. He helped and sustained the Church, in Northern Texas, sometimes almost alone! Yea, and his institution also. His donations in various forms, to my knowledge, have not averaged less than one thousand dollars annually, for the last nine years. He has educated and turned into the active itinerant ranks, from two to three young men every year, and now donates the whole college buildings, with twelve acres of land, to take effect at his death, to the East-Texas Conference. The gift is as liberal as the mind and economy was enlarged that made it. But how was all this mighty work, the cost of which was not less than thirty thousand dollars, accomplished? By the day and night toil, vigilance, perseverance, and economy of Brother and Sister McKenzie. Yes, the latter name deserves as much, if not more praise in this noble work, than the former. She who has watched around the sick-bed of the student, and in her soothing, gentle, amiable manner, made him feel that both mother and sister were there, will never be forgotten by us boys.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History August 21

Texas Methodists Cope with Economic Depression August 1933

As Texans continue to suffer from the effects of heat, drought, and global economic problems, it is time to consider how Texas Methodists coped with adversity in the 1930s.

By August 1933 the effects of the Great Depression were taking their toll on Texas Methodists. As the price of both cotton and oil dropped to unheard lows, so did the ability of members to contribute to their churches. Annual conference receipts dropped more than fifty percent from 1929 to 1933. (Central Texas $1,682,000 to $687,335; North Texas $1,419,000 to $730,000; Northwest Texas $1,320,000 to $591,000; Texas $1.877,000 to $1,053,000’ and West Texas $1,276,000 to $629,000). The total amount paid to all preachers in salary in all the conferences in the MECS dropped from $1,911,000 to $1,264,000. Some of the church’s colleges could not pay faculty salary and offered to let their families eat in the college dining halls. Tyler Street Church in Dallas could not meet the payments on bonds it had issued and the bond holders foreclosed on the property. SMU was in such straits that its trustees sold 273 acres of property on the north side of the campus. Real estate prices were so depressed that the sale raised only $83,221.

Wesley College in Greenville, Kidd-Key in Sherman, and Weatherford College all closed, and Lon Morris, Southwestern, and other institutions barely survived. The Methodist Home in Waco, Lon Morris in Jacksonville, and other church institutions with dining halls and dairies thankfully received donations and tuition payments in the form of home-canned produce and meat, box car loads of hay, and whatever else church members had.

Plans for new church buildings were deferred, and missionary support was slashed. The author’s great-uncle, Charles T. Hardt, had to give up his missionary post in Poland and return to the West Texas Conference.

Churches had to become more deliberative and imaginative in their fund raising. Before the Great Depression a typical rural church would get by with contributions in the collection plate to pay on-going expenses such as salary and utilities. Most churches never had an annual pledge campaign. It didn’t make sense to ask for weekly contributions because farmers had income only once a year when they sold their crops. When the crops were harvested and sold, there would be a drive to raise money for the connectional expenses which were called “assessments.” (We now call them apportionments.) As the financial strain worsened, churches moved more and more to an annual pledge drive in which every member of the church, even those who attended irregularly, would be asked to put a pledge in writing. The use of pre-printed, numbered offering envelopes became almost universal.

Even before the Great Depression, a Texas Conference preacher, Clarence W. Lokey, had developed an imaginative plan. When he arrived at Edgewood in the Tyler District, he found the church had not paid all the salary due his predecessor and that the bank had foreclosed on the parsonage.

He and his members developed a plan called “The Lord’s Acre.” The farmers who participated promised to designate one acre of their farm or a calf or a piglet as the Lord’s. The proceeds from the sale of that designated acre or livestock would be donated to the church. The “Edgewood Plan” spread, and Lokey was appointed Conference Director of Rural Work so he could devote full time to spreading the idea.

The Great Depression and World War II changed almost everything about Texas and Texas Methodism. They had no way of knowing of the expansion and prosperity that would occur in the post-war years.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

comment on previous post

The post of July 24 elicited a response from a reader. I responded to a comment in the response but the site would not accept my comments so I post them here.

Thank you for you comments about This Week in Texas Methodist History, and pardon me for the delay in responding to your inquiry concerning ministerial education. I must admit that I did not look at the "comments" section until a friend brought your response to my attention.

Even though Methodism had its origins on a university campus (Oxford) where John and Charles Wesley participated in the "Holy Club" so methodically that they were called "Methodists" in derision, educational standards for Methodist preachers in the 19th century did not require divinity school. As a matter of fact, the expectation that all preachers will receive formal seminary training is a post-World War II phenonmenon. As recently as my childhood in the 1950s I knew many preachers in small rural churches who did not possess a B. A. much less a seminary degree.

The first Methodist seminary was Boston University (chartered by Mass. in 1869, even though it had earlier antecendents).
Methodist preachers in 19th century Texas varied widely. Some of them such as Littleton Fowler, T. O. Summers, Chauncey Richardson, Homer Thrall, were college educated. Remember that general liberal arts college in those days included Greek and Latin. The text for Greek class was almost always the New Testament. Many more of them had little more than a grade school education.

Their theological education consisted of the "Course of Study". When a man presented himself for membership in an annual conference, he would receive a probationary membership. One of the parts of that probation was to read four books and come to next year's annual conference ready to be examined on the contents of those books. That process would repeat for three more years. Today annual conference consists mainly of the reports given by the various committee and agencies of the church, but in the period in which you are interested, annual conference consisted mainly of examining the character and behavior of each of the members and examining the younger preachers on how well they had learned the books that had been their assigned reading.

What were the books? The required books for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year probationary candidates stayed remarkably stable through most of the 19th century. The core was Wesley's Sermons. The main commentaries were by Fletcher and Watson. There were specific commentaries on books of the Bible and church history, sometimes a book on missions etc. There is a letter in the Fowler Collection at Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, SMU, from Daniel Carl to John Woolam from 1841 that gives the flavor.

My studies I have red through the new Testament very near twice am now reading in the old part of the Bible--have red one volum of Westley's Sermons through or nearly so have been studying Watsons Theological Dictionary and Westley's Notes some not mutch.

The Course of Study still exists and provides a path to full ordination for preachers who cannot or wish not to attend seminary on a full time basis. Rather than self-study, it now consists mainly of intensive summer school courses at the seminaries.

There was an anti-intellectual bias in 19th century Methodism. The key element in anyone's spiritual life was a personal religious experience that was emotional rather than intellectual. The bias of emotion over intellect was reinforced when the first Methodist educational effort (Cokesbury College in Maryland) burned. Some church members interpreted the fire as a sign that God did not want Methodists to be involved in schooling. T. O. Summers reports that he was criticized for wearing reading glasses. Wearing glasses was a sign that you had ruined your eyes by reading so much.

As the century progressed though, and Methodist laity became more educated , they demanded better educated preachers. Only a very tiny fraction of Methodist preachers in the 19th century had formal seminary training. Those who desired it had to leave. Besides Boston (already mentioned) there were Yale and and Harvard. Princeton was highly suspect because of its Calvinistic/Presbyterian roots. A few such as John M. Moore (later bishop) went to Germany which was the center of theological education in the period in which you are interested.

With the establishment of Vanderbilt Unviersity in Nashville, the Methodist Epsicopal Church South finally entered the field of theological education. Vanderbilt did not remain under control of the MECS and, although Vanderbilt continued to train preachers, Emory and SMU assumed the main roles of seminaries for the MECS (Emory for east of the Mississippi and SMU for west of the Mississippi)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History August 14

William B. Travis Writes Appeal for Methodist Missionaries, August 17, 1835

About six months before he wrote his famous appeal from the Alamo, William B. Travis wrote another appeal, this one for Methodist missionaries who would “produce much good in this benighted land.” The letter was published in the New York Christian Advocate and became a favorite source of quotations for generations of Texas Methodist historians.

The full text of the letter is so readily available in secondary works such as Phelan (vol. 1) that I will not reproduce here.

Travis presents an interesting problem for Texas Methodist historians. How tightly do we embrace Travis as a member of the early Texas Methodist community? William B, Travis was definitely part of the Methodist community in 1835. Besides the August 17, 1835 letter, there had been a previous letter to the Mission Board from Travis, David Ayres, and Lydia McHenry. In a characteristic act of bravado he offered to provide security at the September, 1835 Caney Creek Camp Meeting. He left his six year old son, Charles Edward Travis, in the custody of David Ayres at Montville where Lydia McHenry and Ann Ayres were operating a boarding school. John Wesley and Maria Kenney admired Travis so much that after his death at the Alamo they renamed their daughter, Emily Travis Kenney (b. Dec. 10, 1835). His name appears on the list of persons at the Caney Creek Camp Meeting who pledged to support Kenney if he would form a circuit.

So what’s the problem? It is obvious that William B. Travis was an enthusiastic participant in Methodist activities of 1835. The problem lies in that most Texas Methodist history is written from a fairly pious point of view, and William B. Travis led a life that would have excluded him from membership in a Methodist class meeting—big time!

Travis had come to Texas under a cloud. He deserted his pregnant wife and 18-month old son and fled to Texas. One persistent story is that the desertion occurred because he suspected his wife, Rosanna, of infidelity and killed the man he suspected of fathering the unborn child. His diary (edited and published by Robert E. Davis in 1966) shows he kept a running tally of his sexual conquests. The diary leaves little doubt that he was having relations with Rebecca Cummings on Mill Creek while he was still legally married to Rosanna.

Of course Travis was not alone. Immigration to Texas in the 1830s was a common response to people wishing to leave legal, family, and economic problems behind. Some of those with shady reputations became upstanding pillars of righteousness in the Republic of Texas.

Two weeks after Travis wrote his appeal for missionaries the second Caney Creek Camp Meeting convened about 20 miles north of San Felipe where Travis lived. The meeting was well attended. John Wesley Kenney and W. P. Smith (both Methodist) and Sumner Bacon and Peter Fullinwider (both Presbyterian) preached. An informal quarterly conference was organized and a pledge list was circulated. Thirty-one people pledged to support John Wesley Kenney if he would organize a circuit and preach. William B. Travis was one of those persons pledging.

Political events would dictate that Kenney would not organize the circuit. On Saturday, September 5, while the camp meeting was in full swing on Caney, there was a barbecue in Brazoria. Stephen F. Austin was finally home from his long confinement in Mexico City. The barbecue was a welcome home party. Austin gave a speech. The unjust imprisonment in Mexico City had made him reconsider his position about a break with Mexico. He was now ready to join the faction advocating independence.

Events moved quickly during the autumn of 1835. The skirmish at Gonzales, the siege of Bexar, and the organization of volunteer forces swept aside the possibility of Kenney’s being able to form a circuit. In December Travis received a commission as a lieutenant colonel. In March he died defending the Alamo. He was only twenty-seven years old. Methodists and other Texians embraced him as a martyr. His letter to the Advocate meant that he was also known to the wider Methodist community. News of the victory at San Jacinto arrived while that Methodist community was meeting in General Conference at Cincinnati. Missionaries came the next year.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History August 7

Celebrate Bicentennial of Robert Alexander's Birth August 7 1811-August 7 2011

As Texas Methodists gather for worship and Sunday School on August 7, they would do well to remember the bicentennial of Robert Alexander's birth, August 7, 1811 in Smith County, Tennessee.

Alexander was the first of the three officially commissioned missionaries to arrive in the Republic of Texas, crossing the Sabine River in the summer of 1837. Although junior to the other members of the mission, Martin Ruter and Littleton Fowler, he was to outlive both of them by decades and was involved in almost every signficant event in Texas Methodist history until his death in 1882.

He was presiding elder of several districts, presiding officer of the Texas Annual Conference when no bishop was able to come, leader of the Texas Conference delegation to eight General Conferences, one of the main supporters of Rutersville College, chair of the commission that led to the founding of Southwestern Unviersity, President of the Texas Conference Missionary Society, Representative of the American Bible Society, college trustee, member of the Board of Vistors to Methodist colleges, supporter of Texas Methodist journalism, etc.

About six months after his arrival in Texas, in January, 1838, he married Eliza Ayres, the daughter of David Ayres, the most prominent and generous Methodist lay man of the era. The couple lived in Rutersville, Cottage Hill (their ranch in northern Austin County) Belton, Waco, then back to Cottage Hill, then to Perkins Island in Galveston Bay, and then to Chappell Hill. Both Eliza and Robert died in Chappell Hill and are now buried in Brenham.

The Texas United Methodist Historical Society celebrated the bicentennial of Alexander's birth during its March meeting. They honored a man who cast a giant shadow over 19th century Texas Methodism.