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.