Saturday, September 24, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 25

Grace United Methodist Dedicates Historic Site Medallion September 25, 2011

On Sunday, September 25, 2011, Grace United Methodist Church, 1245 Heights Blvd., in Houston, will dedicate its United Methodist Historic Site Medallion. This recognition was granted by the General Commission on Archives and History after approval by the Texas Annual Conference.

Try to imagine Houston before it became the petroleum center, before the dredging of the Ship Channel, before public health measures controlled mosquito-borne diseases, before air conditioning. The city on the banks of Buffalo Bayou boasted of being “where 17 railroads meet the sea.” Those railroads funneled lumber and cotton to Galveston, still undamaged by the hurricane of 1900, where those raw materials entered world commerce.

Houston was growing, mainly along the Washington Avenue corridor and around the railroad shops northeast of downtown. As the city grew, it created new opportunities for developers. Since its founding by the Allen Brothers in 1836 Houston had been friendly to developers, but in 1892 a new transportation technology made possible a new era in development. That new technology was the electric street car. The Omaha and South Texas Land Company bought 1,175 acres of land on the north side of Buffalo Bayou, constructed a street car line to downtown, surveyed streets and lots, and began selling those lots.

The development became known as the Houston Heights and proved to be a great success. It had advantages of a city including a school, a post office, hotel, opera house, and after 1896 its own municipal government. It also had both Buffalo Bayou and White Oak Bayou available for recreation and what we would call today a Green Belt. The streetcar line made it possible for Heights residents to live in this pleasant setting and still find employment downtown.

In 1905 the Woman’s Home Missionary Society of the MECS organized a society with the intention of starting a church. They worshiped in homes, a school, a skating rink, and City Hall before erecting their first building at 13th and Yale. The first preacher was S. S. McKinney. Among his most illustrious successors was W. C. Martin, who was later elected bishop.
Since 1971 the congregation has been worshipping in a sanctuary that faces Heights Blvd.

What about the Heights? The Heights gave up its own municipal government and became part of the city of Houston in 1918. As part of the annexation agreement, the Heights retained its prohibition of alcoholic beverages. In the middle decades of the 20th century it appeared that the Heights was destined to go the way of many inner city neighborhoods. The streetcar was replaced by the automobile, and suburbs stretched farther and farther in all directions.

A group of visionaries refused to allow their neighborhood to succumb to urban blight. In 1973 they organized the Houston Heights Association and eventually made the Heights a shining example of historic preservation. Today the Houston Heights is one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Houston. Grace UMC has been and continues to be part of that success.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist HIstory September 18

Pasadena First United Methodist Church Dedicates Historical Markers September 18, 2011

On Sunday September 18, 2011, First United Methodist Church of Pasadena Texas will observe a very special historical event. On that day Bishop Huie will lead services in which not one, but two, historical markers will be dedicated.

One marker is the United Methodist Historic Site Designation #458. That marker is issued by the General Commission on Archives and History after approval by Annual Conference. The Texas Annual Conference also approved historic site designations for Grace UMC in Houston Heights and Greggton UMC. Other UM Historic sites for 2011 included Old Mutare Mission in Mutare, Zimbabwe, the Mary Johnston Hospital in Manila, Philippines, and the College of West Africa in Monrovia, Liberia.

The other marker is awarded by the Texas Historical Commission, an arm of state government that works with county historical commissions to identify and preserve the historic resources of Texas.

Pasadena FUMC is the oldest church in Pasadena and began in 1896. They followed the usual Methodist practice of meeting in homes and the school until they were able to build their own church building in 1907. That building was replaced by others in 1933 and in 1955. Those churches were at the corner of Broadway and Shaver. In 1986 the church relocated to Fairmont Parkway.

Pasadena FUMC has an active Historical Society which maintains historical displays of artifacts and photos in Room 221.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 11

Bolivar Peninsula the Scene of Church Conflict, September 15, 1898

In 1898 the Bolivar Peninsula was experiencing a spurt of development. Rail service from Point Bolivar to High Island and Beaumont was completed in 1896. Barges carried rail cars of freight and passengers across Bolivar Roads to Galveston Island. The federal government was improving the Port of Galveston, and part of that improvement was the construction of a jetty on the peninsula. Fort Travis, designed to protect the entrance to the harbor was under construction. Farmers tilled the sandy soils and provided melons and other vegetables to the Galveston and Beaumont markets. Ranches grazed cattle on the salt grass prairies and marshes. Communities developed on the peninsula. Patton Beach (today Crystal Beach) had a post office in 1898. Caplen had two hotels and a summer population of several hundred. Where communities developed in Texas, Methodist churches were soon to follow. The East Texas Conference appointed a circuit rider to the Point Bolivar Circuit which stretched along the coast from Point Bolivar to High Island.

Unfortunately conflict between the MEC and the MEC South developed. John Williams the MECS pastor on the Port Bolivar Circuit explained it this way in the Texas Christian Advocate, September 15, 1898.

The Northern M. E. Church, in the great Gulf Mission Conference, is doing some proselyting (sic) in this section also—in fact they have, without invitation, come into my charge and organized one of my societies into a Northern Church—every member of that society, with two exceptions, joining them. I am told that they tell those who will hear it that they are the mother Church, and that therefore they have the right to present their claims. I am told they have recently had what they call a “big revival” at High Island, at which point they organized a society out of a Southern Methodist society belonging to my charge—Port Bolivar Circuit.

The next two years the Point Bolivar Circuit of the MECS was able to report 81 members. In spite of forming a society from a former MECS charge, the MEC seems not to have been able to been able to form much of a presence on the peninsula. It was much more effective in Port Arthur just a few miles away where the northern church was able to establish not just a strong church but also a college (Port Arthur College).

Bolivar Peninsula is extremely vulnerable to hurricanes. Less than two years after Rev. Williams complained about the Northern church stealing his members, the whole region was devastated by the storm of 1900. In 2008 Hurricane Ike brought death and destruction to the same area. Before and after images may be found at

Saturday, September 03, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 4

U. S. and Vivienne Newton Gray Sail for Liberia, Sept. 8, 1948

Two of the most distinguished missionaries Texas Methodism ever produced sailed from New Orleans on September 8, 1948. The missionary couple, U. S. and Vivienne N. Gray, was on the way to Liberia where God would abundantly bless their efforts.

Ulysses Samuel Gray was born in Pin Oak, Robertson County, in 1913. He received a call to the ministry at the age of 11 and was licensed to preach at the age of 13. He attended Wiley College and then transferred to Clark University and Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta. He received his divinity degree in May, 1948, and the following September, he and Mrs. Gray left New Orleans for Liberia.

The missionary couple threw themselves into the task at hand. They built Gbarnga Methodist Mission in Gbarnga. The mission eventually included a church, school, homes both on the mission and in town, and the first indoor gymnasium in the country. They brought electricity and a sewer system to the interior. They planted trees and raised livestock. They also raised a generation of church and civic leaders whose influence in Liberia was immense.

Public recognition of U. S. and Vivienne Newton Gray came. Schools were named for them. President William Tolbert, Jr., awarded them the Liberian Star, the highest honor awarded to civilians. Trinity UMC in Houston honored Vivienne Gray in a stained glass window which may be seen at

Many Texas Methodists felt a special relationship with the U. S. and Vivienne. When the couple toured Texas churches in a ministry of mission interpretation, church members felt an instant connection with the work in Liberia. Gbarnga became a “can’t miss” destination for Texans on mission tours. Scores of Texas Methodists visited U. S. and Vivienne in Liberia and were given warm hospitality and came away inspired by the mission work.

After retiring from the foreign mission field, the Grays moved to Marshall where U. S. was Dean of Men at Wiley College. Vivienne died in 1988, and U. S. in 2009.