Saturday, October 08, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 9

Ebenezer Methodist Church Organized October 10, 1858

The Texas Forest Service has been much in the news in 2011. The double tragedy of drought and wild fire has been devastating to our forests, and made many of us more aware of how important our forests are to us. The TFS does excellent work providing good stewardship for the beautiful forests of Texas. One of its programs calls attention to the importance of trees in Texas history by maintaining a web site that highlights famous Texas trees.
One of the famous trees of Texas is near New Fountain in Medina County and is important in Texas Methodist history.

New Fountain was first known as Soldier’s Camp because it was a convenient rendezvous point for soldiers patrolling the road that led west from San Antonio. Many of the early settlers were part of the Castro colony and were Alsatian Catholics. As the colony prospered, D’Hanis, Quihi, and Vandenberg were founded in the area. The settlement at New Fountain received its name because a creek disappeared in the fissures of the creek bottom only to reappear in the creek bed several miles downstream—in other words a “New Fountain.”

The Texas Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church South organized a German District with John Wesley Devilbiss as the presiding elder. (see post for Jan. 11, 2011) In 1857 he held a camp meeting in the area. The next year on October 10, 1858 the Rev. F. A. Schaper assembled a group of German pioneers under a large live oak tree. Among the attendees were John and Aalke Wiemers. They were gloriously converted. At that same meeting Schaper organized the Ebenezer Methodist Episcopal South. The oak was on the Wiemers property. The couple donated a lot for the erection of a small pole building about 16 by 20 feet. There were 15 charter members.

Just weeks after October 10, Ebenezer became one of the first churches in the newly organized Rio Grande Mission Conference which had been authorized by the 1858 General Conference of the MECS. The Rio Grande Mission Conference eventually became the Southwest Texas Annual Conference.

By 1872 the Ebenezer Church had outgrown its simple pole structure so John and Aalke Wiemers donated an acre of land in a more convenient location for a new church building. Friedrich and Antje Muennink donated two acres for a cemetery across the road. As was the custom of the time, the church members donated their labor for the construction of the new church building. It was also customary at the time for German preachers to teach school during the week. Such was the case under the pastorate of Jacob Kern. The German farmers made great sacrifices so that their children would receive good education. At least 13 of their sons became Methodist preachers.

The 1872 church building still stands in good repair. There are also modern Sunday School and meeting facilities. They are testaments to the vitality of the congregation that continues to worship and serve 153 years after organizing under the live oak tree.
What about the oak that was large enough to shade a meeting in 1858? It’s still there and promises to have a continuing presence in Texas Methodist history through one of its seedlings. On March 12, 2005, one of the seedlings was planted at Lakeview Methodist Conference Center in honor of Bishop John Wesley Hardt, a great-grandson of John and Aalke Wiemers.


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