Saturday, March 31, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History April 1

Texas Conference Commissioners Meet in Galveston to Create Soule University, April 2, 1855

The 15th session of the Texas Annual Conference, meeting in Chappell Hill in December, 1854, authorized a commission to create a school.  That commission met the following April in Galveston and entertained proposals from four groups to provide a location for that school.

The composition of the commission reflected sort of a “cabinet without a bishop.”   It included Presiding Elders of the conference.  R. W. Kennon was host P. E. of the Galveston District.  Solomon Yarborough of Huntsville, Homer Thrall of Rutersville, Daniel Morse of Austin, J. E. Ferguson of Victoria were also presiding elders.  Robert Alexander, the acknowledged dean of the conference, had become agent for the American Bible Society at the previous conference.  Any such commission would have to include him.  The Reverends Josiah Whipple, James Wesson, and John S. McGee also made their way to Galveston to participate.  (Previous blogs have told stories of Whipple, Wesson, and McGee.  Enter each name in the search window to access them.) 

Presiding Elder Kennon chaired the commission.  He opened the meeting on April 2, but read a telegram informing them that Whipple, Morse, and McGee were still in Houston and would arrive later that night.  On motion of Robert Alexander the commission adjourned without acting. 

On April 3 the commission reconvened.  They considered proposals from Richmond, San Felipe, Waco, and Chappell Hill.  All four of the proposed sites were along the Brazos River, and a case could be made for each.  There was, however, no contest.  R. J. Swearingen and William Chappell presented notes and pledges amounting to almost $50,000 in support of the Chappell Hill proposal.  The vote for Chappell Hill was unanimous.
The commissioners named the new school in honor of Bishop Joshua Soule.  The trustees hired William Halsey as president, and classes began.  The Texas Legislature charted Soule University on Feb. 2, 1856, less than a year after the commissioners chose Chappell Hill. 

Soule University enjoyed rosy prospects for success.  It enjoyed the patronage of wealthy Methodists and the East Texas Conference added its support in 1856.   The Civil War and a yellow fever epidemic devastated Soule University, but its legacy lives on at Southwestern University

Sunday, March 25, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History   March 25

Prohibitionist R. C. Dial Beaten by Wets Near Farmersville, March 1901

The one social issue that consumed Texas Methodists more than any other at the turn of the 20th century was the prohibition of alcohol beverages.  Farmersville, a locally important agricultural trade center in Collin County, became a focus of the battle in 1901 when violence erupted over the issue. 

It was once the custom for farm families to come to town on Saturdays to do their shopping.  Farmersville, in the middle of a rich cotton growing region was one such commercial center.  Farm families flocked to the dry goods, hardware, and grocery stores.  Unfortunately, gambling dens and bootleggers  also attracted customers. 

Methodists and their allies in the battle for prohibition were naturally offended by the immorality in Farmersville.  In March 1901 the dry faction organized a mass meeting that resulted in an ultimatum for the forces of immorality to get out of town.  One of the speakers was R. C. Dial, editor of the Greenville Banner.  After the rally he boarded the train for home.  Unfortunately six “Wets” also boarded the train.   The party consisting of Gus Hooks, Jay Horn, Jeff Hines, Charles Yeary, Sam McKinney, and Jim Anderson, soon found Mr. Dial and assaulted him.  They departed the train at Floyd, just seven miles east of Farmersville so they could then board the next west bound train back to Farmersville.  They never made it home.  The Hunt County sheriff arrested them right before their train crossed back into Collin County, and took them back to jail at Greenville

In addition to the criminal charges, the six men also had to deal with a $25,000 civil suit Dial filed against them.  The charge read in part,

Did pull out plaintiff’s  beard and hair, and did cut, maim, and disfigure plaintiff about the ear, nose, eyes, and mouth, and other parts of the head and body, causing great and sever loss of blood, humiliating him in the presence of other passengers. . .

 Three of the defendants were tried immediately and found guilty after the testimony of Rev. Morris of the Farmersville Methodist church.  They received a variety of fines and jail terms.  The other three defendants prolonged the case through appeals until May 1902. 

Dragging the case out into 1902 meant that the local newspapers and the Texas Christian Advocate would continue to cover it.  After all, the story was too good to let die.  It illustrated a main theme of the prohibitionist argument, i. e., alcohol was at the center of many other crimes including spousal abuse, child abuse, disorderly conduct, desertion, assault, and so on.   Six men attacking an unarmed, innocent man just because he wanted to express his free speech rights! Outrageous!  Few incidents could demonstrate the depravity of the liquor interests better than this one!.

The remaining three defendants eventually lost their appeals and received jail terms and fines.  What about R. C. Dial?  He healed and continued to make speeches in favor of prohibition.  It would take more than a gang of six ruffians to shut him up.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History March 18

Sam Jones Revival Begins in Fort Worth, March 22, 1890

The renowned revivalist Sam Jones arrived in Fort Worth on the morning of Saturday, March 22, 1890.  His fame had preceded him, and a newly constructed tabernacle was waiting for him.  He announced services for 10:30, 3:00, and 7:30.  As was the custom most of the Methodist churches announced that they would not hold Sunday services so that members could attend the revival. (Missouri Ave. and Mulkey Memorial were the exceptions that did hold services.

Samuel Porter Jones was born in Alabama in 1847 but moved with his family to Cartersville, Georgia, in 1855.  After Civil War service he studied law and was admitted to the Georgia bar.  Unfortunately his drinking ruined his legal career and he worked at various manual occupations.  In 1872 he promised his dying father that he would quit drinking.  A week after his father’s death, he joined the Methodist church.  His commitment to religion increased, and he was admitted to the North Georgia Conference of the MECS and began riding circuits.

Invitations from fellow preacher to preach revivals widened his circuit, and he was made an agent of the conference orphanage in Decatur.  In that job, he travelled raising funds at revivals.  The breakthrough revival that catapulted him into national fame occurred in Nashville in 1885.  His most famous convert was Tom Ryman whose riverboats carried not only commercial trade, but also barrooms and casinos.  After his conversion under Jones, Ryman built an auditorium for preachers.  That auditorium later became the home of the Grand Ole Opry.

The Nashville revivals led to even more invitations.  By his own estimate from September 1885 to September 1886 he preached 1,000 sermons to 3,000,000 persons.   His was a simple message “Quit Your Meanness.”  The emphasis was always on leading the good Christian life, and he avoided theological themes. 

A reporter from the Fort Worth Daily Gazette covered the opening session of the revival, and readers of the Sunday edition were treated to a transcription of the sermon.
The transcription of the sermon illustrates the revivalist’s emphasis on practical living rather than theology.  He often used images of rural life which related to the lives of his listeners. The Saturday morning sermon in Fort Worth captures one of those images.  Jones did not close his sermon with an altar call for penitent sinners.  He knew full well than he was violating standard revival practice by omitting the altar call.  His told the congregation not to worry.

I had better bring this sermon to a close, now. But I think some of you are saying “Why I never knew a revival meeting before where they didn’t ask the sinners to stand up and come forward.’  Never you mind about the sinners.  I will attend to them.  But I never kill my hogs until the water is hot. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History    March 11

St. Mark’s Orange Organized to Serve Defense Industry Workers, March, 1944

World War II transformed Texas, and therefore Texas Methodism, as few other events have.  President Franklin Roosevelt called America the “Arsenal of Democracy,” as American industry ramped up production to provide aircraft, boats, tanks, fuels, lubricants, munitions, and all the other manufactured goods necessary for fighting war in the industrial age.  All regions of Texas were impacted by the war effort, either from the establishment of military posts, prisoner of war camps, or war production facilities. The Dallas-Fort Worth area specialized in aircraft. The Gulf Coastal Plain from Corpus Christi to Baton Rouge was covered, almost overnight, with refineries, chemical plants, metal smelters, synthetic rubber factories, and other industries.
Employment opportunities in those plants lured thousands of Texans from farms and pine forests to work for wages that seemed almost too good to be true.  A state demographer estimated that about 350,000 Texans moved from rural areas to the new defense industries in the 18 months after Pearl Harbor
Orange, Texas, near the mouth of the Sabine River, was one of the cities most impacted.  It was already a port which specialized in lumber exports.  As the war effort proceeded, it became a ship building center.  The metropolitan area population reached 60,000.

Orange, Beaumont, Port Arthur, along with several smaller cities became known as the “Golden Triangle” .and became a major destination for rural Texans and Louisianans. The boom produced problems including the Beaumont riots of 1943 and increased gambling and prostitution.   There were also positive developments such as the establishment of a Methodist effort to build new churches.

J. W. Mills was the Beaumont District Superintendent during the war years.   He established a District Missionary Board headed by Liberty layman, Bill Daniel (brother of future governor and senator Price Daniel).  ` The Beaumont District was able to have W. W. Hawthorne appointed “District Missionary,’ and secure the services of a deaconess, Miss Willie Mae Porter.  The mission team scouted possible locations and decided that the greatest need for a new church was in Orange.  On March 5, 1944, the new congregation, St. Mark’s Methodist Church, met for the first time in the auditorium of Anderson Elementary School, 900 Park Ave.   The District Mission Board bought a lot nearby at Park Ave. and 14th Street.  Bishop A. Frank Smith appointed Rev. Sidney Blackburn to the new charge. 
The charter membership rolls were left open for two months after the March 5 organizational meeting until Sunday, May 14, --Mother’s Day, and the goal was to have 100 members by that date. 
On May 14 there were 90 persons in the congregation, but the membership goal of 100 was reached at the evening service. 
St. Mark’s was only the first of many new churches started by district mission boards.  The end of the war did not mean an end of the urbanization dynamic of the Gulf Coastal Plain.  Consumer goods such as automobiles, tires, appliances, radios, and even nylon stockings had been rationed or in short supply during World War II.  On the other hand consumers had accumulated wealth because of the long hours worked and war bonds purchased.  The pent up consumer demand meant that the transition from a war economy to a peace economy meant the industries of the coastal plains kept right on humming.  With the exception of ship building, most of the wartime production could easily be converted to the civilian economy.  Rather than closing down the factories that had so recently produced military goods, the refineries and chemical plants actually expanded. Farm boys returning from military service found their labor was no longer needed for agricultural production.  Farms had mechanized during the war with tractors replacing mules and mechanical cotton pickers becoming more common.  Many of them, upon demobilization, found employment in industry. 

 As the 1940’s gave way to the 1950’s population in Jefferson, Brazoria, Orange, Harris, and Galveston Counties continued to grow.  As suburbs spread across the flat coastal plains, Methodist churches popped up like mushrooms after a rain.  The general plan for starting new churches followed the St. Mark’s example.  The district (or later the Houston-area districts working together) would provide a building lot and parsonage.  The conference would appoint a young pastor to organize a church in a school. The expectation was that the church would grow quickly enough to begin a building program and become self-sufficient.

 Not all of the churches survived. In retrospect we can see now that the Texas Conference probably was too enthusiastic in building churches.  We know now that Methodists were riding a national wave of religious enthusiasm in the post war world.  Many of the new suburbanites were “legacy Methodists” who were predisposed to join whatever Methodist church was nearby.  Some of the churches were poorly located and often built too close to each other.  Some of the young preachers chosen to start churches did not possess the necessary gifts of ministry for such a task.  On the other hand, other churches founded during the boom times of the 1940’s and 1950’s survived, adapted to changing demographic and social trends,  and continue their ministries to this day.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History March 4

Velasco Editor Writes “Support the Pastor”  March 6, 1892

A cluster of villages near the mouth of the Brazos River, Velasco, Surfside, and Quintana, proved irresistible to developers.  As the natural outlet for the cotton and sugar cane produced in the rich Brazos bottom lands, it was natural that communities would develop in the area.  Steamboats, including the famous Yellow Stone, plied the muddy waters even before the Texas Revolution.   Plantations along the river in Brazoria and Fort Bend Counties were among the most productive in Texas

The small villages never really fulfilled their promise as port cities.  Traffic was diverted to superior wharf and warehouse facilities at Galveston.   The coastal villages became known for  beach resorts and waterfowl hunting. 

In 1891 a group of developers revived the town of Velasco.  In only one year promoters sold $1,000,000 worth of lots.  A post office and shipping facilities were built.  Promoters of the era recognized the need for churches, and offered the MECS two building lots worth $3000 if the denomination would erect a church building costing $3000 on those lots.  J. H. Shapard, vice president of the Velasco National Bank and lay minister issued a state wide appeal to the 157,000 Texas Methodists to raise the necessary funds, and the editor of Velasco Daily Times editorialized about the need for contributions to pay the pastor’s salary.  Modern readers may find the editor’s sarcastic approach amusing.

Fealty to church vows demands that the ministry be supported.  A canadidate (sic) comes forward and the pastor propounds the question:  “Will you be subject to the discipline of the Church, attend upon its ordinances, and support its institutions?” 

Yes, sir, I will support the preacher if I like him; if he is a sociable fellow and makes himself agreeable.   But he must not fill the church with the smell of Sulphur and take much stock in hell fire. He must not abuse innocent amusements.  He must preach Christ, and not be harping on saloons, theaters, circuses, dancing, and dress. I will give him something if he is a grand preacher, draws a crowd, and overshade (sic) the other Churches.  But I don not want (him poking around) in my private business. When I want to give anything, I will hand it to the preacher myself. The stewards need not bother themselves about me. My money is my own; I made it, and I will pay it out myself.

The Velasco developers of the 1890s did not turn the town into a major port for shipping cattle, cotton, and sugar.  The bar at the mouth of the Brazos proved to be a persistent problem.  The problem of the bar was solved by the diversion of the river and the utilization of the former channel as deep water access to one of the most heavily industrialized areas in the world.   In 1957 Velasco was incorporated into the larger city of Freeport.