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.


Post a Comment

<< Home