Saturday, May 05, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History  May 6

General Conference Convenes in Dallas, May 6, 1902

Bishop Henry Clay Morrison hammered the 14th General Conference of the MECS into session on May 6, 1902, in the auditorium on the Fair Grounds in Dallas, Texas.  It seems that local organizers had forgotten to secure a gavel so Morrison used a common carpenter’s hammer.

The fact that the General Conference was meeting in Dallas was a point of pride not only for Dallas, but also for all of Texas.  Although Dallas had been founded in the 1840s, the city’s real growth had occurred in the late 19th century when Dallas became the hub of a regional rail system and parlayed that transportation advantage into becoming the most important commercial and financial center of the region.  In 1887 Texas Methodists moved the offices of the Texas Christian Advocate from Galveston to Dallas.  It was easy to see how Dallas was a city with a bright future.

Little substantive business occurred on the opening day.  Governor Joseph D. Sayers welcomed the delegates with a speech in which he shared his childhood memory of attending the 1852 session of the Texas Annual Conference in Bastrop.  Sayers was only 11 years old at the time, but related clear memoires of Bishop Paine, Robert Alexander, Homer Thrall, Josiah Whipple and other giants of Texas Methodism. 

Mayor Ben Cabell followed the governor with his own welcome to the city.  (There were three generations of Cabell mayors in Dallas.)  George Rankin, pastor of the First MECS Church in Dallas also welcomed the delegates.  As the host pastor, his name was being put forward as a candidate for bishop.  He would not be elected, but would have influence as the editor of the Advocate

Bishop Charles Betts Galloway responded to the welcome speeches. Then Bishop W. W. Duncan of South Carolina read the Episcopal Address.  That address was so lengthy that its reading consumed two hours.  One cause for alarm seems strange to modern readers.  The address reported that the MECS had grown by only 38,085 members since the last General Conference.  That diminished rate of increase rang alarm bells.  The rest of the Episcopal Address was routine.  It called upon Methodists to support the church mission and educational institutions and pensions for retired preachers, their widows and orphans.

The most controversial issue which the delegates would debate seems quite remote from modern concerns.  In 1862 Union forces captured Nashville and commandeered the MECS Publishing House.  Part of the building was used as a stable for the rest of the war.  That left the facilities in shambles.   
The destruction of the Publishing House had been a festering problem since the war, and the U. S. Congress finally appropriated $288,000 in damages.  The controversy that consumed hours of debate in Dallas was whether the denomination should accept it.  Why wouldn’t the MECS take the money?  There were rumors that church leaders had used unethical means in lobbying for the appropriation.  To some, it appeared to be “tainted money.”

The election of bishops was always an exciting feature at General Conferences. (Since 1939 bishops have been elected at Jurisdictional Conferences.)  The bishops recommended the election of two new bishops.  Bishop John C. Keener was 83 and was not able to come to Dallas. O. P. Fitzgerald was 73.  John Granbery was 83. Bishops of this era presided over multiple conferences, and travel demands were onerous on elderly bishops.  

The delegates accepted that recommendation, and two bishops were elected in Dallas.  More about that in a future post. 


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