Saturday, July 28, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History  July 29

Canadian Crescent Reports on Church Activities, August 2, 1888

Few of us have not been thrilled by the exciting stories of the “Wild West,” of cattle drives from Texas to northern points, range wars, of gun fighters and outlaws, of the “taming of the West.”  The Texas cowboy is perhaps the most enduring mythic hero of our nation.  The Western was certainly the dominant genre on television during my formative years. 

This writer, however, has always been more than a little puzzled by how events that occupied such a small slice of our history became so deeply embedded in  our national (and Texan) consciousness. The mythic era lasted about twenty years in the late 19th century.  Cotton farmers always exceeded cowboys in terms of Texas population and added much more to the state’s economic output, but it was the cowboy rather than the farmer who became adopted as the symbol for Texas.

Certainly the Wild West was romantic, but let us not be dazzled by that romance.  Another story that needs to be told beside the Wild West is the development of communities and the role of churches in building those communities..  In the case of the Texas Panhandle, that process occurred very rapidly.  We may use the county seat of Hemphill County, Canadian, as an example.

The town site of Canadian, like many other Panhandle towns, was laid out by a railroad company in 1887.  The post office was opened in August of that year.  On the 4th of July, 1888, one of the first commercial rodeos in Texas occurred.  It was named a Cowboy Reunion.  On August 2, 1888, just one year after the opening of the Post Office, the Canadian Crescent, reported on religious activities.

Even at this early stage in its development, Canadian had both Southern and Northern Methodist Churches.  The presence of the MEC members is explained by the fact that the Panhandle was closely tied to Kansas via the rail lines.  There were also Presbyterian and Baptist churches.  How could there be enough population to support four churches in such a new town?  They did so by alternating services.  The MECS offered services on the first Sunday of each month, the MEC on the second, the Presbyterian on the third Sunday, and the Baptists on the fourth Sunday.  There was a union Sunday School class every Sunday.  The townsfolk of Canadian could attend church and Sunday School every Sunday—and listen to four different preachers every month. .  The arrangement was typical.  Preachers rode circuits and visited other towns when it was not their Sunday to have services.  Publishing houses by this time had developed non-denominational Sunday School literature so that such union Sunday Schools could avoid disputes over which church’s literature should be used. 

In addition to the churches, there was also a temperance organization, the Band of Hope, which met every Saturday.  The Band of Hope had been organized in England and concentrated on educating youth on the evils of alcohol.  Although not as famous as the Anti Saloon League or the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the Band of Hope had its followers. 

Churches, a newspaper, two railroads each direction every day, civic and commercial institutions firmly implanted—Year-old Canadian seems like a civilized place.

Friday, July 20, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 22

John E. Green Supports Sunday Closing Law in Houston, July 1902

One of the social issues that occupied Methodists in the Progressive Era was the enforcement of Sunday closing laws.   The aim of such laws was simple—to keep stores closed on Sunday.  The ban on Sunday activities was often extended to include sporting events, amusement parks, and other secular pursuits.  Church conferences were always scheduled to avoid Sunday travel because so many preachers refused to travel on Sunday. 

Sunday closing laws were widely unpopular among many minority ethnic groups and laborers.  By 1902 Houston had a well developed industrial base mainly centered on the Southern Pacific Rail shops.  Laborers in those shops and others worked six day weeks, and the Sunday closing laws caused significant restrictions on their activities.  German immigrants to Texas  organized a variety of singing societies, Turner Associations (physical culture), nine pins bowling clubs, and shooting societies.  Those societies typically met on Sunday.  Their activities fell under the Sunday laws provisions. 

The main spectator sport of the era was baseball --often played on Sunday afternoons in the summer.  Those games also came under the ban.  When a Nebraska sheriff tried to arrest the team members, a riot ensued in which the Methodist preachers who had accompanied him ended up before the justice of the peace.

In July 1902 Rev. John E. Green, pastor of the McKee Street Methodist Church on the north side of Houston, supported the enforcement effort.  Before he began his sermon, he read a circular letter from the Retail Merchants and Grocers Association supporting the closing.  The letter contained the typical secular rationale for the Sunday closing laws, i. e., that the employees needed a day of rest. 

Green then preached his sermon Character Building which argued that refraining from secular pursuits on Sunday was a main building block of character building. 

In his retirement Green stayed in Houston and wrote a fascinating memoir, John E. Green and His Forty Years in Houston. (1928) The memoir reveals that he kept fighting to uphold Methodist standards of decency in his retirement.  When the marathon dance fad of the 1920’s came to Houston, Green threw himself into that fight.  He claims credit for closing down prize fighting in Houston too, but not without threats from the boxing promoters.  What could they threaten him with?  Not with violence.  After all he was an old man and a preacher.  Beating him up would bring sympathy to his cause.  Instead the boxing promoters threatened to close down football at Texas Methodist colleges.  Now that’s a threat!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 15

Homer Thrall Leads Protracted Meeting in Columbus, July 21, 1860

In the summer of 1860 the United States was moving closer to war.  In May the Republican Party nominated Abraham Lincoln for the presidency.  The Democrats were split among sectional candidates.  John Brown had been hanged the previous December, and many Southerners were appalled at the outpouring of sympathy from New England intellectuals for a man with such a bloody past.   A wave of fires in the hot summer of 1860 in North Texas was widely believed to the work of abolitionist incendiary terrorists.  Vigilante committees murdered several persons, including the Rev. Anthony Bewley, on the flimsiest of evidence.    Tensions increased along with the heat as the persistent rumor spread that a slave insurrection was planned for Election Day, August. 6.  

Meanwhile the pace of Methodist meetings proceeded.  Columbus hosted a protracted meeting led by the Presiding Elder of the Columbus District, the Rev. Homer Thrall.  He was assisted by the Columbus preacher, Charles Lane, and by Reverend Quinn Menifee, and a local preacher named Loomis. 

Columbus was an up-and-coming church in the Texas Conference.  It had recently been named a district seat, and boasted both churches for Anglo Americans and a mission to African Americans.  Unfortunately it did not have its own church building so the protracted meeting was held in the Baptist Church.  The press reported on the meeting as follows:

Quite an excitement has been gotten up and a good many of both sexes have gone up to the altar to be prayed for.  There have been several conversions.  Both ministers and lay members appear to labor faithfully in the “good work,”  The moral influence of preachers and of such religious excitements is not fully appreciated by many persons,  but though silent and thus imperceptible, it is nevertheless great, and exercises a tremendous power over the conscience and nobler faculties of the great mass of men and women, thus purifying and elevating society.  The Colorado Citizen, vol. 3, #43, July 21, 1860. 

Saturday, July 07, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 8

Presiding Elder Criticized for Lack of Fervor at Camp Meeting July 8, 1846

One of the main camp meeting sites in early Texas was the Waugh Camp Ground in Burleson County near Caldwell.  The site had been donated by the Addison family who emigrated from Baltimore in 1835.  Bishop Beverly Waugh, the bishop who organized the Texas Annual Conference in 1840, was also from Baltimore

The Addison family was devout and sent several of its sons into the ministry.  One of those sons reported on a camp meeting held during July 1846.  The report is particularly interesting because of the frankness with which the writer criticizes the Presiding Elder of the Washington District, Daniel N. V. Sullivan, for his lack of emotional fervor.  Waugh had ordained Sullivan at Rutersville in 1840 so he may have felt a special bond to the site. 

July 8, 1846

We received your letters on yesterday, the day that our camp meeting broke up, and as you desired to hear how we got along I will give you a short sketch of it.  It commenced on last Thursday, the 2d with very dull prospects, the incessant rains had filled all the streams so that but very few could get there. . .On Thursday night all the preachers that we had was Bro. Sullivan & Bro. Bragg the meeting commenced with poor prospects on Friday night  Brothers Sneed Harden (was below the Yegua) Cyrus Campbell an Exhorter Bro Belvin a young Preacher arrived on the ground which constituted all our force, a very weak one you must confess to fight the friends of Satan, But notwithstanding the work commenced and but for Bro Sullivan might have went on with power  But from some cause or the other, he became a great enemy to the excitement, he did not like to see people getting religion under an excitement, he wanted them to come coolly and deliberately----there was several very warm sermons preached and Exhortations delivered but Old Dan would throw water on it all.  It continued this way (with but one conversion) till Monday night when Bro Sneed Preached a very warm feeling sermon and set down.  Bro  S getting up immediately after he read out a long Hymn and after exhorting a few moments told all those that had made up their minds to get religion to come forward without any excitement of any kind, as he did not like to see people scared into religion.  Now just come along without any persuasion or any singing ---Just at that moment Brother Bragg rose up and calling to the Brethren said sing that good old song “Come Ye sinners, poor and needy.” –perhaps some will come---that was just taking it out of the Presiding Elders hand and the Brethren being nothing loth went to work with a will that soon filled the Alter with Mourners---Well after all had come up that would come Bro Dan got down in the Alter and read off his long Hymn again a half stanza at a time and commented on it as he went along without any singing however when he got down and prayed a long prayer and kept on that way until they just took it out of his hand and carried it by main force---after he left the work commenced and before the meting broke up (which it did at 15 minutes before three) there was eight professed to obtain the pearl of great price. –

Daniel N. V. Sullivan’s preaching days were numbered.  The following February while in Houston, he was afflicted with “fever of the brain.”  Mr. and Mrs. Alexander McGowan took him to their home where he died on February 20, 1847.  His conference memoir read in part

Brother Sullivan was deeply devoted Christian, and his deportment was uniformly serious and somewhat reserved.   He was a minister of high order of talents, and was especially eminent for the clearness with which he stated and the ability with which he defended and enforced the doctrines of the Bible.