Saturday, September 29, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 30

Boynton Chapel MEC Hosts Houston District Conference October 3, 1900

Delegates to the Houston District Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church convened at Boynton Chapel at the corner of Dallas and Paige (about 10 blocks southeast of the current George R. Brown Convention Center) on October 3, 1900.  Less than a month earlier coastal Texas had suffered the greatest natural disaster in United States history, the hurricane of September 6-8, 1900.  Newspapers still printed lists of known victims not just from Galveston but from Alvin, Brazoria, Anahuac, Dickinson, and other coastal cities as far inland as Columbus and LaGrange.  Newspapers also printed notices from New York, Pennsylvania, and other states appealing for news about loved ones. 

The recent mega-disaster was the major concern of the delegates.   The pastor of St. Paul’s Galveston, Rev. J. H. Reed, gave an impassioned appeal for aid to the survivors.  Dr. L. B. Scott, editor of the Southwestern Christian Advocate, came from New Orleans to report on relief efforts.  He also addressed the assembled delegates at Boynton Chapel. 

After the presentations from Reed and Scott, the delegates got down to business.    
One of the most important items of district conferences of the era was licensing local preachers, and one candidate presented himself for licensure.  J. D. Spivey was granted a local preacher’s license, but on the condition that he quit using tobacco.

The most interesting part of the conference consisted of the consideration of two questions in panel discussion form.
  1. “Does the modern class leader fulfill the requirements of his office according to Wesley’s standards?”
  2. “Is the probationary system necessary today in the Methodist Episcopal Church?”

Each discussion began with a formal statement to which the panelists responded.  We have no record of the points made by the discussants, but both questions must have elicited interesting discussions.

In October 1900 Texans were focused on relief efforts.  No one could know that only a few months later and less than 100 miles from the devastation an event would occur that would transform Texas.  The event was the Spindletop Oil Field discovery near Beaumont

Houston, rather than Beaumont, was the main beneficiary of the Spindletop discovery and subsequent oil strikes.  Its population boomed as petroleum exploration and refining companies made their headquarters in Houston.  Allied industries including banking, law, transportation, machine works, and insurance all expanded. 

The neighborhood around Boynton Chapel changed.  Before 1900 the east side of Houston was mainly mixed residential.  Houstonians of various income levels rubbed shoulders with each other.  In 1910 the railroads built a Union Station to accommodate passengers.  Its construction accelerated changes in residential patterns on the east side of downtown Houston.  Hotels replaced some houses, and some of the old houses were remodeled into apartments and boarding houses.  They catered to travelers and railroad workers who were more transient that the former residents.  Eventually Boynton Chapel moved about a mile south of its former location at Dallas and Paige to 2812 Milby. Boynton Chapel UMC continues to proclaim the Good News as it has done so for more than a century.  Parts of Union Station have been preserved as Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros.  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History  September 23

St. John’s Nears Completion as Tallest Structure in Galveston  September 26, 1870      

As Texas recovered from the economic effects of the Civil War, Galveston was well-positioned to take advantage of increased commerce. Much of the Texas cotton crop passed through the port.  Merchant ships from all over the world streamed into Galveston with all sorts of manufactured goods.  The first bank in Texas to receive a national banking charter was organized there.   It continued its traditional role as a port of entry for immigrants. 

Galveston Methodists began to plan and build a church building that would reflect the prosperity of the city.  As the building neared completion, the Texas Christian Advocate (then published in Galveston) reported on an additional benefit of the structure.  It would help navigators steer their course into port.

Our new church in this city is fast approaching completion. The tower is all that remains of the brick work to be finished—the roof will be on in a few days and the material for the windows is at hand.  And the preparation of the interior for the reception of the congregation will be carried forward so rapidly, that it will be ready for the preacher whom Bishop Marvin will assign to the charge next year.   The building is one of the largest and most elegant in the state.  The audience room is in the second story, and with its numerous windows, will be delightfully ventilated—an item too often overlooked in the erection of church buildings in the South.

. . .We are informed that sea captains say that the church is now the first building they see as they approach the city, and when the tower is completed, it will become one of the land marks which will guide the mariner to our port.  We trust it will be instrumental in guiding many souls to the port of everlasting bliss. 

Just one year later, in 1871, Phillip P. Bliss (1838-1876) used similar imagery when he published his hymn, Let the Lower Lights Be Burning.  ‘Some poor fainting, struggling seaman you may rescue, you may save.”   Bliss got his inspiration from a Dwight L. Moody sermon illustration about a captain trying to reach the Cleveland, Ohio, harbor.  

Saturday, September 15, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 16

San Augustine Women Consider Bathtub for Parsonage  September 16, 1912

As Texas Methodist churches moved from circuits to stations, the need for parsonages became more  pressing.  In the early circuit rider days, the unmarried young men who made up the bulk of the Methodist preaching corps had little need for a parsonage.  They were constantly on the go.  A circuit rider depended upon the kindness of others for a place to lay his head.   Many Methodist preacher obituaries relate that they died in the home of one of their parishioners.  (see for example, previous posts about Ike Strickland and D.  N. V. Sullivan) 

As Texas cities grew, many of them achieved station status.  That it, they were no longer part of a circuit, but had a preacher  not shared with other churches.  In the late 19th century, the MECS recognized that it needed to improve the status of housing for preachers.  

The main push for parsonages came from the Board of Church Extension in the form of a request from Bishop R. K. Hargrove (1829-1905, elected 1882).  He wrote the Board that he had been unable to fill some appointments because they did not have housing for the preacher.  He added, “Why could not the good women of the church be induced to go into the work of building parsonages?”  He also proposed the idea to the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society.  They didn’t think much of the idea. 

The Board of Church Extension did act on Bishop Hargrove’s suggestion and brought a resolution to the 1886 MECS General Conference that had been crafted mainly by Lucinda Helm of Kentucky.  The General Conference passed the Helm plan and thereby created a Woman’s Department of Church Extension which was charged with building parsonages.  Helm was then put in charge.  At the end of the quadrennium she reported over seven thousand members enrolled and over $14,000 raised for the cause, but Helm wanted more. 

She brought a revised plan to the 1890 General Conference to broaden the scope from parsonage building to home missions.  Opposition from the all-male delegates was considerable.  They said there were plenty of women’s home missions already (Ladies’ Aids, Pastor’s Aids, Dorcas’s, Sewing Circles, etc.) and that a home mission organization would detract from foreign missions.  Helm pushed and pushed and eventually the 1890 General Conference approved her plan to create the Woman’s Parsonage and Home Missionary Society.   Lucinda Helm was General Secretary.

By its action, the MECS has announced in effect, that if churches were to have parsonages, it was the women who were to buy or build them. 

As with any such endeavor, the results were mixed.  Some churches built very nice parsonages elegantly furnished and appointed with the latest conveniences.  Others did the best they could with modest houses furnished with cast off furniture from the members.    There were often differences of opinion among committee members about how plain or fancy the parsonage should be.  A general sense did develop that the parsonage should be a house consistent with the houses most of the church members lived in—neither more luxurious nor shabbier.

We have much anecdotal and some documentary evidence that the advent of indoor plumbing created controversy among the parsonage committees as to whether that improvement was an expensive luxury or a reasonable addition to a house.

On September 16, 1912 the issue came to a head in San Augustine.  The District Secretary of the Nacogdoches District requested that all societies in the district contribute to a bathtub for the district parsonage.  The discussion of whether to contribute to the bathtub fund for the district parsonage naturally led to the question of a bathtub for their own parsonage.  Eventually they decided to donate ten cents apiece for the district parsonage bathtub.  The San Augustine parsonage family had to wait ten more years for a bathtub. 

Such debates created ticklish situations for the wives of the preachers.  If they pressed too hard for plumbing improvements, they were bound to be criticized on that score.  On the other hand, if they did not, they had to live with primitive facilities.  A wife’s pressing too hard for parsonage improvements could even be a cause for the church’s requesting a new preacher at conference.   

For about twenty years the Woman’s Home Missionary Society and the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society existed side by side.  They then merged into a single entity. The United Methodist Women of today’s church claim that dual tradition of both home and foreign missions.  

Friday, September 07, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History  September 9

Camp Meeting Participants Survive Hurricane on Oyster Creek  September 15, 1875

The hurricane that struck Texas in September 1875 followed an atypical path that devastated huge swaths of coastal Texas. It made landfall near Indianola and killed at least 150 people (possibly twice that number).  The hurricane continued inland and then turned northeast through Matagorda, Brazoria, Harris, and Galveston Counties.  A previous post (September 8, 2007) tells the story of how it destroyed the Alexander Ranch on Perkins Island in Galveston Bay.  

A document has come to light in the Texas Conference Archives that tells the story of how camp meeting participants on Oyster Creek in Brazoria County huddled for protection in the home of the Rev. P. E. Nicholson.  Some of the campers, including Presiding Elder I. G. John, had come from Galveston by boat. 

After a description of the camp meeting, the unsigned memoir continues as follows

At the close of the meeting, Monday or Tuesday, Bro. John  told us Bro. Nichalson  (sic) thought it unwise to venture on the water as there were indications of change of weather, which he would prefer meeting at his home, also that it would require several days to put his boat in order. . .that we must all, our company, go to his house.  We did so and remained through the severest storm in our lives.  The first realization I had of what the storm might become was on seeing Bro. John standing at an open door in the dining room, with a branch from an overhanging tree, beating off the snakes that were seeking shelter, the back water of Oyster Creek was up to the doorstep.  This open door was needed for air, the wind not permitting other openings to be used.  I said to Bro. John, “the storm is upon us.”  “Yes,” he said “we cannot tell what the morning will bring for us.  My poor wife and children are all alone down on the island.”  The water was steadily creeping into the house, every moveable article, trunks, etc., were piled  upon chairs and the women and children on the beds as the water came up into the main part of the house, a foot higher than the dining room.  A huge back log as much as four men could handle was lifted or rolled in and placed on the andirons and a fire was built on the log.  Bars were nailed across the doors facing the wind.  The solid window shutters were all securely fashioned.  The wind and water both to contend with.  In all these preparations, Bro. John and Dr. E. P. Angell were the leaders.  “He holdeth the wind in His fists.” Came from the lips of Bro. John in one of the lulls of the wind. . .all heard it for the silence was profound except as God spoke through or by the elements.  From time to time he would give us a passage of scripture or verse of a hymn that would lift us far above our surroundings.  As the water deepened in the house, the men of the company kept up a constant walk, circling without stopping the room, an open door connected this room with the one the women and children occupied.  Dr. Angell would come in with words of cheer for his wife and we would all share in them.  Bro. John was the one we all leaned upon.  Some time about midnight some of the men of our party went out in a boat to the rescue of a family that they had learned through some means were in great danger.  They returned with the grandmother, mother, and two weeks old infant.  Bro. John placed the babe in my arms, saying “See what you can do for it, but I fear there is no life there.”  Soon its wet clothes were off.  It was well-wrapped in a blanket and every means used to restore it.  Soon we had the satisfaction of seeing it asleep in the arms of tis mother who had been supplied with dry clothing.   About day light, the wind suddenly changed to the West and for a few minutes we thought there was no hope for us, but as the wind veered nearer the north, the water could be seen to recede by the mark of the andirons and soon all were rejoicing  in the bright sunshine and stilled winds.  The doors facing the gulf were thrown open and as soon as the waters had left the house, Bro. John with the others were throwing bucket after bucket of water on the floors and with brooms sweeping the slime from them. . oh what notes of praise and thanksgiving went up from that company of 35 men and women as they stood around the family altar that morning as we thanked God for our deliverance.  Our joy was tempered by the thought of what had happened to our loved ones, Bro/ John and Dr. Angell as soon as they were assured of the safety of their loved ones left on a perilous journey in search of Br. Robert Alexander who with his family were reported lost.  God preserved them. 

(P. E. Nicholson is remembered as the founding pastor for Methodist churches in Dickinson and Mont Belvieu.  Dr. Angell was Dr. Edwin Phillip Angell,  1839-1910.  By 1878 he had relocated to higher ground in Moscow, Polk County. He was also one of the founders of the Texas Homeopathic Medical Association.)

Saturday, September 01, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 2

Waco Female College Opens Kindergarten  September 8, 1884

I am sometimes asked to compare the level of instruction in 19th century Methodist educational institutions with comparable institutions in the present.  I always respond that the level of instruction varied a great deal, and the use of the word “college” in the institution’s name did not necessarily indicate post-secondary education as it does today. 

The Waco Female College, an institution of the Northwest Texas Conference, is a good example.  On September 8, 1884, they opened their doors to a class of kindergarten children, ages four through seven.  The tuition was $2.50 per month. 

All forms of education rest on an underlying philosophy of human nature, and the philosophical basis of the kindergarten was quite radical for 19th century Texas.   The kindergarten, or “child’s garden,” was a product of German romanticism.  Its basis was the idea that children were inherently good and needed to be nourished as young flowers and tended so they could “blossom” into maturity.  This view was in direct contrast to other educational thought of the era which emphasized original sin and maintained that children were like wild animals that needed taming.  As recently as 1995 my daughter secured employment in a preschool operated by another denomination.  Her teacher’s handbook read in part, “a child’s will must be broken like a horse’s. . .” . 

The kindergarten concept was introduced to the United States by German immigrants to St. Louis and spread to other German communities and in the northeastern states which had a history of educational innovation. Waco Female College was able to offer kindergarten classes because they had employed Miss Julie Van Brack from St. Louis.  In 1873 St. Louis became the first city in the United States to make kindergarten a part of the public school system.    The first public kindergarten in Texas was founded in 1893 in El Paso by Olga Bernstein Kohlberg.

The Waco Female College cannot claim the first kindergarten in Texas (I have found evidence for one in Columbus in 1873) or even in Waco. Mrs. Leland’s Seminary offered kindergarten in 1876, and the German Methodist Church at the corner of Sixth and Franklin Streets in Waco provided its facilities to Professor George Gourlay in 1878 for another.  Here is an excerpt from the Waco Examiner

The Kindergarten system of instruction recently introduced into this city by Mr. George Gourlay, is attracting attention.  The method is more generally known as object teaching, consisting of maps, charts, globes, blocks, numerical frames, and a geographic delineator. The latter is a miniature world consisting of actual land and water.

Today there are literally thousands of preschool and kindergarten age Texans attending classes in United Methodist churches, but we cannot plot a straight line between the early efforts in Waco and today.  In the Progressive Era kindergartens were popular mainly in settlement houses and other urban missions.  It was in the post World War II era that they became a common feature of Texas Methodist churches. 

The reasons for the growing popularity of kindergarten are complex.  The rise of suburban churches, the large number of Baby Boomers, psychological research demonstrating the importance of early childhood education and the availability of university training in preschool pedagogy all played their part.

The investment in facilities, staff, vans, and equipment is considerable, but few programs combine church activities as well.  Church preschools are not just educational; they also enhance evangelism and mission emphases.  It is little wonder that they have become so popular in Texas Methodist churches.