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.  


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