Saturday, October 27, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History  October 28

Distinguished Guests Attend 2nd Session of New Northwest Texas Conference, Nov. 1, 1911

The last great event that defined Texas annual conference borders was the MECS General Conference of 1910.  It authorized the division of the Northwest Texas Conference into two new conferences.  The eastern portion which contained a majority of the population would become the Central Texas Conference. The western portion would retain the name Northwest Texas Conference which encompassed a vast area of the Panhandle and Lower Plains.  The new Northwest Texas Conference could point to a rapidly expanding population as agricultural settlements grew up along the rail lines. 

The new Northwest Texas Conference had its organizational meeting in Clarendon in the fall of 1910, and it was a grand event, but we should not overlook the 2nd session of the conference one year later in Plainview that attracted a dazzling contingent of MECS dignitaries.  Bishop Atkins, who had presided in 1910 at Clarendon, came back for the 1911 session.  There were three future bishops in attendance.  W.F. McMurry, General Secretary of Church Extension was there.  So was John M. Moore, Department of Home Missions and H. A. Boaz, Vice-President of Southern Methodist University.  (Atkins, Moore, and McMurry had all been at the New Mexico Annual Conference two weeks earlier in Tucumcari.) George Rankin, editor of the Texas Christian Advocate, was there in his journalistic capacity.  John McLean, manager of the Methodist Home came.  A. J. Weeks, who was later to edit the Advocate,  field secretary for Home Missions was also there. 

In addition to the denominational executives and journalists, Texas Methodist educators were well represented.  In addition to Vice-President Boaz, SMU President Robert S. Hyer came to Plainview.  Just a few months earlier he had moved from Georgetown to Dallas to build a new university. He brought an architectural drawing of the first planned building for SMU, Dallas Hall, to the conference.

Although much of the conference talk must have been about the denominational plans to build a great university in Dallas, Southwestern University’s ties to the Northwest Texas Conference remained strong. SU was included in the newly created Central Texas Conference, but it had been in the bounds of the Northwest Texas Conference from its founding until 1910.  President Charles M. Bishop, Dean Claude C. Cody, and Professor Frank Seay all made the 400 mile trip from Georgetown to Plainview to attend Annual Conference. 

We can only speculate about any conversation between Hyer and Cody.  They had been colleagues and then on opposite sides of the “removal controversy.”  That controversy was now over.  It must have been an interesting conversation.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 21

“Fighting Parson” A. J. Potter Drops Dead in Pulpit at Revival Meeting, October 21, 1895

A. J. Potter, a Methodist minister known as “the fighting parson,” dropped dead of heart disease in the pulpit while preaching a revival in Tilmon, Caldwell County, on October 21, 1895.

Potter was born in Missouri in 1830.  His father died ten years later, and the boy was forced to fend for himself.  He became a jockey and thus part of a rough gambling crowd.  He enlisted in the Army and served in the war with Mexico.  He stayed in the Army after the war as a teamster and Indian fighter.  The lure of the gold fields in California was more attractive than the Army life so he tried his luck there.  He was soon back in San Antonio working as a teamster.  While hauling a load of lumber from Bastrop to San Marcos, he attended a camp meeting at Croft’s Prairie.  A. J. Potter was converted, and when he studied enough to make up for his lack of formal education, he received a preacher’s license. 

A trail drive to Kansas and the Civil War intervened.  He served in the Confederate Army, and when the West Texas Conference met in 1866, A. J. Potter was received into the ministry.
He served some of the roughest appointments in the conference including Kerrville, Boerne, Uvalde, Bandera, Mason, Brady, and was privileged to organize Methodism in San Angelo.  His preaching points were often on the frontier, and he sometimes displayed a firearm while he preached.   His life was so full of adventure that the MECS Publishing House issued a biography, Andrew Jackson Potter:  The Fighting Parson of the Texas Frontier, H. A. Graves, Nashville, 1881.  (available at Google Books

At the 1894 Annual Conference Potter was appointed to the Lockhart Circuit and died while preaching at one of the churches on that circuit.  He is buried in near Lockhart.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 13

Texas Christian Advocate  Slams Integrated Epworth League Meeting in Toronto, October 1897

As regular readers of this column will know, the Epworth League was an organization of Methodist youth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Both the northern and southern branches of Methodism embraced the League, and international conventions of the League were one of the few associations that occurred between the MECS and MEC.   The 1897 convention of the Epworth League met in Toronto.  The presence of African American and European American Leaguers mingling on an equal basis infuriated the editor of the Texas Christian Advocate who wrote that it would be better to dissolve the League rather than allow mixed race assemblies. 

The TCA editorial, laced with the paranoia and racism of the time read in part

During the International Epworth League Conference in Toronto the negro (sic) was very much in evidence. This was a great pleasure to our Northern Methodist friends,  They puffed him to the fullest extent possible.  They congratulated all concerned that his presence was not challenged and that he enjoyed all the spiritual and social equality desirable.

His appearance on the platform was the occasion for enthusiastic applause.  He came in and went out a welcome guest, as free as the freest.  The question of social equality was not raised.   The Negro came, saw, and conquered.  The racial problem was solved; Southern prejudice was disarmed; caste was dead.

What are our Southern Leaguers to do about it?  If our young people mingle freely with the negro in Epworth Conference, why should not the older sort associate with him on terms of equality in society and the church?  If a little of the thing is good, then more is better.  If social equality is good for the League, it is good for the whole country. In this conference the principle of white superiority was entirely ignored.  Nothing remains but to carry out the social equality of the negro to its logical results. 

Can not our Southern Leaguers see that the International Conference is being exploited by shrewd Northerners in the interest of social equality?  The great conference proposes to teach this leveling doctrine by both precept and object lesson.  The prejudiced Southerner must take his medicine.  The negro shall come to the front.

. . . We would infinitely prefer to see the International League wiped out forever than to have the social equality proceedings of Toronto duplicated.  .. . Let the Leaguers look to it.  They have been unwittingly entrapped, but we believe that they will extricate themselves right speedily and guard against similar violations of the social code

The Advocate editor  in 1897(and presumed author of the unsigned editorial) was T. R. Pierce (1853-1909), grandson of the illustrious Lovick Pierce and nephew of Bishop George Pierce.  His intemperate invective against the northern church creates some irony.  His grandfather was known to have such a peaceful spirit that after the Civil War Lovick Pierce was sent by the MECS to the MEC General Conference as a peace emissary.  The Wikipedia entry for his uncle mentions the bishop's "irenic spirit."  

At least some African-American Texans were prominent at the convention included the Rev. Frank Gary (1862-1907) a member of the Texas Conference of the MEC appointed to Galveston.  

The Southern Epworth Leaguers did not take Pierce's advice and desert the International Epworth League.   For many MECS Leaguers, such conventions were the only occasions in which they participated in a bi-racial event with equality of the races and provided a very small crack in the color line.

Unfortunately the social code of segregation of the races continued decades after the Toronto Epworth League Conference of 1897.  .  

Friday, October 05, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 7

Lay Retreat Draws 1266 Men to Lakeview, October 10-13, 1957

The Texas Annual Conference lagged behind the other annual conferences in Texas in establishing encampments.  The West Texas Conference opened Mount Wesley in Kerrville in 1924.  The Northwest Texas Conference bought 315 acres in Palo Duro Canyon two years later.  The Central Texas Conference bought property at Glen Rose in 1939.  It was only after World War II that the Texas Conference established Lakeview in Anderson County

Even though it may have been late getting started, Lakeview was soon filled with retreats, youth camps,Wesley Foundation events,  Bible studies, and many other assemblies.  Both men’s and women’s groups used Lakeview for their conference-wide gatherings. 

The Lay Retreat (really men’s retreat) of October 10-13, 1957 was a good example of the way the men combined inspirational messages, fellowship, and training for work in the local church. 
Pat Thompson of Bay City who  had been conference lay leader since 1944,  reported that registration for the event reached 1266. 

They were treated to devotional messages from Bishop W. C. Martin, of the Dallas-Fort Worth area and the Honorable Tom Reavley, a distinguished member of the Texas bar who had already served as Texas Secretary of State and was later to become a District Judge, State Supreme Court Justice, and member of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Workshop topics related to the committee structure of the local church.  Thompson’s own pastor from Bay City, the Rev. Garnet House teamed with Ed Curry of the Texas Methodist Stewardship Movement to talk about the committees of finance and stewardship.  Roy Farrow of the Texas Methodist College Association provided training for members of the Official Board.  Other workshops dealt with local church committees on education, evangelism, and so on.  

An unnamed benefit of such meetings was promoting friendships across the vast distance of the Texas Conference which stretched from Texarkana to Bay City and from the Sabine River westward to Falls and Milam Counties.  Although the program does not say so, we can state with some confidence that domino games went long into the night; long lines stretched out of a cafeteria inadequate for such a crowd; and that some of men probably woke up early to try their luck at fishing. 

From an undeveloped patch of East Texas forest to an encampment of more than 1200 men  in less than ten years—that’s the Lakeview story.