Saturday, November 03, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History  November 4

Texas Conference Resolves to Make Houston “Regular” Site for Conference, November 5, 1938

Annual Conference is the great pivot around which Methodism revolves.  It is at annual conference that ministers are ordained, committee reports submitted, and appointments for the next year read.  Until 1938 the Texas Annual Conference met in many cities.  Question # 47, “Where will the next session of annual conference be held?” was eagerly anticipated.  Churches, especially those which had recently completed a new church building vied for the honor of hosting annual conference.  In the 1920s, for example, the Texas Annual Conference met at Beaumont, Mt. Pleasant, Cameron, Orange, Lufkin, Jacksonville, Marshall, and Port Arthur.  Preachers often traveled to conference by rail and stayed in private homes rather than hotels.  The hosts were not necessarily Methodist.  When the author’s grandfather joined the Texas Conference at Marvin in Tyler in 1919, he was housed with a Baptist family. 

The 1938 session of annual conference meeting in Longview changed all that.  Frank Dent, speaking for the Committee on Entertainment, submitted a resolution making Houston the “regular” site of annual conference.  One of the incentives for making Houston the permanent conference site was an offer from the Rice Hotel to offer rooms for $1.00 per night per person.  The offer was generous, and combined with the facts that the Rice Hotel was within walking distance of First Methodist Church and that Houston churches made up a larger percentage of the Texas Conference every year, it was too good to pass up. 

The “rest of the story” is that in 1938 the Rice Hotel was owned by Jesse H. Jones, the most prominent Houston builder and booster.  Ten years earlier he had personally guaranteed the funding if the Democratic National Convention of 1928 would be held in Houston.  Although he had spent much of the intervening decade in Washington, D. C., as Commerce Secretary and Chair of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, he still loved Houston.  His offer to attract the Texas Annual Conference to Houston each year was similar to his attracting the Democratic Convention in 1928.  Both combined good business and  generosity.  He was also a member of St. Paul’s, a trustee of the Methodist Hospital, and a friend of Bishop A. Frank Smith. 

Although there were concerns that some preachers and lay delegates would not be able to afford the $1.00 per day rate, the resolution passed and Annual Conference settled down in Houston

For young preachers, spouses, lay delegates, and preacher’s kids, First Methodist Church Houston and Annual Conference became synonymous.   Small town residents from all over East Texas came to look forward to their one week per year in the big city.  Downtown Houston was still the most important retail district.  Many Methodists used the trip to Annual Conference to go shopping at Foley’s (1110 Main), Sakowitz (across Main from Foley’s), Battlestein’s (812 Main), and other downtown retailers.  First Methodist is at 1320 Main

As years passed,  the memory of having Annual Conference in smaller towns such as Caldwell (1890), Calvert (1892), Navasota (1893), Marlin (1899), Crockett (1902), or Bay City (1914) was all but forgotten. 


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