Saturday, December 01, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History   December 2

Texas and East Texas Annual Conferences Reunite in Crockett,  December 3-8, 1902

The General Conference of 1840 authorized the creation of the Texas Annual Conference.  Its boundaries included all of the Republic of Texas save for the appointments in northeastern Texas served by preachers from the Arkansas Conference.  Only four years later the 1844 General conference authorized the division of the Texas Conference into the Eastern and Western Texas Conferences.  The Trinity River served as the boundary.   When the MECS was organized in 1846, it continued those conferences and renamed them the Texas Conference and the East Texas Conference. 

Those two conferences existed side by side throughout the remaining years of the 19th century.  In 1858 the Texas Conference was reduced when its southwestern districts were struck off to form the predecessor of today’s Southwest Texas Annual Conference.  In 1866 both the Texas and the East Texas Conferences had their northern districts struck off to form new conferences. 

As Texas population increased in the latter half of the 19th century, the growth was greatest in the Northwest Texas and North Texas Conferences.  The Texas and East Texas Conferences fell far behind the membership of those Conferences.    There had been adjustments to try to restore some numerical balance.  In 1881 the Northwest Texas Conference returned Leon, Freestone, Robertson, Milam, Falls, and part of Limestone Counties to the Texas Conference.  In 1894 the North Texas Conference returned Bowie, Cass, Marion, Morris Counties and parts of Camp, Titus, Wood, and Van Zandt Counties to the East Texas Conference. 

Even with these territorial cessions, the imbalance of conference membership continued. In a nutshell North Texas and Northwest Texas Conferences far outpaced all the other conferences in the state. 

The 1902 General Conference of the MECS, meeting in Dallas, made the conferences more equal by reversing the 1844 General Conference action and reuniting the Texas and East Texas Conferences.  In an attempt to shore up the West Texas Conference (now Southwest Texas) membership it moved the Austin District of the Texas Conference to the West Texas Conference. 

The first session of the recently reunited Texas Annual Conference convened at Crockett on December 3, 1902 with Bishop Eugene Hendrix in the chair.   

Although the event occurred 110 years ago, modern Methodists would feel very much at home at this session of Annual Conference.  There was a Bible Study based on Philippians, powerful preaching, examination of the young preachers going through the ordination process.  In 1902 those classes included several preachers who would go on to assume leadership roles in the conference, Jesse Lee, J. W. Mills, and S. S. McKinney. 

Bishop Hendrix had to resolve a point of church law that seems incredibly arcane by today’s standards.  On an appeal from Marvin MECS in Tyler he had to decide the question of whether the quarterly conference or the Sunday School had the right to name an assistant Sunday School superintendent. (The Bishop ruled in favor of the quarterly conference.) 

As is common with annual conferences, there was a fund raising appeal for a denominational project.  This year it was for the superannuate retirement fund.  The total goal was $5,000,000.  The Texas Conference pledged $15,000 to that effort.  The credentials of one Missionary Baptist and one Congregational preacher were recognized, and those preachers given appointments. 

A perennial desire of late 19th century Texas Methodists was to have a resident bishop.  The newly reunited Texas Conference made another try.  It named Seth Ward, Sam Hay, and V. A. Godbey to a committee to try to get a bishop to move into the bounds of the Texas Conference.  (Both Ward and Hay were later elected to that post.  Ward in 1906 and Hay in 1922)

The real story of Annual Conference 1902, though, was one of reunion.  The Texas Conference still lagged behind the Northwest Texas Conference  (55,329 to 66,876 respectively).   It had given up the Austin District to the West Texas Conference.  On the other hand, its preachers looked forward to a greater field of service. 


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