Friday, May 24, 2013

This Week in Texas Methodist History May 26

Ralph Sockman Preaches for Texas Annual Conference.  Delegates Consider Resolutions on Social Issues, May 30, 1955

On May 30, 1955 the Texas Conference convened for its 116th annual session in First Methodist Church Houston.  As is true every four years, much of the Conference was consumed with elections for General and Jurisdictional conference delegates. 

The conference preacher was the Rev. Ralph W. Sockman (1889-1970) of Christ Church Methodist Church on Park Avenue, New York City, one of the most prominent preachers in America. Sockman joined the staff as an associate at Christ Church upon his graduation from Columbia in 1916 and became senior pastor the next year.  Practically every preacher and lay delegate already knew Sockman by reputation.  He had been featured on NBC’s National Radio Pulpit since 1928, was the author of numerous books of sermons, and traveled widely.  In 1946 Time magazine reported that the NBC program generated 4,000 letters per week.  In addition to his radio preaching and two services per Sunday at Christ Church, Sockman was also professor of practical theology at Union Theological Seminary.  The attraction of Union Seminary in the 1950s was so great that the appointments of 1955 reveal that four Texas Conference preachers were studying there.

Although the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) made Sockman a household name in America, the Texas Conference of 1955 asked its members to write letters of protest to that company. 

Here’s the story.  In 1954 NBC created the George Gobel Show for one of the popular comedians of the day “Lonesome George” Gobel.   The show was a huge success.  Gobel’s homespun, self-deprecating humor contrasted nicely with Milton Berle’s manic comedy.  Most of Gobel’s humor was relatively clean cut, but one night he told an extremely offensive joke that incurred the wrath of the conference. 

You’ve heard that you can’t buy happiness.  You can. Go out and buy a fifth.”

The gag was neither humorous nor accurate.  Rev. David Switzer, Secretary of the Conference Board of Temperance, asked the conference to take action to protest the lame joke.  Switzer, pastor of Temple Methodist in Houston, asked conference members to write letters of protest to the sponsors, Pet Milk and Armour & Co., and to NBC.

The increasing influence of television upon American culture was not the only social concern that made its way to the conference floor.  The Supreme Court decision, Brown vs. Board of Education, had been handed down on May 17, 1954.  The Texas Annual Conference met two weeks later.  Another year had passed, and conservative Southern reaction to the desegregation decision had turned ugly.  Some Southern governors vowed “massive resistance” to school desegregation.  In July, 1954 the White Citizens Council was created to fight for continued segregation of the races. Unlike the Ku Klux Klan, the White Citizens Councils met publicly and specialized in intimidation in the cause of white supremacy.  Some southerners tried to show that desegregation was communistic and subversive.  Unfortunately some of the racist governors and organizers of White Citizens Councils were Methodists.  Some Methodist preachers who openly supported racial justice suffered severe criticism and negative consequences to their careers.

 On the last day of Annual Conference, Rev. Grady Hardin of Chapelwood Methodist Church in Houston offered the following resolution to the body

In view of the recent ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States placing the responsibility of desegregation in American public education squarely on the local and federal courts and people; we call upon ourselves in the Church to question the conscience of the people to seek the guidance of the principles of Christ and the help of the Spirit of God to bring these changes in our social structure that will be conducive to growth toward brotherhood and God’s kingdom.

The resolution passed, but the issue of racial justice in Methodism persisted for years.
*Both Rev. Switzer and Rev. Hardin later continued their ministry at Perkins School of Theology, SMU. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

This Week in Texas Methodist History    May 19

Rev. John Bunyan Denton Killed While Attacking Indian Village,  May 24, 1841

John Bunyan Denton; preacher, attorney, and namesake of Denton County, was killed by a bullet to the chest on May 24, 1841 near the present Fort Worth-Arlington city limits. At the time of his death Bunyan was leading an attack on an Indian village. He was buried where he fell, but his body was eventually buried on the Denton County Courthouse grounds. 

John Bunyan Denton was born in Tennessee, orphaned at age 8, and a runaway from his new home at 12.  At 18 he married, and his wife taught him to read. The young couple was converted, and John felt the call to preach.  He supplied churches in the Missouri Conference (which included Arkansas), and was admitted on trial in the Arkansas Conference at the 1837 annual conference. 

When Littleton Fowler traveled through Arkansas on his way to the Texian Mission, he invited Denton to accompany him.  Although Denton was never commissioned as a missionary to Texas, he preached as far south as Nacogdoches before eventually settling in Clarksville

Only months after being admitted to the Arkansas Conference, Denton turned his attention to the practice of law.  (see post for March, 2009).  Such a career change was needed to provide for his family which included three sons and two daughters.  Two of his sons, J. F. Denton and J. B. Denton later became Methodist preachers.  

The Rev. William Allen composed a poem for Denton’s third burial on the courthouse grounds

Who knows the best?   Only one; that is God;
He knows best when to give, and when to take,
                      He knows it all.
He places all beneath His chastening rod,
He watches men, and marks the time and place;
                      Where e’er they fall.

Who knows the best?  Can others speak and say?
Knows anyone a new or better way
                 That satisfies?
Then why speculate or make search to find
Or other thought or proof among all mankind
              Than from the skies?

Denton fought, bled, and died while he was young.
Garlands of fame around him still have clung,
               And still will cling.
He is an anthem on the lips and heart,
A song engraved, and which will never part
               From souls that sing.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

This Week in Texas Methodist History May 12

Bartlett Methodists Asked to Remain at Home Sunday to Aid Solicitation Drive

In 1919 Northern and Southern Methodists united  in a massive Centenary Campaign to raise funds for missions.  The needs were great.  Europe still lay in ruins from World War I.  Traditional mission fields in Africa, Latin America, and Asia had also been disrupted as donations of money and volunteers to those missions had been interrupted by the war effort.  Domestic missions to northern industrial workers, Native Americans, and poverty-stricken Appalachia were added to the list for increased support.

1919 was chosen because it marked the centennial of the first Methodist mission to Native Americans in Ohio in 1819.  A complete campaign with committees, literature, and even a magazine provided local organizers with plenty of ammunition for their solicitation campaign which was to be held the week of May 18-25. 

In 1919 Bartlett was a prosperous small town in eastern Williamson County.  It was surrounded by cotton fields, and had good railroad access.  Its MECS church was a member of the Central Texas Conference.  The Centennial Campaign in Bartlett grew out of the men’s club, a predecessor of the United Methodist Men.  At their organizing meeting, the men decided to ask all Methodists in Bartlett to go home after church on Sunday, May 18, and wait there until a solicitor called upon them to fill out a pledge card.  Such a method may not seem out of the ordinary today, but in the era many families had a tradition of going to visit family members on Sunday afternoon.  The Centenary Campaign managers asked the congregation to forego such visits until after the solicitation.

They also publicized the campaign through the Bartlett Tribune and News.  Here is a portion of the article 

Are you a Methodist?  Do you believe in the expansion of Christian ideals?  Are you altruistic in motive and spirit? Are you one without regular channels of church giving?  Do you believe conditions are bad in this country with churches, Christian colleges, etc.? Then, you must believe that conditions are awfully and intolerably bad where the teachings of Christ are unknown, and if you answer these questions affirmatively, you will make a Centenary contribution.

You know that, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And that the Almighty has indeed priority of ownership to all business, houses, and lands.  Your deed and ownership is between man and man:  we have nothing:  our only assets consist in being created in the image of God and being subjects of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

Let’s pay a little for the air we breathe; the water we drink; the sunlight we enjoy.  We can not pay commensurate with the worth of these things for they are indispensible to life itself, but we can show that we have some of the attitude of gratitude, some thing that no man should be without.

Methodist of Bartlett, let’s not fall down on this great movement, but let’s worthily sustain the reputation of the town for doing things!

Saturday, May 04, 2013

This Week in Texas Methodist History May 5

Texas Conference Historical Center Dedicated at Lakeview  May 10, 1956

One of the great successes of the Texas Annual Conference in the post-World War II era was the acquisition and construction of a conference center in Anderson County near Palestine.  The first cabins opened in 1949, and the demand for camping experiences quickly led to more construction.  The facility was named Lakeview.

In April 1956 the Central Building opened as the grandest structure on the campus.  The Central Building was by no means rustic.  It was a modern comfortable hotel-style building with an assembly hall, diner, offices, and sleeping facilities.  The main hall featured a most pleasing view of Lake Lemons

One month after its opening, one room in the Central Building was officially dedicated as the Texas Conference Historical Center.  The featured speaker was Bishop A. Frank Smith whose message was “Our Glorious Heritage.”  Bishop Smith was a history buff who was quite proud of his Texas Methodist ancestors.   He had presided over the Texas Annual Conference since 1934, the year Texas Methodists celebrated their centennial.  

The new facility thus provided what was intended to be a permanent home for the contents of the Conference Trunk and other significant materials relating to the history of the Texas Conference.  The first donors of historical materials included S. S. McKenney, Mrs. J. Walter (Kate) Mills, Joe Z Tower, F. W. Dibble, Mrs. A. A. Wagnon, F. C. Woodward and Dr. and Mrs. W. C. Windham. 
The Texas Conference Historical Society managed the Center and actively solicited donations of historical materials and bought volumes for a rudimentary library. 

  In 1968 with the creation of the United Methodist Church by merger of the Methodist Church and the EUB Church, a Texas Conference Commission on Archives and History was created.  The new Commission replaced the Historical Society as the custodian of the materials in the Historical Center.    The Discipline of the new UMC also mandated that each annual conference have an archive so the Historical Center at Lakeview was given that role.

Facilities at the Historical Center in the Central Building had not been constructed to archival standards and were not large enough to accommodate the archives so the Historical Center and archives were later transferred to Lon Morris College in Jacksonville.