Saturday, June 29, 2013

This Week in Texas Methodist History  June 30

Methodist Church at Liberty Hosts 4th of July Celebration, July 4, 1850

The celebration of the 4th of July is a great celebration of the founding principles of the Declaration of Independence.  Americans began observing the event very early in our nation’s history.  Unfortunately sometimes the celebrations were marred by the consumption of large amounts of alcohol.  Alcohol was common in early 19th century.  Corn was the most important grain, and because of the primitive transportation system, it was hard to transport.  Farmers distilled their corn into whiskey or fed it to hogs so they could transport it more cheaply.  Apples were pressed into hard cider, peaches turned into brandy, and pears into perry (fermented pear juice). 

Alcohol was so cheap and available that many people started their day with a swig.  Employers supplied alcohol to their employees. Political candidates were expected to have a keg at the polls for the voters.

The massive amounts of alcohol consumption eventually produces an anti-alcohol reaction and the enactment of national prohibition in the early 20th century.  Although best known from the early 20th century, the movement for prohibition actually started before the Civil War, and one of the most prominent prohibition group was a group called the Sons of Temperance.   It was founded in the New York City in 1842 and spread rapidly through the United States, Canada, and England.  The first Texas chapter was established at Henderson in the mid 1840s.  Methodists quickly assumed leadership positions in the Sons of Temperance. 

Sons of Temperance combined aspects of fraternal groups and mutual insurance companies.  There were secret passwords, regalia, and other aspects borrowed mainly from Masonic orders. When a member died, his family received a $30.00 death benefit.   The death of a member’s wife brought half that amount.  One of the by laws required each member to call on a sick member every day of his illness. 

In 1850 the Sons of Temperance chapter at Liberty produced an alcohol-free 4th of July celebration.  Naturally the Methodist church at Liberty was central to the celebration.  Here is how the Texas Wesleyan Banner reported the event.

Agreeable to a previous resolution of the Liberty Division of the Sons of Temperance they met at the Court House at Liberty at 10:a.m. and marched in procession to the City Hotel where a banner was presented to the Order by Mrs. Ann House in behalf of the ladies of Liberty. Accompanied with an elegant and appropriate address  which was responded to by W. C. Abbott, Esq., P.W.P.* whereupon the Division had a procession , accompanied by the ladies of Liberty and vicinity to the M. E. Church where a highly entertaining Oration was delivered  by C. .L. Cleaveland, Esq.  The Division again formed and marched in procession to the City Hotel where a sumptuous dinner awaited them.  The proceedings throughout were characterized by good order, harmony. And love,
Signed  A. B. Jones, P. A. Swan, C. Bryan

The celebration in Liberty is just one example of how Methodists and other progressive reformers tried to supply wholesome alternatives to social ills.  Many Methodist churches still do.  

*P,W,P.= Past Worshipful Patriarch 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

This Week in Texas Methodist History June 23

Reverend John Wesley Kenney Administers Estate of Dead Brother  June 26, 1846

From his arrival at Washington on the Brazos in December 1833 to his death at his home in January 1865, the Rev. John Wesley Kenney was a stalwart of Texas Methodism and of the Texas Conference.  Kenney was the main organizer of the 1834 and 1835 Caney Creek Camp Meetings that issued the call for Methodist missionaries.  In 1838 Kenney surveyed the town site of Rutersville, a projected Methodist town anchored by a university.  He regularly filled the pulpit at camp meetings and often surprised some attendees when they observed the tall man who dressed in crude buckskins but  was capable of impassioned and articulate sermons. 

Although Kenney was a fully ordained member of the Kentucky Conference, in Texas he accepted a full time itinerating appointment for one conference year.  At the third session of the Texas Annual Conference, held at Bastrop in December 1842, he was appointed to the Brazos Circuit.  His mighty feats in support of Texas Methodism were accomplished mainly as a local pastor. 

At least part of the reason Kenney served as a local pastor rather than a travelling preacher was that he had significant family responsibilities.  John Wesley and Maria Kenney had eight children of their own, and tragic circumstances made his the guardian of three of his nieces. 

The three nieces were the orphaned children of John Wesley Kenney’s brother, Doctor Thomas and Mary Jane Kenney.  Thomas Kenney also immigrated to Texas, but did not stay long in “Eastern Texas.”  In 1839 he pushed on to present Williamson County and established a settlement called Kenney’s Fort on Brushy Creek in what is now Round Rock.  Kenney’s Fort attracted some settlers, but life was not easy.  In 1841 Mary Jane Kenney died of consumption.  Thomas sent the two oldest daughters, Mary Jane and Clarissa to school in nearby Austin.  In the spring of 1844 Thomas Kenney decided to send Mary Jane and Clarissa to Rutersville College.  As he loaded his wagon on the night of April 5, two of his neighbors, Courtney and Castlebury, returned from a buffalo hunt on the Salado Creek about five or six miles north of present day Corn Hill in northern Williamson County.  They had cached buffalo hides.  It was now becoming warm so the hides were deteriorating.  They wanted Kenney’s help and his ox wagon to haul the hides.

Thomas Kenney agreed to delay taking Mary Jane and Clarissa to Rutersville so he could help retrieve the hides.  When they did not return, a search party was dispatched.  That party found the bodies of all three men.  Their horses and firearms were taken, and the oxen were dead with arrow wounds.  Mary Jane, Clarissa, and the baby Anna were now orphans. 

Their uncle, John Wesley Kenney brought them back to Austin County where he raised them to adulthood with his own children.  

Saturday, June 15, 2013

This Week in Texas Methodist History June 16

Southwest Texas Conference Holds Older Methodist Boys’ Conference  1944

The 2013 session of the Texas Annual Conference had as its theme, “Invest in the Young.”  Such a theme naturally turned the Texas Methodist historian’s mind back to previous efforts in promoting youth leadership.  The Southwest Texas Conference once had a program whose goal was to bring a 15-17 year-old-boy from each charge in the conference to Annual Conference.  It was called the Older Boys’ Conference.

The Rev. George Baker, Jr., of First Methodist San Angelo, suggested that each church send a 15-17 year-old-boy to the 1944  Annual Conference at Travis Park Methodist Church in San Antonio.  Bishop A. Frank Smith and his cabinet approved the idea so when Annual Conference convened there were 138 boys from a potential 200 churches in attendance.  Each church had financed the trip to San Antonio, but the expense was minimal since most of the boys lodged with Methodists in the Alamo City

They sat together during conference and also at special sessions at which some of the most distinguished figures of Texas Methodism addressed them.  President J. N. R. Score of Southwestern University and Dean Eugene Hawk of SMU represented Methodist educational institutions.  Marshall Steel and Dawson Bryan of Highland Park Dallas and St. Paul’s Houston preached to them.  The Conference Lay Leader, W. W; Jackson, also addressed them.

The purpose of the Older Boys’ Conference was to cultivate a new generation of Methodist leaders, both clergy and lay.  Part of the motivation must have been the fact that so many young Methodist men were absent from their usual pews in 1944, serving in Europe, the Pacific, and military bases around the United States.  There were still memories of World War I in which a whole generation of the finest youth of Europe that been destroyed in senseless warfare.  It was a time to reach these 15-17 year-olds right before they had the birthday that would make them old enough for military service.

A second session of Older Boys’ Conference was held in 1945 at which the attendance was 126.  Dr. Roy L. Smith was the main speaker. In 1946 the conference brought in the Rev. Howard Ellis of Evanston, Illinois, to provide the program for the Older Boys’ Conference.  Ellis was nationally known for illustrating his sermons with drawings while he preached.   The effort, however, was short-lived.  In 1947 the Conference Board of Education redirected the effort to a older youth conference held at Mount Wesley in Kerrville

I once interviewed one of the attendees at Older Boys’ Conference.  Rather than remembering the speakers or worship, he had a negative memory.  He was a 15 year-old from a small farming community in one of the coastal counties of the Southwest Texas Conference.   A visit to San Antonio was a big deal in itself.  He stayed with a host family in a northern suburb of San Antonio.  Each morning the host gave him two dimes for bus fare.  One afternoon, at the close of the session, he reached in his pocket and discovered he had lost the dime for the return bus ride.  The small town boy didn’t know anything else to do but walk all the way back to his lodgings.  His conference memory was of a three hour walk.  

Saturday, June 08, 2013

This Week in Texas Methodist History  June 9

Henderson Palmer Writes About Meeting at  Box’s (Houston County)   June 11, 1838

In the late 1830s Texas Methodism consisted of about a dozen communities of Methodist farmers and merchants.  Many of them were extended families who had immigrated from the United States while Texas was still a part of Mexico.  Some of the immigrants had been preachers in the United States.  Others had been class leaders and exhorters.  In 1837 the first officially appointed missionaries to Texas spent most of their time riding between these Methodists neighborhoods and organizing them into regular stops on a circuit. 

One such extended family of Methodists lived in what is today Houston County.  Stephen F. Box and his sons emigrated from Alabama to Texas in November 1834.  They settled about 12 miles east of Crockett and constructed a facility called Box’s Fort.   Four brothers--James, John, Nelson, and Thomas Box all served under Hayden Arnold in the 2nd Regiment of Volunteers, First Infantry Company at the Battle of San Jacinto.  After independence was won, the Box  brothers were instrumental in organizing Houston County.  It was the first county created by the new government of the Republic of Texas

We have evidence of a camp meeting hosted by the Box family as early as the summer of 1838.  A school teacher by the name of Henderson Palmer wrote Littleton Fowler that although he lived eight miles from Box’s and had no horse, every other Saturday he walked the distance so he could attend services on Sunday.  Palmer was born in 1812, attended college at LaGrange College and came to Texas to teach.  One month after writing about the meeting, Fowler came to Box’s and licensed Palmer to preacher, thus becoming the first know preacher to be licensed in Texas.

At the Mississippi Annual Conference of 1839 Palmer was appointed to Crockett.  In 1840 he became a charter member of the Texas Annual Conference.  He served charges in East Texas including Jasper, Nacogdoches, Rusk and Crockett until his death in 1869. (see post for Feb. 17, 2013)

The Box family continued to be stalwarts of Texas Methodism for decades.  Samuel Box  was admitted to the East Texas Conference in 1848.   One of the Houston County Box family achieved political prominence.  John Calvin Box went to Alexander Collegiate Institute  (later Lon Morris College)then located in Kilgore.  He moved to Jacksonville  in 1897 just a few years after ACI did.  He practiced law and  served as both judge and mayor.  Box was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives and served there 1919-1931.  John Calvin Box was also a lay Methodist preacher and one of the founders of SMU.  The Box family of Houston County thus could point with pride to a long heritage of service in Texas Methodism.    

Saturday, June 01, 2013

This Week in Texas Methodist History June 2

Texas Annual Conference Increases Pension Benefits June 3, 1958

Pension benefits for retired preachers always constitute an important part of the business sessions of Methodist annual conferences.   Pensions are complicated and of obvious vital interest to both active and retired preachers.   Most annual conferences now have a pension system in place that allows retired ministers to enjoy their retirement in dignity, but it was not always so.

When the Texas Conference was just starting in the 1840s the Journals printed Question 8, “Who are the superannuated and worn out preachers?” Texas was such a new conference that it had no “worn out” preachers to report, but the Mississippi Conference from which the Texas Conference was created, had worn out preachers who had toiled in Texas.   

Superannuates were grouped with other claimants to divide the funds that had been collected through the year at the quarterly conferences.  Here’s how it worked.

As presiding elders traveled their districts holding quarterly conferences, they collected funds.  The preacher’s salary and the presiding elder’s salary were taken from those collections.  Each preacher received the same pay with some allowances being made for preachers with families to support. 
In a good year the collections would result in a surplus that the presiding elder would bring to annual conference.  Once the surpluses from the various districts were pooled, a final total for the amount to be distributed was calculated.  It would then be distributed by vote of the annual conference among the following classes of claimants:


Preachers whose collections had not come up to the stated salary

Superannuated preachers

Widows and children of deceased preachers.

To use the Mississippi Conference of 1842 as an example we find that Bishops Soule, Roberts, and Hedding all received $9.88; Bishop Andrew, $9.05; Bishop Waugh, $11.34, and Bishop Morris, $7.04. 
Preachers whose collections on their circuit did not reach the minimum received amounts from $2.25 to almost $100. 

William Stevenson, who preached the first Methodist sermon in Texas, was a superannuate of the Mississippi Conference. He received $82.50.  Two widows received $61.50 each.

To summarize:  PE’s would collect money as they made their rounds.  After their salaries and the circuit preachers were paid, the rest would be divided among the classes of claimants according to a formula decided at annual conference.  The use of the term “conference claimants” is thus sort of a lexical artifact from the early years of Methodism. 

As more Methodist preachers lived long enough to reach retirement age, the ranks of superannuated preachers grew, and the growing number of retirees meant that the conference claimant funds had to be stretched thinner and thinner.  Each new retiree and widow increased the demand on the available funds and few of them had accumulated savings

The main form of wealth accumulation in 19th century America was the price appreciation of real estate—either a farm which became more valuable as improvements were made or a city house that became more valuable as the city’s population grew and created increased demand for housing.  The inflation of real estate value in late 19th century America was such a common discussion topic that the economist Henry George (1839-1897) proposed a system in which all other taxes could be eliminated if cities would just tax the “unearned increment” of inflated real estate.
A circuit riding ministry meant that few preachers in full connection could accumulate wealth through the appreciation of real estate.  Living in a parsonage meant one reached retirement age a non-homeowner.

Retirement often meant living with one’s adult children or in some cases with active preachers who happened to live in large parsonages. 

One response to the destitute condition of retirees was the practice of churches owning houses which they allowed retirees to live in rent free.  Many retirees thus depended upon the generosity of a particular congregation.

A regular system of pensions based on years of service provided the ultimate answer to the persistent question of how to care for retirees. 

At the Texas Annual Conference of 1958 retirees got a raise.  The formula was simple.  For each year of service, the retiree received $58.  A preacher who retired after 40 years of service would thus receive a monthly pension of almost $200 per month.