Saturday, January 11, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History   January 12

Depression Forces Radical Actions by Annual Conference,  January 18, 1934

It was not only families and businesses that suffered during the Great Depression.  Churches also felt the effects of economic decline.  Construction projects diminished.  Foreign missionaries came home because missionary support dried up.  Church institutions including colleges, hospitals, and orphanages suffered, and some of them closed.  Preacher salaries were often cut and staff had to be laid off.  The irony is that the demand for the caring ministries that churches provide including food and clothing relief was at its all time high, the churches were unable to provide it. 

All of the annual conferences in Texas felt the pinch and none more so than the Texas Conference of the Evangelical Association.  The EA was a Wesleyan denomination that later merged with the United Brethren to become the Evangelical United Brethren Church.  The EUB merged with the Methodist Church to become the United Methodist Church. 

Evangelical Association missionaries organized churches in the 1880’s, and in 1887 there were enough to organize an annual conference.  The first annual conference reported churches in San Antonio, Galveston, Temple, Sherman-Denison, and Wichita-Archer Counties.  Later missionary efforts resulted in churches in Houston and the El Campo area.

Even with a corps of dedicated preachers and faithful laity, the EA failed to grow.  At its 47th annual conference, January 18-21, 1934, the conference still reported fewer than 1000 members.  The huge question hanging over the conference was the staggering debt—it amounted to $25,640.   The District Superintendent, F. J. Winter called for drastic measures.  

Superintendent Winter led by example.  He called for each of the preachers for give an additional 6% of his already meager salary above his tithe to the debt retirement project.  He also suggested that the Annual Conference could save $200 by not printing the Conference Journal.  Instead of sending the Journal to a printing company, Winter volunteered to produce the Journal on his San Antonio church’s mimeograph machine.  The Conference accepted Winter’s offer even though the task would consume many, many hours. 
The Annual Conference also voted to sell lots in Wichita Falls, San Antonio, and Temple.  Those sales brought in very modest sums because of the depressed real estate prices of the era.  The largest property sale was in  Galveston where the conference voted to sell the church building to the Greek Orthodox Church for $6500.  One of the Wichita Falls churches was dismantled and the materials sold for $210.  

One year later, January 17-20, 1935, the Annual Conference rejoiced to learn that the drastic measures taken in 1934 had reduced the debt by $5000.  The debt was now $20,710.  Lenten boxes had brought in $425 and the voluntary apportionments were continued.  The conference also voted to sell one of the San Antonio churches and more lots in Wichita Falls.  It also voted not to continue a fledgling church at Bonus, ten miles from Lissie and served by the Lissie pastor.  

The 49th session of the Annual Conference, January 14-17, 1936, reported such success in reducing the debt that the assessment on pastors was reduced to 3.5% of their cash salary.  Since 1937 was to be the Jubilee Year or 50th anniversary of the Texas Conference, a Jubilee fundraising campaign was authorized with a goal of $5000.  

In spite of the continuing debt concern, the 1937 annual conference authorized even more expenditures—an expansion at Wichita Falls First, a parsonage at El Campo, and a new church at Post Oak Zion (near La Vernia).  

Journals of the 51st and following annual conferences report continuing progress on retiring the debt.  A real milestone was reached in 1944.  The Conference convened at El Campo on January 20.  The presiding bishop announced that the Conference finances had improved to the point that the Journal could be printed.  For ten years, the Journal had been mimeographed.   

The conference finances were finally in order after more than a decade of sacrificial giving and sale of assets.  In one sad irony, F. J. Winter, the District Superintendent who led by example, was not there to enjoy this progress.  He died on January 10, only 10 days before annual conference convened. 


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