Saturday, April 26, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History  April 27

Isaac M. Williams Reports on Church Conditions at Matagorda, April 30, 1844

By the Grace of God, live or die, sink or swim.”

The most significant ministerial recruiting trip in Texas Methodist history was Littleton Fowler’s 1842 visit to Ohio.  By 1842 Fowler needed a break.  He arrived in Texas in 1837 and shouldered much of the responsibility of establishing Methodism in the Republic of Texas.  From Ruter’s death in May, 1838 to December of that year, he was head of the Texian Mission.  In Dec. 1838 Texas was added to the Mississippi Conference, and he was a Presiding Elder.  He also married and was in the process of establishing a farmstead.  It was time for a break.

Accordingly he took an appointment as Agent for Wesleyan College.  Fowler was an experienced agent (fund raiser) since he had volunteered for Texas while agent for LaGrange College.  Freed of the responsibility of holing quarterly meetings, Fowler could take extended trips.  

In 1842 he went north to attend annual conferences and to recruit volunteers for Texas pulpits.  His most spectacular success was at the Ohio Annual Conference where a veritable stampede of volunteers supplied Texas with some of its most able preachers—Homer Thrall, John W. Devilbiss, Daniel Poe, Wilbur Thurber, William O’Connor, and Richard Walker all volunteered.  

Fowler then travelled to the North Ohio Annual Conference where his efforts were less successful—only one volunteer, Isaac M. Williams—transferred to Texas.

In April 1844 Williams was serving in Matagorda, on a circuit that had been organized by Jesse Hord just five years before.  Like Hord, Williams suffered from the rigors of trying to travel on the Gulf Coastal Prairie.  He wrote Fowler the following

My journey to this place was one of toil and weariness. My feelings and scenery were uniform in their monotony and being naturally of a gloomy cast by the time I arrived at my field of labor my feelings were any thing but enviable.

I found the Circuit in a bad state or in other words no state at all. However I trust I have gone to work in the right way in both senses in spirit & in manner.
My circuit is 180 miles round, this I travel in three weeks—
preaching 12 times. I have made 1/2 station of [this] town preaching [p. 2] here two Sabbaths in succession out of three. Another of my appointments is on the Peninsular which I visit every 3 weeks & preach 2 or 3 times when there. I go in a small open sail boat. ’Tis about 30 miles. I think I shall organize a society there. You may judge of my feelings when I affirm there is not a [at this place Williams drew a pointing finger] local Preacher Ex[?] or class leader in the bounds of my work! And but one class and had much preferred the non-existence of this. Through the negligence of the ministers of last year ’tis on the direct route to anihilation.

It is one of the most slavishly disagreeable countries I ever travelled. ’Tis so low and flat that an ordinary rain will completely inundate for miles. Here I go splash -- -- -- until by way of change my horse plunges a clear over and all under in one of those slews too common in the prairie country. Getting lost—sleeping out doors without [illegible]—swimming creeks, etc. are no longer to me rarieties. Notwithstanding all this I am encouraged. The people are kind and thankfully accept my labors and [page 3] by the grace of God, live or die, sink or swim, I am in for a revival. Pray for me.

In addition to the difficulties of climate and topography, Matagorda was an Episcopal stronghold.  Williams reported coolness on the part of the Episcopal priest, Caleb Ives.  Ives, the first duly appointed Episcopal priest to Texas already had a church building and academy in Matagorda when Williams arrived.  

After the division of Texas into Eastern and Western Annual Conferences, Williams transferred to the Eastern Texas Conference and thus traded the coastal plains for the Piney Woods.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History   April 20

Texas Methodists Look Ahead to Unification   April, 22, 1938

Although the Union of the northern and southern branches of episcopal Methodism and Protestant Methodism was accomplished in 1939, the proposed Union was a subject of discussion for years before 1939.  Naturally the Methodist press covered such an important story.  Although there were several regional editions of the Advocate, the official organ of the MECS was the Christian Advocate published in Nashville.  The editor was William P. King, and there were several associate editors with strong Texas connections including Ivan Lee Holt, Clovis Chappell, Forney Hutchinson, William C. Martin, and Paul Quillian.  

The April 22, 1938 edition of the Advocate tried to provide readers with what the new denomination, called simply, “the Methodist Church,” would look like if the proposed plan of Union were adopted.  The Rev. C. B. Haley, editor of the MECS General Minutes, gathered membership statistics from all the annual conferences of the MEC, MECS, and MP and provided a state-by-state comparison.  

In keeping with the racist conventions of the era, even the membership statistics were segregated by race into “White” and “Negro.”  

Texas membership looked like this

MECS (southern)
. . .
MEC (northern)

The proposed plan of Union called for Texas to be in the South Central Jurisdiction with Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.    Those eight states showed tremendous differences in culture, settlement patterns and history.  Those differences were reflected in Methodist membership statistics.  

Arkansas and Louisiana Methodist membership statistics were similar to those in Texas, but Methodism in all the other states in the proposed new jurisdiction was quite different.  In both Oklahoma and Missouri the ratio of northern and southern Methodists was much closer to parity.  In both Kansas and Nebraska, the southern church was all but non-existent.  (1,118 Southern Methodists out of a total of 287,132 Methodists in both states combined.—less than one half of one percent).   New Mexico reported fewer than 16,000 northern and southern Methodists combined—by far the smallest membership of any of the states in the proposed South Central Jurisdiction.  Such a small number of Methodists in New Mexico helps explain why El Paso, Pecos, Odessa, Fort Stockton, and other Texas cities continued to be in the New Mexico annual conference.  

Unification was possible because there had been little theological drift since the separation in the mid-1840’s.  The issues leading to unification had been structural—especially the insistence of the MECS on maintaining racial segregation.  Once MEC European-Americans agreed to the creation of the segregationist Central Jurisdiction, unification could take place.  (The Methodist Protestants were less involved.  There were a very few African American Methodist Protestant churches in Texas and Arkansas but nowhere else.)

Unification issues of theology and polity were resolved by the delegates, but the cultural differences between the conferences now linked through jurisdictional ties continued.  Those differences provided interesting conversations for years to come.  Some former MECS members who attended  functions in former MEC churches in Oklahoma and Kansas remarked on stained glass windows showing Abraham Lincoln—something they had not seen in MECS churches.  Different traditions of episcopal leadership style had evolved in the MEC and MECS denominations—collegial vs. authoritarian.  

The first quadrennial conference of the South Central Jurisdiction occurred in 1940.  Delegates from the predecessor denominations started getting to know each other.  Fortunately unification had resulted in enough bishops to handle episcopal responsibilities in all the conferences so delegates to the 1940 South Central Jurisdictional Conference did not have to elect any bishops.  That was probably a good thing as the regional politics that characterizes such elections could be postponed for four years—after the Texans, Kansans, Missourians, et al, would know each other better.

Friday, April 11, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History   April 13

Epworth Leaguers Meet in San Antonio   April 14-17, 1896

In the 1890’s the Epworth League zoomed to prominence in both the northern and southern branches of Methodism.  The League was a young person’s organization, but should not be confused with today’s United Methodist Youth Fellowship because the League included young adults in its membership.    The League followed Methodist organization patterns with local, sub-district, district, conference, and state organizations.  It provided young persons a training ground for leadership.

Several thousand Leaguers met for the fifth annual state meeting in San Antonio from April 14-17, 1896.  The program committee consisting of W. W. Pinson (Travis Park Methodist in San Antonio), Seth Ward (of the Texas Conference, later bishop), and D. E. Emerson (North Texas Conference), put together a program that emphasized missions.  

The delegates were welcomed on Tuesday night by a sermon preached by E. D. Mouzon, then of Abilene, but later elected bishop.  On Wednesday, the first full day of the meeting, the delegates participated in song services, organized themselves into committees, and heard speeches from the mayor of San Antonio, J. C. Martin of Nashville, and other prominent Methodists.  V. A. Godbey of Rusk addressed the convention on “The League:  A Development in the Spirit of Methodism.”  He was followed by J. E. McAshan of Houston who spoke on “The League: A Factor in the Future of Methodism.”  Bishop Eugene Hendrix of Kansas City preached the concluding sermon that night.  

Thursday activities followed the same pattern with addresses by Professor H. C. Pritchett of Sam Houston State Normal (today’s Sam Houston State University), Rev. George Stewart of Cleveland, Texas, on temperance, and Rev. W. D. Bradfield of Weatherford on “The Duty of the League to Non-church Going Masses.”  Thursday night concluded with another bishop in the pulpit.  Bishop Joseph Key of Sherman preached a Jubilee sermon.

There were no scheduled activities all day Friday as delegates were invited to go to the tourist attractions in San Antonio.  Friday night the concluding service was a massed choir concert.

There were other opportunities even after adjournment.  About 1000 Leaguers went north to Austin and marched en masse from the station to the State Capitol and chanted until Governor Culberson came to steps and addressed them.  They spent the rest of Saturday touring the Capitol and the new dam that had just been built across the Colorado.  (The dam was finished in 1893 and was washed out by a flood in April, 1900.)

Another group took advantage of special excursion rates offered by the railroad to go south.  They stopped for the night at Laredo Seminary (later Holding Institute) to observe the boarding school for Spanish speaking students.  That wasn’t all.  Some Leaguers continued the excursion to Monterrey and  even to Mexico City.   There were Methodist missions in both cities, including a hospital in Monterrey and several more schools to visit. 

The text of McAshan’s speech was later printed in the Houston Daily Post.  It may be accessed at  James E. McAshan (1857-1916) was a banker, trustee of Rice Institute (later Rice University) and member of First Methodist Church Houston.  There was a McAshan Methodist Church in Houston named for him.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History      April 6

Traveler Reports on “Preachertown” (Clarendon),  April 12, 1879

Would you be able to repeat the Lord’s Prayer backwards?  That was the waggish condition for buying a town lot in Clarendon reported by a traveler in April, 1879.  That was obviously a joke, but promising to forfeit one’s property if it were used for the sale of alcoholic beverages was not.  Clarendon was founded on the strictest Methodist principles. 

The Rev. Lewis Carhart and his brother-in-law, and a group of English investors bought 343 sections of railroad land scrip and surveyed it into town lots and farms.  Their strict prohibition against the sale of alcohol made Clarendon an exception to the wide-open frontier towns with their saloons.  The joke about the backward recitation of the Lord’s Prayer was not the only time locals poked fun at the town.  It was nicknamed “Saints Roost,” “Preachertown,” and “Methodist Colony.”

The distinctive religious character of the town attracted serious settlers who wanted to raise their children in a wholesome atmosphere.  Accordingly, Clarendon was widely acknowledged as an outstanding educational center.  Clarendon College, founded by the Northwest Texas Conference of the MECS in 1898, provided a fine opportunity for learning.  

The development company began selling lots in October, 1878.  Here is the report of the traveler only six months later.

This place is known as the”Methodist Colony,” also as “Preachertown.”  The rev. Mr. Carhart of the Methodist church is the chief manager of affairs.  His residence is at Sherman, Texas, where he edits a paper in the interests of Clarendon.  Clarendon is a quiet settlement of about a dozen buildings situated about eight miles from the base of the plains. And is completely land locked with hills. . . .No intoxicating liquors are allowed to be sold, and any one purchasing a lot in the town must enter into an agreement that in case he should sell liquor upon the premises then his property will be confiscated for the benefit of a seminary in Clarendon.  The boys say that purchasers must also be able to recite the Lord’s Prayer backwards, but I do not believe this, at least it is not in the printed stipulations.  Clarendon is a desirable locality for persons seeking a quiet homestead in the country.  Ft. Griffin Echo, April 12, 1879.