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.


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