Saturday, May 31, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History   June 1

End of An Era, Bishop Frank Smith Adjourns Texas Annual Conference, June 3, 1960

The traditional end of a Methodist Annual Conference is the reading of the appointments and the singing of the Doxology, and that was the way the Texas Annual Conference of 1960 ended, but the events immediately preceding those traditional events were anything but traditional—for how many times has a Methodist bishop ever said goodbye after presiding of the same annual conference for 27 consecutive sessions?  Yes, Frank Smith was laying down the gavel he had held since he presided over the November, 1934 session of Annual Conference in anticipation of his retirement.  

The conference met on June 3, 1960, at 2:00 p.m. at First Methodist Houston.  The host pastor, Kenneth Pope, presided briefly in Bishop Smith’s absence.  The business items left included a few names from the Committee on Nominations and the report of the Committee on Resolution. The conference approved the resolutions and then Bishop Smith and the cabinet entered the sanctuary to the standing ovation of the congregation.  They continued to stand and applaud as Mrs. Smith was escorted to the platform for his valedictory remarks to the conference.  There had not been a retirement celebration at conference.  That was to come later at the Jurisdictional Conference in San Antonio and featured Arthur Moore as the chief speaker.  

Bishop Smith then reflected on the years since 1934 when he was began his tenure as presiding bishop of the Texas Annual Conference.  He concluded by asking all the preachers who had been ordained during his tenure to stand.  About one-half of the preachers did stand.  It was truly the end of an era.  

Frank Smith’s long episcopal career began in Dallas at the MECS General Conference of 1930 which met in Dallas.  Smith, his good friend Arthur Moore, and Paul Kern, were the new bishops elected that year.  In that era the bishops decided which one should preside over which conference, and Smith drew the Missouri, Southwest Missouri, the St. Louis, the Oklahoma, and Oklahoma Indian Mission Conferences.  He had been elected while serving as pastor of First Methodist Houston, and although he was far removed from his new assignment, the family stayed in Houston. 

After one quadrennium Smith was assigned the Texas, North Texas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma Indian Mission Conferences.  He was to keep the Texas Conference, but later dropped the conferences to the north and added the Southwest and Rio Grande Conferences.  

The years 1930 to 1960 were full of momentous events in both church and civic life, and Smith was at the center of most of them.  After the union of the MECS, MEC, and MP churches, he and his friend Arthur Moore very quickly assumed leading roles in the new Methodist Church.  Smith was involved in a variety of ecumenical efforts, mission efforts, and other work of the larger church.

His position as bishop put him on the board of SMU and Southwestern, and it can be truly said that he was responsible for much of the direction of Texas Methodist higher education. 

His long residence in Houston made him a very prominent Houstonian. Although the Methodist Hospital already existed, he pushed it to expand and achieve excellence.  He was a leader in inter-faith dialog in Houston and numbered Rabbi Hyman Schachtel among his close friends.  The trust he earned from the civic elite in Houston often led to generous donations to Methodist causes and was particularly valuable when one branch of McCarthyism attacked the Methodist Church. 

His tenure also coincided with the Great Depression and World War II and the economic boom Houston and the Gulf Coast experienced as a result of the industrialization of the 1940s.  He thus presided over an era of Depression, recovery and expansion and provided leadership in adapting to those changing conditions. 

There was another powerful American whose tenure encompassed the Depression and World War II—President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  For a whole generation whenever people thought about the President, they thought “FDR.”  For a whole generation of Texas Methodists whenever they thought about the bishop, they thought “Frank Smith.”

Bishop A. Frank Smith’s retirement was all too short.  He died in 1962.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History  May 25

Texas Annual Conference (Central Jurisdiction) Convenes for 100th Session,  May 26-30, 1965

For many years there were two Texas Annual Conferences in Methodism.  There was the Texas Annual Conference organized at Rutersville in 1840 as part of the Methodist Episcopal Church.  When the Methodist Episcopal Church South was organized, the Texas Conference became part of the MECS.  Until the Reconstruction Era the Texas Conference was bi-racial.  To be sure, African American Methodists were denied full membership privileges.  If they worshiped together, they were segregated in both the pew and the communion table.  Most Sundays, they worshiped at different times of the day. 
By the early 1870s the MECS was completely European-American except for a few church custodians who were made “honorary” members.  African American Methodists because members of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (later Christian Methodist Episcopal), African Methodist Episcopal, or African Methodist Episcopal Church, Zion denominations which were thoroughly Methodist in both theology and polity.  The three denominations, C.M.E., A.M.E, and A.M.E.Z., all provided institutions run by and peopled by African Americans.  

There was another option—the Texas Annual Conference of the MEC.  After the Civil War, Bishop Matthew Simpson came to Houston and organized the Texas Conference of the MEC.  For its first few years, it was a tri-ethnic annual conference consisting of African Americans, German speakers, and English speaking European Americans.  Those three groups eventually split into three different annual conferences.  When they did so, the African American annual conference retained the name “Texas Conference.” 

In 1939 when the MEC, MECS, and Methodist Protestant denominations united to form the Methodist Church, the African American conferences that had existed in the MEC were put into a “Central Jurisdiction” so that Jim Crow segregation could be maintained.  Thus beginning in 1939 there was a Texas Conference (Central Jurisdiction) and a Texas Conference (South Central Jurisdiction).  The two annual conferences that shared the same name had very little contact.  

The consciousness of Methodists about the obvious injustice of racial segregation slowly changed along with some of the rest of society.  When the General Conference of the Methodist Church met in Pittsburgh in 1964, it passed a resolution calling for the abolition of the Central Jurisdiction, and the integration of the African American and European American churches into annual conferences based on geography—not on race.  

A General Conference resolution is one thing—putting an end to ingrained racial prejudices proved to be another.  How would integration proceed at the local level?   The Tennessee-Kentucky Annual Conference churches of the Central Jurisdiction proceeded almost immediately into membership in the South Eastern Jurisdiction, but what about the Deep South and Deep East Texas where racial prejudices still poisoned the church?   Although some progressives preached and lived boldly in favor of integration, the vast majority of actions were small steps that seem timid by today’s standards.

One such action occurred during the 100th session of the Texas Annual Conference (Central Jurisdiction) that met in LaMarque at McKinney Memorial Methodist Church from May 26-May 30, 1965.  On Wednesday May 26, 1965, Bishop Paul E. Martin, presiding bishop of the Texas Conference (SCJ) addressed the Texas Conference (CJ) at the invitation of presiding Bishop Noah W. Moore, Jr., Bishop Martin’s noontime message was from Corinthians.  The Journal reports that several preachers from the Texas Conference (SCJ) came to hear their bishop’s message.  Among the names mentioned are Wallace Shook, Roland T. (Bill) Scales, and Hooper Haygood.    

The business of any annual conference is dictated by the disciplinary questions, ordination, and memorial services.  Annual conferences in 1965 also had to act on resolutions from the 1964 General Conference dealing with the abolition of the Central Jurisdiction.  One of the resolutions asked members to vote yes or no on admission to the South Central Jurisdiction.  The resolution carried 118 to 2.  One week later the Texas Annual Conference (SCJ) also voted on the resolution.  That vote was 351 to 0. 
Since it was the 100th session of the Texas Conference (CJ) there were appropriate celebrations of that anniversary.  Walter Vernon, one of the best known historians of Texas Methodism, came from Nashville representing the Board of Education to attend the historic event.    

Segregation had been in place for a long time, and desegregation took a frustrating long time.  In the case of the two Texas Annual Conferences, it took until 1970.  For the two years between 1968 General Conference and full unification in 1970, the Texas Conference (CJ) assumed the name Gulf Coast Conference to prevent confusion.  As the details of desegregation were worked out in the lives of individual congregations, much of the success of the process can be attributed to the leadership qualities of former Central Jurisdiction preachers including (among others) the Revs. Allen Mayes, Richard Robinson, W. B. Randolph, and Robert E. Hayes, Sr.    When Bishop Kenneth Copeland replaced the retiring Paul Martin, he asked Dr. Hayes to join him at the Methodist Building so he could draw on his great wisdom and knowledge of the African American Methodist heritage.  At the 1965 Annual Conference, he was selected as the conference’s official fraternal representative to the Texas Annual Conference (SCJ) which met the next week in Houston.  

Much of the success of desegregation should also be attributed to the newly-united United Methodist Women.   The School of Missions, District Meetings, and other UMW events provided venues for life changing experiences for both former CJ and SCJ members as they came together as sisters in the faith. 

Personal memoir

In May 1965 as preachers in the two Texas Annual Conferences were reaching out in tentative relationships prior to full fellowship, I was graduating from Beaumont High School.  I was a member of Beaumont First Methodist.  Our Director of Religious Education was Mrs. C. S. (Mimi) Nichols.  In the spring of 1965 she arranged for our MYF group to meet with the MYF of St. James Methodist Church, Rev. L. B. Allen, pastor.  For all of us in both groups, it was the only biracial group we had ever participated in. Looking back it may seem like one of those timid steps, but at least after decades of segregation, finally some small steps were being taken.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History  May 18

Distinguished Texas Politician Accepts Christ; Homer Thrall Administers Sacrament of Holy Communion, May 1846

George Whitfield Terrell, one of the most distinguished politicians of the Republic of Texas, lay dying in Dieterich’s Hotel in Austin in May 1846.  He less than 45 years old, but had served in the administrations of all of the presidents of the Republic, Houston, Lamar, and Jones.  He was not a member of a church.  His newspaper obituary called him ”a practical Christian.”  He asked his friends to summon the Methodist preacher, Homer Thrall, to his hotel room, and there Terrell accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior and asked Thrall to administer the sacrament of Holy Communion.  Thrall complied with the request on a Friday in May, and the following Monday, Terrell succumbed to the pulmonary disease afflicting him.

Terrell had been born in Kentucky in 1803.  His family moved to Tennessee when he was young, and he was admitted to the Tennessee Bar. Sam Houston, then Governor of Tennessee, appointed him to the post of District Attorney when he was only 25 and then elevated him to the post of Attorney General of Tennessee.  He was the occupant of that post when Sam Houston resigned the governorship.  

Terrell then served in the Tennessee Legislature from 1829 to 1836. He moved to Mississippi but didn’t stay there long.  In 1837 he moved to Texas.  President Lamar appointed him District Judge of the San Augustine District in 1840.  In December 1841 when Sam Houston began his second term as President, he appointed him Attorney General of the Republic of Texas.  In an interesting coincidence, Terrell succeeded Francis Asbury Morris, the son of Bishop Thomas A. Morris, as Attorney General for the Republic of Texas. 

In 1842 Terrell shifted from law to diplomacy when Houston appointed him Indian Commissioner.  It was Terrell who negotiated the Treaty of Bird’s Fort with nine Indian tribes in 1843.  In December 1844 he was appointed charge d’affaires from the Republic to France, Great Britain, and Spain.  He thus became the point man for Texas in promoting commerce and immigration from much of Europe.  

With the prospect of annexation looming, Texas would no longer need a diplomat in Europe so Terrell returned to his Texas where President Anson Jones made him Indian Commissioner again.

Terrell was in Austin tending to official business when he became ill.  According to the obituary, after Homer Thrall administered communion,  Terrell “expressed his strong confidence in God and his willingness to die—His last moments were spent in prayer to God. He constantly prayed that he might die calm.  His prayer was granted.”   

Homer Thrall preached his funeral sermon.  Terrell left behind a widow and two children.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History    May 11

Megaphone Reflects on First Fifty Years of Southwestern  University Graduates,     May 15, 1923

As the 1922-23 academic year ended, the Southwestern University newspaper, the Megaphone, looked back on fifty years of graduates.  Using university records, the newspaper reported that since its founding in 1873, the university had awarded 1240 degrees of whom 1151 were still living.  The 1240 included 798 men and 442 women.  The relatively small total and relatively high percent of graduates still alive, reflects the small graduating classes of the early days.    

If one of the aims had been to provide an educated clergy for Texas, then Southwestern could be counted a great success.  .  More than 10 per cent of the graduates, 138, had become clergymen.  Another 22 were missionaries.  One should remember that women were barred from ordination until 1956. 

The professions of the graduates were reported in chart form which is reproduced here.

   138 Preachers
   160 Teachers
     105 Lawyers
     21 Farmers
      49 Doctors
     5 Journalists
     15 Bankers
   7 Chemists
    1 Bishop
    5 Government Employees
    2 congressmen
    3 in Navy
   1 in Army
    1 Pianist


180 Teachers
220 Homemakers
1 lawyer
2 Librarians
22 Missionaries ( men and women)
29 students
184 Miscellaneous (merchants, oil men, real estate, mining engineers, etc.)

Saturday, May 03, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History   May 4

Bible Society of Coahuila y Texas Recognized at Columbia   May 7, 1835

One of the first, if not the first interdenominational organization the Methodist Episcopal Church joined was the American Bible Society, founded in 1816.  The ABS grew with an expanding nation and provided Bibles for Texas well before independence was achieved in 1836.

The first entry in the ABS Archives that mentions Texas is in the minutes for 1831.  E. R. Butler is given thirty Bibles and seventy testaments for sale or gratuitous distribution in Texas.   According to the minutes they were intended for a small colony of Americans and a few Swiss in Texas.

In 1833 a Colonel Langworthy was given twenty-five Bibles and fifty testaments  by the ABS and its Mississippi affiliate added another fifty of each—some of which were in Spanish. 

The real push came in 1834 when the ABS commissioned Sumner Bacon (1790-1844) as an agent for Texas and furnished him with one hundred English language Bibles, one hundred English language testaments, fifty Spanish language Bibles, and two hundred Spanish testaments.  Bacon travelled widely through Texas and eventually distributed approximately 2,000 Bibles and testaments.  

Bacon organized at least two local chapters of the American Bible Society in Mexican Texas.  The first was at San Augustine in September 1834 and another at Columbia on May 7, 1835.  A. C. Ainsworth was named secretary of the Coahuila y Texas Bible Society, but the names of the other members are not available.

After independence, Texans organized other local chapters of the Bible Society, and it became an important force in helping spread the Gospel message.  Schuyler Hoes, a Methodist preacher from New York was one agent who came to the Republic of Texas under the sponsorship of the ABS.  His work in and around Houston brought him into contact with Littleton Fowler and Robert Alexander.