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.


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