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.


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