Saturday, June 28, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History  June 29

Nathan Bangs Writes Littleton Fowler About Missionary Service in Texas July 1`, 1837

On July 1, 1837 Nathan Bangs wrote Littleton Fowler about the details of his missionary service in Texas.  Fowler had been Agent for LaGrange College in Alabama since November 1833.  The job of Agent was mainly fundraising for the school headed by future bishop Robert Paine.   When the call for volunteers for Texas came in 1836, Fowler volunteered.  He already had Texas connections with an aunt and two brothers living in northeastern Texas.  Fowler would join Martin Ruter and Robert Alexander as the Texian Mission.

The letter from Bangs to Fowler is most instructive as it reveals Methodist conditions during the era of its most explosive expansion—an era before a large denominational bureaucracy when preachers shared a brotherhood of equality of salary, suffering, and glory.  

At the time of the letter, Nathan Bangs was Book Agent of the Methodist Book Concern in New York City.  In that capacity he edited the Advocate and the Methodist Quarterly Review and operated the press, bindery, and sales for Methodist tracts and books.  In 1836 he also became mission secretary, hence his letter to Fowler.  Co-incidentally the head of the Texian Mission, Martin Ruter, had been Book Agent in Cincinnati for 8 years.  If you wish to know more about his important figure in Methodist history, you are fortunate.  Our friend, the Rev. Dr. Daniel Flores has written a biography of Bangs, available at Amazon.

Here is the letter

New York, July 1, 1837

Dear Brother:
Yours of the 1st of June came to hand today.  Dr. Ruter writes me that he intended to star ton his mission about the first of this month, and as you are to act under his direction, he was requested to give you all needful instructions. If you have not received them from him, you will repair to Texas with all convenient speed and work to the best advantage until he comes or you hear from him.  I expect Brother Alexander has done ere this as he had instructions to go on some time since.

As to your support, you have not informed me whether you are married or single, and if the former, how many children you have.  If single, you are allowed what the discipline allows for a single man, your traveling expenses and board, and for this you can draw on our Treasurer, Bro. Thos. Mason in quarterly or half-yearly installments.1  If married, please inform me the number in family. But when you arrive, and Dr. Ruter joins you, he is authorized by a letter from me to regulate all these matters.

Consult also with him respecting books, etc., etc  If you shall want Bibles and Testaments for gratuitous distribution, we can furnish you will as many as you may want.2  Dr. Ruter and yourself and Bro. A. will consult on all these matters and let me know the result and we will endeavor to meet your wishes. 

Praying that God may make your way prosperous in that land of desolations3, preserve your life and health, and over-shadow you with his presence, I am,
Yours affectionately, N. Bangs.

1 Unmarried Methodist preachers of the era were allowed no more than $100 in salary per year in addition to traveling expenses and board.  Married preachers could receive $200 per year.  The amount added per child was a pittance, based on the amount collected in the annual conference of which the preacher was a member.
2 By 1837 the Methodist Episcopal Church distributed Bibles and tracts through the American Bible Society, a interdenominational organization also headquartered in New York City.
3”Land of desolations” refers to the lack of preachers in Texas rather than any physical desolation.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History  June 22

MEC Builds Church at Mustang Creek, Manvel  1912

One of the fastest growing areas in the United States is northern Brazoria County and adjacent areas of Galveston and Harris Counties.  Pearland, for example, has been transformed into a city of 100,000 in the blink of an eye.  Where subdivisions grow, Methodist churches are soon to follow.  One of the great strengths of the Methodist system has been in its ability to provide new churches to new communities.  That has been true not just in the present, but throughout our history.  

Settlement patterns in Brazoria County are among the most interesting in Texas.  Lands along the Brazos River were the most desirable in Austin’s Colony in the 1820s and 1830s.  Land grants to Austin’s family members were along the lower course of the Brazos.  The desirability of those lands was based on a vision of plantations of cotton and cane being serviced by steam boats.  

On the other hand, the upland prairies in Brazoria and other coastal counties were not attractive throughout most of the 19th century.  The lack of wood, poor drainage, muddy roads, and environmental factors discouraged small subsistence farms like those being established in the wooded areas of Texas.   Much of the land on the coastal plain remained in the public domain.

Finally in the late 19th century those lands were awarded to railroad companies as bonuses for laying track.  Vacant land was of little use to the railroads.  They needed to make those lands productive so they could haul the products of the land.  Sometimes the railroad companies set up their own land development offices and sometimes they sold huge tracts to other developers.  The first farms and orchards established in the 1890s by agricultural immigrants were wiped out by the Storm of 1900, but in the next decade they were rebuilt.
The Allison & Richey Land Company was one of the developers in Brazoria County.  They were very amenable to making building lots available to churches.  After all, the company interest was in making the community as attractive as possible.  

The Texas Conference Archives has recently acquired a history of the Mustang Creek Methodist Episcopal Church written by Charles Schlechte the founding pastor and a member of the Southern German Conference of the MEC.  

Such a first person account is rare and provides such interesting insights; I have transcribed it and preserved the original spelling.

Historical Record of the Mustang Creek Meth. Epis. Church, Manvel, Texas

In July, 1911 I called on Bro. Max Witthaus Manvel Texas who had written a card to Bro. Reifschneider*, asking him if there were any german services near Manvel or Alvin, he would be very thankful for information.  During that week we had a german service in Mr. John Mohr’s Store Manvel Texas.  By canvassing the country, I had found several germans.

Since then I preached in Manvel in the Brethern Church to the german people till July, 1912.  We saw, to keep up the mission, we also had to preach in the english language for there were quite a few english speaking people that were not taken care off in spiritual life and the germans alone were not strong enough , so we united and held a meeting  which proved  to be a great blessing to the community.  Nine joined the church, seven probation and two with papers.

We saw the necessity of having a house of worship for the Mustang Creek schoolhouse on Section E, Lot 37, was to small to accomidate the people , so we agreed to erect a house of worship.  The location commite  selected Section E, Lot 37, belonging to the Allison Richey Land Co.    Allison Richey land Co. donated 9 acres of Section #, Lot 37,for a Church Edifice, parsonage and burial purposes. 
We started to build Nov. 13, 1912.  Bro. H. Pearson superintended the work and nearly all the neighbors helped, the entire labor being worth about $300.00 The church was dedicated Dec. 15, 1912.  

Through most of its existence Mustang Creek at Manvel was on a circuit with Alvin and Algoa.   

*Riefschneider was the Galveston Port Chaplain. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History   June 15

Celebrate Juneteenth!

Juneteenth is the holiday which commemorates the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation by General Gordon Granger in Galveston on June 19, 1865.  The day is celebrated by orations, parades, picnics, and religious services.  That is appropriate since one aspect of freedom was the right to organize one’s religious life.  

The Methodist Episcopal Church South in Texas in the 1840s and 1850s appointed some of its preachers to “African Missions” throughout the two annual conferences of the era.  It was also common for Methodist churches to hold services for whites on Sunday morning and slaves on Sunday afternoon.  There are a few examples of the two races worshiping at the same hour as at Marshall where whites sat on the ground floor and African-Americans in the balcony.  

I have been able to find references to at least five enslaved African-American who were licensed as local preachers (two in Liberty, two in Brazoria, and one in Brenham.).  Unfortunately they remain anonymous.  The only name we have is “Uncle Mark” who preached in Washington County.  

Freedom resulted in a grand blossoming of religious life among African-Americans in Texas.  Within a decade of freedom, there were autonomous African-American congregations of the MEC, AME, AMEZ, and CME denominations.  Many Baptist Churches were also founded during Reconstruction.  

The earliest reference I can find for a white Methodist preacher continuing to preach to a mixed race congregation after Juneteenth comes from the Bellville Countryman, July 1, 1865, 

Rev. Dashiell preached at this place in pursuance of his regular appointment on Sunday, 2nd inst. In the evening of the same day, he preached to the freedmen.  There were a good many white people present.  It was an excellent discourse, appropriate to their new condition. . . .Mr. Dashiell is a favorite with all classes and denominations.

Just a week after Juneteenth Benjamin Dashiell* preached to a mixed race congregation at Bellville, but the dream of a truly inclusive church was not going to occur for another century.  The MECS, stunned by the defection of legions of its newly-freed African-American members, created new conferences for the ones who stayed.  Those conferences became the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church South, then the Colored Methodist Episcopal, and eventually the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.  The MEC created a bi-racial Texas Conference, but that lasted only one quadrennium.  (see post for May 25 below) 

Juneteenth was a glorious day, but the struggle for full inclusion in the promise of America was entering a new phase.  

*Dashiell was born in Maryland in 1831.  His family came to Texas in 1837, but he returned to Maryland for his education.  He was admitted to the Texas Conference in 1852 and served various charges including Richmond, Gonzales, San Marcos, LaGrange, and Chappell Hill.  

He was associated with Soule University in Chappell Hill, but since the school had closed, he preached at Bellville.  After the war, he served as Presiding Elder of the Chappell Hill District.  

Dashiell was a tragic figure.  He developed a tumor on his leg, and underwent several unsuccessful, painful surgeries.  He preached while leaning on crutches.  He died in 1882 three months before Robert Alexander also died after being subjected to numerous surgeries.  Both preachers are buried in Brenham. 

Saturday, June 07, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History   June 8

 D Day Edition   Honoring Texas Methodist Chaplains

As a grateful world pauses to give its appreciation for the courage and sacrifice of the Allied Forces that stormed the Normandy Coast 70 years ago, it is appropriate for us to remember the Methodist Chaplains who shared the hardships and dangers with the combat troops.  

Chaplains were a vital part of the armed forces.  In addition to leading worship services, distributing New Testaments and tracts, providing Holy Communion and other such tasks, they also served as counselors to young men who were all going through the most traumatic experiences of their lives.  They often acted as ombudsmen on behalf of soldiers caught up in a confusing bureaucracy.  They cradled dying men in their arms, prayed, laughed, and cried with the men.  

World War II changed everything including the soldier, the G.I.’s and those who stayed behind on the home front.  World War II was the event that changed Texas from an agricultural to an industrial state.  Texas experienced a massive rural to urban migration.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 347,000 Texas migrated from farms to factories in one 18 month period alone.  After the war most of them stayed in the city.  All through the 1950s and 1960s Conference Trustees had the sad task of closing down country churches that no longer had the population to support them.

Great social revolutions accompanied World War II.  Women entered the workforce by the thousands and gained skills and experiences that had previously been reserved for men.  Colleges and universities were swelled with the ranks of returning soldiers.  Many of them would not have dreamed of college before the war, but the G. I. Bill made higher education possible for them.  More than a few of them used the G. I.  Bill for an education leading to the ministry.   

World War II also helped bring about the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s.  When Tejano veterans came home,--sometimes still wearing their uniforms—to discrimination and maltreatment rather than a hero’s welcome, many of them joined groups such as the G.I. Forum founded in Corpus Christi by Dr. Hector Garcia.  African American veterans also used their World War II experiences to fight for the dignity they deserved.
Fifty-five ministers from the Texas Conference served as Chaplains in the World War II-Korean War era (1940-1960).  Bishop A. Frank Smith claimed that the Texas Conference provided more Chaplains than any other annual conference in Methodism.  

Space prevents telling the story of all fifty-five Chaplains, so let us lift up the service of one of them—the Rev. Mouzon Bass.  

Mouzon Bass was born in the parsonage at Edgewood in 1912 to the Rev. and Mrs. W. M. Bass.  He graduated from Winona High School and attended Tyler Commercial College.  He was working for the Cotton Belt Railroad (St. Louis and Southwestern) when God called him to preach.  He was licensed at St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Tyler and enrolled in Lon Morris College.  He then received his bachelor’s degree from Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches.  He was ordained deacon in 1938 and elder in 1940.  He served a succession of East Texas appointments (Palestine Circuit, Church Hill Circuit, Garrison, Grapeland) and volunteered for the chaplaincy while serving Reid Memorial in Houston.  

In December 1942 he entered Chaplain training at Harvard and was posted to encampments in Kentucky and Pennsylvania.  He was attached to the 23rd Armored Division and sailed for the European Theater.  He participated in five major campaigns including the Normandy landing and the Battle of the Bulge. 
His discharge in November 1945 allowed him to take an appointment at Cleveland.  He served four years at Cleveland, one at Bay City, one at Galveston First, and then four years at First Lufkin.  His next appointment was District Superintendent at Longview.    He became known for a particular sermon on the Cross in which he related some of his World War II experiences.

His life ended suddenly on September 20, 1959 at the age of 47.  Bishop Smith came to Marvin Methodist in Tyler to preach his funeral.  In a sad irony, his mother died the following January so the memoirs of mother and son appear in the same 1960 Journal.

When deciding which of the fifty-five Chaplains to lift up to honor all the Chaplains, I did not choose Mouzon Bass at random.  I chose him because he came back from the war and became an activist in conference politics.  For decades much of the political power in the conference had been wielded by the “Union.”  Members of the Union received the plum appointments and secured General and (later) Jurisdictional delegate slots for their friends.  Bass began hosting informal meetings of fellow veterans of the chaplaincy.  When the Union was ousted at the 1959 Annual Conference, it was this group of veterans who were instrumental in the “revolt.”