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.”


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