Saturday, July 26, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History   July 27

Salute to Church Trustees!

Vigilant Trustees Protect Texas Conference from Fraud in Port Arthur, 1949

The work of church trustees at the local, district, and conference levels is often overlooked, but they should be honored and respected for the vital service they provide in advancing the Kingdom of God.  They are responsible for property matters and are often selected for their experience and sagacity in matters of finance, real estate, insurance, and related fields.   

Trustees are the group that make sure that the property interests of the church are conducted on a squeaky-clean, conservative basis so that the programs of the church in evangelism, education, healing, and mercy ministries can concentrate wholly on their missions with little concern for property issues.  

As one reads Trustee reports in the annual conference Journals, one sees fairly routine matters.  Texas Conference Journals show negotiation of oil leases, deeding abandoned church properties to cemetery associations, authorizing new construction of conference buildings and so on.  The 1950, Journal, though, presents a case in which trustees had the sad duty of responding to a case of fraud against Methodist interests.

Walter Clark of Port Arthur died and left the residue of his estate to four Methodist causes—The Home in Waco, Training Home in San Antonio, the Methodist Hospital in Houston, and the Texas Conference Superannuate Fund—in equal shares.   The bequest consisted of a five room house in Port Arthur. 

Clark’s executor was a relative who sold the house to another relative for $3,500, recorded the deed at the Jefferson County Court House, and then began negotiations to sell the house again to a third party for $5,250.  The executor intended to keep the extra $1,750 for himself. 

 Fortunately the trustees heard about the intended fraud.  It was a very delicate matter, but eventually the executor reconveyed the property, and it was sold to the legitimate buyer for $5,250.   After expenses of sale were deducted, each of the four benevolent causes of the church received checks for $1,226.57.    Hats off to the conference trustees for their vigilance!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History   July 20

Webster Hosts Coast Country Sunday School Convention   July 22, 1899

The agricultural development of the Gulf Coastal Plain of Texas in the latter decades of the 19th century coincided with the heyday of the Sunday School Movement.    Sunday schools, or “Sabbath Schools” had been an important feature of Methodism since its English origins.  In much of 19th century Texas churches would have preaching only once per month, but would have Sunday School every Sunday, thus helping to hold the congregation together between the infrequent visits of the circuit rider.  Denominational publishing houses such as the MECS concern at Nashville, Tennessee, depended upon Sunday School literature sales to keep the doors open and the editors of Sunday School materials achieved considerable stature in the denomination.  At the local level, the office of Sunday School Superintendent became one of the most respected in the community.  Many obituaries from the period list years of service as SS Superintendent as one of the proudest achievements of the deceased.

The enthusiasm for Sunday Schools was not limited to Methodism.  There were local, state, national, and international interdenominational Sunday School unions.  One of their continuing influences was the publication of generic Sunday School lesson books that were acceptable to union Sunday Schools. Interdenominational Sunday School organizations also provided training sessions.    Here is an example of one local meeting held at Webster on July 22, 1899.

This usually quiet town today wore a holiday aspect and from early morning until noon the influx of visitors from adjacent coast country towns continued until there was good sized assemblage.  The occasion was the semi-annual meeting of the Coast Country Sunday School Association.  The services were held in the Presbyterian Church and an instructive and entertaining program was given.  A bountiful basket dinner was provided, which was served at the spacious residence of Captain Sam King, near the church.  Delegations were present from Alvin, Dickinson, Friendswood, Pasadena, and League City.  The next meeting will be held in League City in January, 1900.  Here is appended the program which was carried out

Devotional Exercise led by Rev. Russell# of League City.
Welcome by Mrs. G. C. Van Demark@ of Webster.
Response by J. T. Williams of Hitchcock, W. L. Shoemaker, League City.
“What Evidence Have We of the Progress of Sunday School Work?”  D. S. Anderson, Dickinson, L. L. Shirley*, Alvin.
“The Importance of Teachers and Students Taking an Active Interest in the Work of Superintendents and Making Kindly Suggestions as to Methods,”    Rev. Herrington%, Alta Loma,  T. H. Lewis&, Friendswood.
Business Session
Basket Dinner
Afternoon session—Song Service led by T. J. Steels, Alta Loma
“The True Aim of the Sunday Schools,” Rev. Breed, Arcadia,  J. W. Thompson, Webster,
“A Successful Teacher,”  Rev. Thos. Hickling, Webster
Election of Officers
Question Box. 

#John. L. Russell (c. 1858-1936) Methodist pastor at League City, 1898-1901
@ Mother of Harry Van Dusen Van Demark, prominent editor, publisher, journalist, author in Houston.
%  J. S. Herrington, Presbyterian pastor at both Alta Loma and Alvin.
& T. H. Lewis was one of the Quaker founders of Friendswood in 1895
*L. L. Shirley (1841-1910) had been president of Granbury Institute, an MECS School in Hood County.  He had a land development company in Alvin and in 1900 became vice-president of the MEC college in Alvin. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History   July 13

Methodists Piggyback on Political Meeting at San Jacinto Battle Ground,  July 1850

Where ever an axe blazes a tree, a Methodist preacher immediately followed. G. W. Paschal 

How eager were Methodists in Texas to save souls from eternal damnation?   So eager that they were alert to take advantage of crowds assembled for other purposes.  In July 1850 they took advantage of a political meeting held at the San Jacinto Battle Ground to conduct a camp meeting.  After all, wouldn’t it be a shame to have all those people there and not preach to them? 

The political meeting was a protest of the proposed cession of Santa Fé and other territory Texas claimed north of 36o 30’ North Latitude, eastern New Mexico, etc. A little background may be necessary:   The acquisition of territory from Mexico via the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 reignited the controversy of slavery in the West.  In 1820 the controversy had been postponed by the Missouri Compromise which extended the southern boundary of Missouri (36o 30’ north latitude) to the continental divide as the boundary between slave and free territories.    The acquisition of a vast portion of Mexico upset that compromise.  

Texas was a slave state, but claimed lands north of 36o 30’ as its own.  Santa Fé was the only settlement of consequence in the entire region.  Its history was much older than the Texas Republic, and the Texas claim on it was tenuous at best.  Santa Fé’s real economic ties were to Missouri via a famous overland trail---never to Texas as the ill-conceived Santa Fé Expedition of 1841 demonstrated.  

A compromise was working its way through the U. S.  Congress that included redrawing Texas boundaries to their current configuration, indemnifying Texas $10,000,000 and kicking the slavery question down the road a few more years. 

In anticipation of the passage of the compromise, New Mexicans organized, drafted a proposed constitution, and petitioned Congress for statehood.  The political meeting at San Jacinto was to protest the proposed “loss” of New Mexico.  

The political meeting was called by James Morgan of New Washington, and Ashbel Smith was elected chair.  They met in the same grove of trees in which the Texian Army had encamped on the night of April 20, 1836 which now was studded with headstones for the men who had fallen in battle. Although they claimed a state-wide constituency, most of the attendees were from Harris, Galveston, and Liberty Counties.  They were treated to speeches denouncing the Compromise of 1850.  One of those speakers, George Washington Paschal of Galveston had a plan for overcoming the acknowledged cultural divide between New Mexico and Texas.  He suggested sending Methodist preachers as agents of civilization to New Mexico.  Never mind that Spanish and Native Americans had created a synthesis of Roman Catholicism and Native American religions in northern New Mexico long before Methodism was even thought of.  Here are Paschal’s words as reported by the Houston Democratic Telegraph and Texas Register, July 18, 1850.  

Judge P.(aschal) in substance said that the chairman had happily explained why the place, the ever memorable battle ground of San Jacinto, was selected for the expression of the sentiments of a large assemblage, from different portions of the state. And it seemed against him his first notions, that the time and assemblage was not inappropriate.  A Methodist Camp Meeting was another proof of the zeal of that denomination. Where ever an axe blazed a tree, or a pioneer erected a hut, there the Methodist preacher immediately followed, as the pioneer of morals and gospel truth.  And he was sure that we could not have a better security for the possession of Santa Fe, than the sending among the people, who believed their religion a part of the government, a few Methodist preachers.  

Political meetings of the era always appointed a committee to draft resolutions to send to government officials, and that was done in this case.  The speeches and resolutions are full of irony.  The speakers condemned the idea that a group of New Mexicans could hold a convention and try to secede from Texas.  Many of those same speakers in the next decade argued just the opposite—that the southern states had the right to leave the Union and form a confederacy.  

G. W. Pachal was not among that group.  When Civil War came, he was a staunch Unionist and supported Sam Houston in his many struggles of 1860-61.  Paschal was threatened with mob violence and retreated from public life during the war, but in 1869 moved to Washington, D.C., and became identified with the Republican Party. 

Saturday, July 05, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History   July 6

John Hanner Recommends Fountain Pitts as Head of Texian Mission  

July 10, 1838

Martin Ruter’s death in May 1838 did nothing to discourage other Methodist preachers from volunteering for Texas.  It actually had the opposite effect.  Ruter was extremely well known in Methodist circles, especially throughout the Ohio Valley because of service as Book Agent in Cincinnati for eight years.     

As most readers of this column already know, Littleton Fowler was appointed head of mission to take Ruter’s place until Texas was attached to the Mississippi Conference in December 1838.  In the months immediately following Ruter’s death, several preachers floated ideas for the direction the Texian Mission should take, none more interesting than the suggestion that Fountain E. Pitts be named as Ruter’s replacement. 

Fountain Elliot Pitts was born in Georgetown, Kentucky, in 1808.  Bishop Roberts ordained him deacon in 1826 and Bishop Soule in 1828, both in the Kentucky Conference.  He was elected a delegate to the General Conference of 1832 (note his extreme youth when elected—He was only 23 years old at the time.)   He was later elected a delegate to every other General Conference (save one—1866) for the rest of his life.  

Pitts became known to the entire denomination when in 1835 he was selected to establish Methodist missions in South America—specifically Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay.  His greatest success was in Buenos Aires, and he returned to Kentucky in 1836.  

 He attained the rank of Colonel in the 81st Tennessee and participated in the Battle Vicksburg, alternately preaching and fighting thereby earning the sobriquet “the Fighting Parson.”   

Pitts died during the 1874 General Conference of the MECS at Louisville where his first funeral service was conducted in Walnut Street church.  His body was then loaded on the railroad and sent to Nashville.   The Advocate requested mourners to meet the train at the Nashville station and process to McKendree Church for a second funeral before his interment in Mt. Olivet Cemetery.  

Here is a portion of Hanner’s letter to Fowler recommending Pitts

Ten[nessee,] Franklin July 9th 1838
My Beloved Fowler
The Quarterly Meeting here has just closed. Brother Pitts was present. We had a talk about going to Texas as missionaries. Your pressing appeal to Bro. [Robert] Paine, in behalf of this cause, calling for Pitts as a laborer drew his attention, and enlisted his feelings. This morning he mailed a letter to Rev. N[athan] Bangs, stating that if no appointment has been made in view of the vacancy occasioned by Dr. Ruter’s death, he & myself were willing and ready to go in company to that Republic as missionaries, at any time. We concluded that you had written to the appointing power, recommending certain persons, perhaps Pitts, among the rest. He requested Bangs to answer him immediately, perhaps he will get it in Aug. If we are appointed, we think of leaving our families here, for the first six, or twelve months, until we can get something of a home for them there. We believe that Texas is destined, at no distant day, to become one of the first countries on the globe. Bro. Fowler, you know that it is important to have such man as Fountain E. [Pitts] in that country so soon as practicable…
 Pitts is the man to carry out such plans, in conjunction with yourself & others of the same stamp. He speaks Spanish you know; and has an eye to Mexico. Perhaps, God intends through Texas, to plant the gospel amid the dulusions[sic] of that old Country*

*The idea that Texas would be the launching pad for evangelizing Mexico continued for a very long time and resulted in the establishment of a series of mission schools along the Texas Mexico border.