Saturday, August 30, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History August 31

Texas Methodists Celebrate Centennial   September 4-6, 1934

Exactly eighty years ago this week Texas Methodists met in San Antonio for the most important historical observance of the denomination’s long, colorful history in Texas.  They were celebrating the centennial of the founding of McMahan’s Chapel in Sabine County which they claimed was the oldest Methodist Church in continuous existence in Texas.  

San Antonio was the chosen site for the three day celebration because the organizers were trying to link Texas Methodist history with the stirring history of the Texas Revolution and Republic eras.  Most of the activities were held in the Municipal Auditorium, built in 1926, and featuring a painted stage curtain with images of Travis, Bowie, Crockett, and Bonham.  Other venues included the open air theater in Brackenridge Park and a 7:00 a.m. service on September 6 at Alamo Plaza where the Hon. John Calvin Box, a scion of the pioneer Box family who brought Methodism to Houston County.  Box was a five-term congressman for East Texas who, when defeated in 1930, practiced law in Jacksonville.  He had been one of the founders of SMU.

Seven bishops (Smith, Boaz, Hay, Arthur Moore, John M. Moore, Hughes {MEC}, and Mead {MEC}) stirred attendees with historical addresses, but the climax was the original pageant, Comrades of Conquest under the direction of Miss Jeston Dickey with the assistance of her sister Bessie Lee Dickey Roselle, both public school drama teachers and cousins of Bishop James Dickey (dec.).  Conquest consisted of 750 performers in 8 episodes and 4 tableaux and one pantomime.  Dickey took an outline from a committee consisting of young preachers including Byron Lovelady and Lance Webb (later Bishop), Carroll Moon, Hubert Bracher and James Paul and Mrs. Forrest Dudley and Mrs. Joseph Connally.  

Dickey assigned different episodes to different churches.  Laurel Heights provided the actors for the episode of the beginnings of Methodism in America; Travis Park members portrayed the Christmas Conference; McKinley Avenue was assigned McMahan’s Chapel; South Alamo Church provided the cast for “An Interview with Colonel Travis,”; Woodlawn members acted out the General Conference of 1836; First Methodist Corpus Christi supplied the talent for the organizing session of the Texas Conference in 1840.  Denver Heights church drew the assignment of telling the story of early Texas colleges.  The last episode was very much a “back of the bus” nod to ethnic groups.  The German churches were portrayed by church members from Llano, Mason, and Gillespie Counties; La Trinidad (incorrectly listed in the program as “Trinity”) produced the Mexican Mission episode, and St. Paul’s M.E. Church ended with the African-American Church.  

That was not all—The Conquest continued with a process of the agents of conquest—college students, nurses, doctors, and missionaries—finally a very large choir finished with Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. 

Most of us know about the Centennial Celebration through the Yearbook which Olin Nail edited.  It is a curious pastiche of pictures, essays, etc, but it also contains the Journals of the five MECS annual conferences in Texas for that year.  

I invite the reader to look past the obvious quaintness, racism, sexism and other such aspects to see the Centennial Celebration in a different light.  

Texas Methodists were in the process of forging a new identity based on their Texan roots rather than their Southern roots.  They knew that movement toward unification was proceeding, and that the word, “South” would be dropped from the denomination’s name.  Many of the leaders were swept up in the excitement over the celebration of the Texas Centennial of 1936.  The mid-1930’s from about 1932 to 1939 marked the era of most interest in Texas Methodist history and also the most unity the annual conferences ever experienced.  The Texas Methodist Foundation is only one example of the fruits of that unity.  
The Centennial Celebration, followed by the joint meeting of annual conference in Houston in 1936, and renewed interest in McMahan’s Chapel were important building blocks in creating a sense of unity in Texas Methodism achieved at no other time.


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