Longest Session of Texas Annual Conference (8 Days) Held in Galveston, October 24-31, 1866
The twenty-seventh session of the Texas Annual Conference convened at Galveston on Wednesday morning, October 24, 1866. It did not adjourn until Wednesday night, October 31, making it the longest session on record. That statement must be qualified since delegates did not hold business sessions on Sunday, but spent the day in worship.
In spite of the long session there were no new admissions on trial but there were several transfers from other conferences including the St. Louis, Birmingham, South Carolina, and Georgia.
There were two main reasons the conference extended so long. The first was that the annual conference was the first to be held after the 1866 MECS General Conference. The readers should remember that the 1862 General Conference had been cancelled because of the Civil War. When delegates assembled for the 1866 General Conference, they had a longer agenda than usual—including the election of 5 bishops—a much larger class of bishops than they were used to electing. They also passed two amendments and sent them to the annual conferences for their consideration. The first was a possible name change, eliminating the word “Southern” from the denominational name, “Methodist Episcopal Church South.” Although the Texas Annual Conference voted unanimously in favor of the name change, the rest of the conferences did not, so the MECS retained its name.
The other changes were much more consequential. General Conference rewrote the Disciplinary language on membership and eliminated the category “probationary member” as a prerequisite for full membership. It also asked annual conferences to vote on proposed change in General Conference membership by allowing lay representation. The Texas Conference approved the change 26 to 1.
Momentous changes were occurring in the nation and the church about relations between races and ethnic groups. The Texas Conference was no exception. The Texas Conference witnessed the defection of about 3/4th of its German pastors to the MEC. The ministers, including Peter Moelling, C. Schneider, Gustavus Elley, Charles (Carl) Biel, and E. F. Thwing are all listed as locating. All their names later appear on the MEC Southern German Conference rolls.
More troubling was the situation with African American Methodists. In 1860 the three Texas annual conferences reported 7451 “colored” members. For many of them emancipation meant the freedom to organize their religious lives as they saw fit, rather than being subordinate members of white denominations.
MECS leaders were baffled by the exodus of African American members to other denominations such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church Zion. Many African Americans were also attracted to the Baptist polity of congregational autonomy and then left Methodism.
The 1866 General Conference did not know what to do about the mass defections, but in the years that followed, a plan was developed that would organize the “colored’ members into separate conferences, and when there were sufficient conferences they would be organized into a separate denomination. That process did occur, and eventually resulted in the Colored (later Christian) Methodist Episcopal Church (CME). But what to do in the meantime? One of the most interesting events at the 1866 Texas Annual Conference was that Bishop Marvin (elected earlier in the year), went to the sick room of a former enslaved man, Emanuel Hammett, and ordained him local deacon.
The 1866 Texas Annual Conference was important in another respect. Another action of the 1866 General Conference was authorizing both the Texas and East Texas Conferences to divide and form new conferences. The East Texas Conference broke off its northern districts into the Trinity Conference. That was later renamed the North Texas Conference. The Texas Conference broke its northern districts off into the North West Texas Conference—an area so vast that in 1910 it was further subdivided into the present Central Texas and North West Texas Conferences.
As conference members were meeting in Galveston the last week of October, 1866, they were therefore dealing with massive departures---Germans, African Americans, and about one half of their former churches now organized into a new conference.