Friday, October 24, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History   October 26

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.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

This Week In Texas Methodist History   October 19

El Paso Methodists In Turmoil, Accuse Pastor of Immorality, October, 1887

El Paso was thrust into national prominence in the 1880s as the most important supply center for much of West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Northern Mexico.  The agreement between Collis Huntington and Jay Gould in 1881 to have the Southern Pacific and Texas and Pacific Rail lines meet at Sierra Blanca created the second transcontinental railroad across the United States.  This southern route provided gentler grades and less danger from blizzards than the first transcontinental railroad, the Union Pacific-Central Pacific, so much transcontinental traffic was captured by the new line. 
El Paso—as the only settlement of consequence between San Antonio and San Diego---boomed.  It soon became a major smelting center for the mineral ores of Arizona, New Mexico, and Chihuahua.  

Methodists, of course, looked upon El Paso as a prize to be won.  Both the northern and southern branches of the church, quite correctly, looked upon El Paso as the perfect spot from which to launch mission efforts into Chihuahua, Sonora, New Mexico, Arizona, and even Sinaloa and Baja California.   Following a long-established pattern, Bishop George Pierce appointed John F. Carter to start an MECS church in the same year that the rail links were forged—1881.  That church eventually became Trinity UMC.  

El Paso, though, was much more cosmopolitan than the cities of the South in which the MECS dominated.  All the railroad cities of the era received immigrants from northern states.  Trinity MECS was only five years old when some of its members pulled out and organized a ME church.  

According to the El Paso Times, charges of immorality brought against the Trinity pastor, the Rev. William R. McCorkle, in October, 1887, stemmed from the bad feeling surrounding the defection. 

Presiding Elder J. D. Scroggins, received a number of letters of complaint against Rev. McCorkle, accusing him of “immorality,” later described as “back-biting and lying.”  

P. E. Scroggins acted immediately according to the Disciplinary provisions of the time by convening a panel of three elders to hear the charges.  He gave McCorkle the privilege of naming the three elders.  They were pastors from Deming, NM; Chihuahua; and Murpheysville, Tx (renamed Alpine the next year).  

The panel began its work on Tuesday October 25 and issued a split decision-2-1 for conviction.  In an extraordinary breach of protocol and violation of the confidentiality of the hearing, PE Scroggins gave an interview to a reporter for the El Paso Times in which he stated his opposition to the verdict and expressed his wish that the Annual Conference would reverse the decision when it met next at Monclova. 

The Times reporter ended his story thus
Trinity Church is in the jurisdiction of the Methodist Episcopal Church South.  Up to a year and half ago, it was the only Methodist church here, but at that time, the church divided with considerable ill feeling on the part of many members, and a new Methodist society was formed under the jurisdiction of the northern Methodist church.   The two churches have never exchanged olive branches, and the present trouble dates, in large part, to the differences that led to that division a year and a half ago.  Mr. McCorkle has warm friends as well as warm opponents, and there are grave rumors of developments yet to come, as well as charges that the investigation this week was a “persecution” rather than a “prosecution” of the accused.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History   October 12

Bishop Doggett Awed by Beauty of San Marcos River,  October 1877

Generations of Epworth Leaguers, MYF’ers, Sunday School classes, and other youth groups have enjoyed recreational excursions to the magnificent Texas rivers that come cascading down from the Edwards Plateau.  Take your pick—San Pedro Springs, the Comal River, the Sabinal, Frio, Guadalupe, or the Blanco---these clear, cool waters have provided gathering places for humans since prehistory.  John Rabb, prominent Methodist layman, lived at Barton Springs until his death.  

When Bishop David Seth Doggett came to Texas to hold annual conference 1876-77, he took time for an excursion on the San Marcos River.  Doggett was an aristocratic Virginian, college president, editor, and bishop.  His first espiscopal visit to Texas was to Springfield in 1868.  That conference was famous for the miserable conditions.  It was held in a poorly heated building that lacked window panes on the north side.  Doggett and the conference members shivered miserably.

The 1877 visit was much more pleasant.  Doggett was so impressed with the beauty of the river that he wrote a letter to the Richmond Advocate.  That letter is so full of interesting observation that excerpts are reproduced below.

I witnessed at the ford where we crossed, a curious scene, reminding me of the habits of the hippopotamus.  A number of cattle were feeding in the stream above us, wading nearly to their backs, plunging their heads entirely under the water, and gathering the grass which was growing on the bottom.  I was not aware that horned animals ever indulged in this species of grazing.

After angling with moderate luck in one of the bayous, in which, on account of the singular transparency, the fish and the fishermen were perfectly visible to each other, we ascended the river in a skiff, to its fountain-head.  It has no preliminary or tr4ibutary streams.  It bursts immediately from the limestone ledge at the bottom of the ridge, and boils up with immense volume, like a vast cauldron underneath the surface, with a violence which agitates the mass of water, for a considerable distance, and which throw the boat from the unending column.   Its average depth, at the distance specified is fifteen or twenty feet, and its width about fifty yards.  Above the point of emergence is neither chasm or depression.  The earth is level and cultivated up to the mountain out of which it bursts, laterally and perpendicularly.  Its temperature is uniform, winter and summer at about 69° Fahrenheit.  The water has a slightly alkaline taste.  It is as transparent as the atmosphere, and one could apparently read an ordinary newspaper at the bottom.  Every object is perfectly distinct, as in an aquarium. 

The marvel of this wonderful river, however, is not its abrupt origin or its crystal clearness, but the wealth of sub-aquatic vegetation.  Its margin is not only lined with overhanging shrubs and clustering heaps of wild cresses; and its surface in many places, floating with wavy tresses of long and silken grass, springing from its depths and floating in the current off for twenty or thirty feet, but its entire bottom is covered with an almost unbroken tissue of delicately tinted and beautifully variegated vegetation blooming beneath the surface, under whose picturesque foliage the lithe and agile fishes perform their graceful motions; and whose crystal paves  the imaginative Greek would have peopled with laughing water nymphs.  I doubt if any water scene of the same extents abounds with more transcendent beauty.  It is a genuine, original green-house.  It is nature’s own conservatory where her rarest productions are preserved in amaranthine freshness encased in a framework of mystic grandeur, and seen through surfaces of perpetual purity.  Could the San Marcos’ natural museum be reproduced in the Eastern States and in a higher latitude, it would attract the attention of the fashionable world and arouse the enthusiasm of rival artists,.  One must be inexorably obtuse to look . ..this mirror o nature and not be transported with its exquisite imagery. 

Saturday, October 04, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History   October 5

Texas Conference Pastor and Wife Killed in Auto Accident, Oct. 6, 1948

On Oct. 6, 1948, tragedy struck the Texas Conference when the Rev. Kenneth and Francis Minter were hit by a logging truck between Livingston and Woodville.  They both died as a result of the collision.  

Kenneth Minter came to ministry from a background of agnosticism and unfaith. His conversion and call to the ordained ministry were in his home town of Woodville, where he had been born in December, 1889.  He entered the MEC church at Woodville (yes, reader, Woodville had both MEC and MECS churches. I’ll tell that story in some other post.)  He eventually began pastor of the MEC church at Woodville, but felt called to a evangelistic ministry after transferring to MECS.  After 12 years as an evangelist, he accepted an appointment at South Bluff, Corpus Christi, then to Midland, and then to Gonzales.  While at Gonzales, he felt the call to return to Woodville to continue his ministry so he moved back to the town of his birth.  

In October 1948 he and Mrs. Minter went back to Corpus Christi for a funeral.  On the way home, between Livingston and Woodville, they were hit by a logging truck, and both died.  The District Superintendent, W. R. Swain, presided over the funeral.  Their bodies were interred at Magnolia Cemetery in Woodville.