Sunday, November 02, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History  November 2

Texas Annual Conference Convenes at Waco, November 2, 1864

By November 1864 the misery, death, and destruction of the Civil War continued to touch every community in Texas.  Although few military engagements had been fought on Texas soil, every community was touched by the death and dismemberment of family members, conscription of men, animals, and supplies, inflation, scarcity, and other miseries of war.  

The Texas Annual Conference of the MECS convened in the Baptist Church of Waco on November 2, 1864.  It was the third conference session at which no bishop came to preside.  Conference members elected Robert Alexander to preside, but even he, the last survivor of the first three missionaries in 1837  could do little in the face of the difficulties the church faced.  

Here were some of the problems the church faced.
a.       many of the preachers had enlisted in Confederate units as either chaplains or combatants.  Most notable were Colonel Franklin C. Wilkes of the 24th Texas Cavalry, Colonel George W. Carter of the 21st Texas Cavalry, and Colonel Clayton Gillespie of the 25th Texas Cavalry, all of whom held military commissions but also some of the best appointments in Texas Methodism.  They could not be replaced through ordinary means since only a bishop can ordain a preacher, and no bishops had been to Texas since 1861.  

b.       The economy was in shambles.  Methodists made extraordinary efforts to support missionary efforts—which in 1864 meant the military chaplaincy, but most members had near-worthless Confederate notes rather than hard currency.  In 1864, for example, the missionary treasurer of the Texas Conference reported donations and expenditures in specie (metal money) and “Old” Confederate notes, and “New” Confederate notes.  The Treasurer reported $55,000 in currency and $297 in specie.  

c.       Methodist publishing had ceased.  Before the war the Texas Christian Advocate was one of the most widely distributed newspapers in Texas.  At the beginning of the war, they closed their offices in Galveston, David Ayres—the financial agent—moved to Gonzales, and the paper tried to set up shop in Houston.  The Union blockade made ink and paper very scarce commodities, and the inefficient, haphazard Confederate Postal Department made delivery difficult anyway.

In the face of these difficulties, the Texas Annual Conference of 1864 did the best it could—with two very interesting results.  The first was an attempt to revive the Texas Christian Advocate.  The preachers gave sacrificially at the Annual Conference to try to get the paper up running again.  Against all odds, they were able to produce one issue in December 1864 (available in digitized form at

The preachers at the Annual Conference also called for the other two conferences in Texas, the East Texas and Rio Grande, to send delegates to Houston in December 1864 for sort of a regional General Conference.   Episcopal visits had been the glue that held the denomination together.  They hadn’t had one for three years.  Both the Advocate and the call for a conference speak to the fervor for connectionalism that characterized Texas Methodism in the 19th century. 


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