Saturday, April 25, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History  April 26

Texas Conference Delegation Departs for General Conference, May 1, 1922

On May 1, 1922 a special Pullman car pulled out of Union Station in Houston on the International and Great Northern RR on its way to Hot Springs, Arkansas, for the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church South.   

  In Methodist parlance the first person elected at the prior annual conference is said to “lead the delegation.”  In 1922 that honor was held by J. W. Mills, pastor of First Methodist Church Beaumont.  Other clergy delegates were Sam Hay, First Methodist Houston, W. F. Bryan (Marvin Methodist in Tyler), C. T. Talley (Marlin District), L. B. Elrod (Huntsville), and James Kilgore (SMU). 

The lay delegates included two women.  The 1918 General Conference had dropped the all-male rule for delegate election.  The two women were Mrs. J. W. Mills (see post for Nov. 14, 2010)    and Althea Jones, a member of St. Paul’s in Houston.   Although women were eligible, only 18 of the 386 delegates were women.  Mills and Jones from the Texas Conference and one woman each from the North Texas and North West Texas Conferences meant that 4 of the first 18 female delegates were Texans.  

Male lay delegates included W. L. Dean (Huntsville), R. M. Kelly (Longview), T. E. Acker (Jacksonville), J. W. Torbett (Marlin), and W. C. Windom(Center), and R. W. Adams, director of the fledging Methodist Hospital in Houston. 

The choice of Hot Springs as the site for the General Conference may seem odd since Hot Springs was a resort town with a shady reputation, the kind of place church people avoided.  Actually the resort town had two sides.  Its famous bath houses were a favorite destination for wholesome relaxation and soothing warm waters.  The other side, of course, was that Hot Springs had been a center for gambling and its associated police corruption for decades.  I am still somewhat puzzled over the choice of Hot Springs at the General Conference site.  It would be like meeting in Las Vegas today—not going to happen.  Perhaps the town seemed less seamy after Prohibition drove the alcohol out of the public view. 

What were the main issues of the General Conference?   As with every quadrennial session, those issues reflected internal conflicts and also attempts to deal with issues brought up in the larger society.

The issue of term limits for bishops was on the agenda again, as well as a new rule that would require bishops to live in an assigned episcopal area.  

In 1922 there had been a resurgence of nativism as demonstrated by the vigor of the Ku Klux Klan.  One of the proposals reflecting that mood was a resolution that would replace the words “holy catholic church” in the Apostle’s Creed with some phrase that did not include the word “catholic.”  Some of the proposed replacement phrases such as “Church of God,” and “Church of Christ,” were already being used by other denominations and thus not very practical. They were successful in passing the resolution, but the action was subject to vote in the all the annual conferences where it failed.

One major point of contention was an obvious power grab that took the form of a proposal to re-organize the missions of the MECS.  For decades the women had operated both foreign and home missions with a great deal of autonomy from the larger denomination.  The women of the MECS educated parishioners, raised money, recruited, and administered  missions with female executives in decision-making positions.  One of the proposals delegates would debate reflected the conservative backlash against Progressivism, or the “Return to Normalcy.”  The proposal was to consolidate the Woman’s Missionary Society with the denomination’s Board of Missions.  The argument ran like this—since women now had representation in General Conference, they no longer needed a separate organization.  One newspaper report stated, “. . .the women’s council will exist only as an inspiration and educational force, without executive force.”  One can imagine the reception this proposal received among the women activists of the period.

As with all General (and later Jurisdictional) Conferences, there was a buzz about the election of bishops.  Traditionally the leader of the delegation, in this case Mills, would be mentioned as a candidate.  Not in 1922.  Sam Hay, the pastor at First Methodist Houston, was the main candidate from the Texas Conference.  Other Texans mentioned were Hiram Boaz and Charles Selecman, both of Dallas.  

The conventions of the day required a façade of indifference for the office, and Hay issued the obligatory statement, “He was eminently happy in his present work, but if called to the bishopric, he would serve to the best ability.  If not elected, he would be just as well satisfied to continue as pastor.” 

Hay and Boaz were elected at Hot Springs, but Selecman had to wait until 1938.   

Delegates no longer travel in chartered Pullman coaches, but the General Conference still meets in quadrennial sessions.  Those sessions still deal with both internal conflicts and responses to the larger society. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History April 19

No Yankees Need Apply! Says President Forshay at Rutersville  April 23, 1857

One of the recurring themes of Texas Methodist History—from the 1840s until the present—is the unpleasantness that has surrounded the demise of many of our schools.    The closings have been caused by poor fiscal management, faculty scandal, fire, death of key leaders, epidemic disease, and denominational rivalry.  Some colleges had the misfortune to be caught up in historical forces such as economic depression and war over which the school had no control.  

As one studies the closing of Methodist schools, one notices the desperation attempts that trustees have sometimes employed when things start to go bad.
Among those desperation measures have been consolidation efforts with other schools.  That attempt has rarely been successful.  Consider, for example the case of Rutersville College which opened its doors to students in January, 1840 and received a charter from the Republic of Texas in February of that year.  The following December it served as the venue for the organization of the Texas Annual Conference.  

A series of unfortunate events resulted in its failure.  By the mid-1850s it still had property and its charter, but few students.  Its last gasp desperation consolidation effort is one of the strangest in the history of higher education.  It was a three-way consolidation made up of Rutersville College, the Texas Military Institute of Galveston, and the Texas Monumental Committee of Fayette County.    The third member of the consolidation was a local organization that had formed to honor the victims of Dawson’s Massacre, many of whom were from Fayette County. 

The name of the new school was the Texas Monumental and Military Institute.  It occupied the former buildings of Rutersville College from 1856 until its students left for the Civil War.  

Its president was Caleb Forshay (1812-1881) a former cadet at West Point and a very good engineer and scientist.   In a letter he wrote to a job seeker on April 23, 1857, he revealed himself to be a contributor to the growing sectional hostility.  A teacher from New York wrote to inquire about employment at TM&MI.  Forshay’s response, which he distributed to the press, reveals the sectional division that would turn into war in a few years.  The letter is so interesting it is reproduced here

Sir—Your letter of the 9th inst, inquiring as to the demands for a teacher in this vicinity, has been referred to me by the Postmaster, and I shall answer it in what I am sure is the sentiments of those in this country, viz.,

The wants in this section and many other in the State, for good instructors is great, and the time was when an inquiry such as you address, might have opened the way to employment and future reputation and fortune.  But that time has passed by, and our people have learned by very dear experience at home, as well as intercourse abroad, that a very large majority of the people of your quarter are not to be trusted in a country with institutions such as ours; that they have, by some very solemn formalities have decided that our national charter, the Constitution should protect us only in things not contravening their fanaticism.  

These results are painful to contemplate by the true patriot, but they are so true that we are compelled to act upon them—neighborhood treachery and family insurrections and innocent blood, as well as pecuniary losses, are theprices we have paid for these conclusions.
It is your misfortune, if not really liable to such suspicions, to hail from a quarter in which private fanaticism is paramount to the Constitution; and with such surroundments. Your services in that or any other capacity, would not be welcome, even if your grammar and orthography were unexceptional, as your handwriting is neat and faultless.

Caleb G. Forshay\

One wonders why Forshay released this personal letter to the newspapers.  Perhaps it was to burnish his Southern credentials.  After all, he had been born in Pennsylvania—perhaps he needed to reassure his fellow Texans.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History  April 12

Bishop Richard Green Waterhouse Visits Methodist Institutions in El Paso  April 14, 1914

Texas Methodist History fans may be forgiven if you do not recognize the name Bishop Richard G. Waterhouse.  After all, he was one of seven bishops elected at the MECS General Conference of 1910, and presided over only one session of an annual conference in Texas, the Southern German Mission Conference of 1914.

The early 20th century was an era of electing educators to the office of bishop.  Consider the class of 1910---Collins Denny had been Chaplain at the University of Virginia.  John Kilgo was president of Trinity (Duke). Edwin Mouzon was professor at Southwestern when elected and later served as Dean at SMU while also serving as bishop. Walter Lambuth—both a doctor and a preacher had been involved in mission schools in Asia. William B. Murrah was elected while president of Millsaps. R. G. Waterhouse was president of Emory and Henry when elected.  J. H. McCoy was the other bishop elected. 

The era was one in which bishops presided over several annual conferences per year, and not all episcopal assignments were equal.  Some of the bishops had the luxury of staying close to home.  For example after their  1910 elections, Kilgo remained in Durham, Murrah in Jackson,  and McCoy in Birmingham—all was “home sweet home.” Others were assigned the overseas missions which required meant long ocean voyages.  

Waterhouse drew one of the more arduous assignments—the Pacific Coast of the United States.  During his first quadrennium he presided over annual conferences in California, Oregon, and Montana where Southern Methodists were few and far between and travel distances were great.  

Waterhouse must have pined for the beautiful hills around Emory and Henry at Abingdon, VA.  The Holston Conference was his home conference.  Visitors to the Holston area still speak of the rugged beauty of its setting.  He had been a student at Emory and Henry, (class of 1885), and  served the Abingdon Circuit.  He became a professor in 1892 and was elevated to the presidency the next year.  He held that post until his election in 1910. 

He was widely admired as college president and greatly in demand as a speaker throughout the denomination.  He tackled the E&H debt and refused a salary increase throughout his 17-year presidency.

His assignment to the Pacific Coast meant relocation to Los Angeles.  Then, as now, Nashville was the home of denominational offices, and his attendance at meetings in Tennessee and Georgia required fairly frequent trips through Texas via the Southern Pacific Railway.  Newspaper accounts of 1911-1914 reveal that he chose to spend extended periods of time in San Antonio and El Paso.   Visits in the two large cities of Texas usually included preaching at Trinity (El Paso) or Travis Park (San Antonio) and tours of the Methodist institutions in those cities.  The society pages of the newspapers usually included some social even such as a tea for Mrs. Waterhouse.  The couple even decided to make San Antonio their home one winter.  

Bishop Waterhouse’s health declined, and he moved back to Abingdon.  He took the superannuate relationship in 1918 at age 63 and died in 1922.  Perhaps we should make him an honorary Texan because of his extended visits here.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History  April 5

James T. P. Irvine Reports on Missions to Native Americans    1855

As many readers of this column already know one of the official special Sundays designated by General Conference is Native American Ministries Sunday.    In 2015 the celebration will be on April 19.  For more information see

Regular readers of this column will also note the absence of Native American subject matter in the 9 + years of weekly columns.  The omission is not from lack of interest in Native American history.  Instead it reflects the sad history of genocide and expulsion that marks the history of Native Americans in Texas.  In addition to the common themes of expropriation of Native American lands in the rest of the United States, Texas had two additional circumstances which resulted in fewer Native Americans in Texas.  The first was the absence of federal lands in Texas due to the terms of the treaty of annexation.  Texas retained title to “unoccupied” land so it would be able to pay off the debt incurred by the Republic of Texas.  The absence of federal lands militated against the establishment of reservations.  The other factor was the proximity of Oklahoma (Indian Territory), Mexico, and New Mexico—all of which offered better prospects for Native Americans than did Texas.  

In all my searches in pre-1860 Texas Methodist documents, I have found only one mention of an organized mission effort to Texas Native Americans.  That was the report of James T. P. Irvine, Secretary of the Missionary Society of the East Texas Conference for 1855.  Irvine reports a failure and discontinuance of that mission.  Here is the report.

Indian mission was established at our last annual Conference for the benefit of the remnant of what was once two strong tribes of Indians on the Trinity River.  W. P. Sansom labored among then almost half the year, but could accomplish but little or no good, owing to their wandering habits and general indifferences to their wretched moral conditions, and was directed by the Presiding Elder to discontinue his labors on the mission.  While these unfortunate people demand our deepest sympathies, yet under all the circumstances as reported by the missionary, we can not advise its continuance on our mission list.