Saturday, May 30, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History   May 31

North Texas Conference Epworth League Meets in Gainesville June 5-7, 1895

The North Texas Conference Epworth League met in Gainesville during the first week of June 1895 for an exciting time of preaching, business sessions, and socializing.  At least 3000 Leaguers from around the conference stayed in private homes, hotels, and the YMCA.  The people of Gainesville, including the Baptist preacher, the Rev. Splawn extended most generous hospitality to the visitors.

What did they talk about?  Here are a few of the topics:
Christianity from a Lawyer’s Stand Point (sic)  The Hon. John Church
The Relation of the League to the Church of the Future, E. H. Casey (Sulfur Springs)
How to Derive the Greatest Good From League Prayer Services,  Ed D. Steager (Bonham)
The Literary Department and its Possible Development, Miss Belle Marshall (Whitesboro)
The Best Method of Conducting the Junior League, Mrs. F. B. Carrol, Van Alstyne)
The Necessity for and how to Conduct Cottage Prayer Meetings, J. J. Clark, (Winnsboro) 

Bishop Joseph Key, an enthusiastic supporter of the Epworth League, was the preacher.  He chose his text from David’s lament for Absalom.  (II Sam. 18:33)
Although the League was only a few years old, it was already being criticized by some conservatives as being too social, and the meetings were too full of courting activities.   Rev. W. A. Rippey took that accusation head on and said,
“I hope the time will never come when Leaguers cease to court.  Let the courting go on, and if one leaguer falls in love with another leaguer, and they get married, it will help solve Bishop Key’s great problem about unscriptural marriages.”   

The most interesting message was delivered by Rev. C. B. Carter of Dallas.  His allotted time of twenty minutes must have seemed too brief for his twin topics, “Why I am a Methodist.” And “ Why I am a Southern Methodist.” 

His talk on the latter subject echoed the arguments being advanced by ex-confederates in the 1880s and 1890s that slavery was not the cause of the Civil War.  Carter similarly claimed that slavery was not the cause of the Methodist split.  Instead of reunion with the MEC, he called for a confederation of Methodist bodies—something like the World Methodist Council of today—a loose association of friendly denominations but not organic union.   The argument that slavery was not the main cause of the Civil War still resonates today among Confederate descendant organizations and neo-Confederate groups, but not much support among academic historians.  The argument about the Methodist split carries no such modern resonance.

The delegates then passed a resolution asking the governor prevent a boxing match scheduled for the Texas State Fair and then elected officers and chose the site for the 1896 convention.
The officers included
E. D. Steager,  President (Bonham)
A. W. Cullum, First Vice president
Mrs. F. B. Carroll Second Vice president
Robert E. Cofer, Third Vice president
D. E. Emerson, Secretary
Miss Sue Warrant, Treasurer
Gus Thomesson (sic), S. A. Ashburn, and J. L. Inglish  executive committee

Sherman beat Terrell in the election for hosting the 1896 NTC Epworth League Meeting.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History May 24

Bishop A. Frank Smith Presides over Texas Annual Conference for the Last Time, May 30, 1960

On May 30, 1960, Bishop A. Frank Smith gaveled the Texas Annual Conference into session as he had done every year since 1934.  The location was First Methodist Houston, the church from which Smith had been elected in 1930.  The host pastor, the Rev. Kenneth Pope (1901-1989), was a leading candidate in the upcoming episcopal elections to be held later that summer.  

Everyone at the conference was aware of the historic transition that was occurring.  There were, of course, appropriate tributes to the retiring bishop, but there were also important developments in the field of Texas Methodist history.  

The enthusiasm for Texas Methodist history generated by the 1934 Centennial celebration had waned.  The Texas Conference tried to get state-wide backing for improvements at McMahan’s Chapel, but such backing was not forthcoming. 
There were historical organizations at the state, jurisdictional, and conference levels and they were quite busy in the late 1950s.

The Texas Methodist Historical Association witnessed the end of an era with the resignation of Rev. J. Fisher Simpson (1887-1963) as chairman.  Simpson was the great-grandson of Orceneth Fisher and nephew of the Rev. Sterling Fisher, both of whom were giants in Texas Methodist history.

The great project of the TMHA was the publication of History of Methodism, 1900-1960, edited by Olin Nail (1890-1971) who had also edited the 1934 Texas Methodist Centennial Yearbook.  This work was intended to be an extension of Macum Phelan’s two volume set on the history of Texas Methodism.  Much of Phelan’s volume 1 was in fact an extension of Homer Thrall’s history.  Nail’s update contains a variety of articles from many authors.  Naturally in a work such as this, the quality of historical scholarship varies widely.  Even with that limitation, the work remains valuable even today.

The South Central Jurisdictional Historical Society was also active.  Its main activity was collecting historical materials for deposit at SMU.  In 1960 it proudly reported that the extensive collection of Bishop Frederick DeLand Leete had been presented to SMU.

The Texas Conference Historical Society was engaged in an unprecedented flurry of publishing activity.  The driving force in conference historical matters was the Rev. C. A. West (1910-1975).   Under his direction the only attempted comprehensive history of the Texas Conference, Texas Conference:  Methodism on the March, was finally finished.  This work was also featured multiple authors.  It is best known for its photographic directories, summaries of each of the sessions of annual conference, and thumbnail sketches of the conference institutions.  

Just as Methodism on the March was being finished, the conference was working on a biography of the retiring Bishop Smith.  That project eventually came to fruition with the publication of Norman Spellman’s Growing a Soul (1979), a very fine biography. 
In addition to the publication projects, the Texas Conference was also promoting its Historical Center.  The completion of the Central Building at Lakeview Methodist Assembly (now known as Lakeview Methodist Conference Center) made a room available for the display of Conference artifacts and documents that had once been stored in the Conference Trunk.    

Times of transition often call people to think about history.  The Texas Annual Conference session in 1960 was one such occasion. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History  May 17

General Conference of the MECS, Meeting in Dallas, Considers Permanent Location for General Conference   May 19, 1902

The first General Conference to meet on Texas soil was held in Dallas in May, 1902.  Along with general questions that persisted in all General Conferences of the era such as standards of ministerial education, a rapidly-expanding roster of church related universities, and publication of the various editions of the Advocate, delegates dealt with a proposal to make Memphis, Tennessee, the site of all future General Conferences.

Hosting a General Conference was quite a plum for Dallas.  Although SMU was still in the future, Dallas was the home of the Publishing House for the Texas Christian Advocate and also the site of the Book Depository.   In 1902 Dallas was the economic powerhouse of the South Central United States.  The Houston Ship Channel, the Panama Canal, and the petroleum bonanza that would transform Houston into a regional rival were all in the future.   

The civic-business elite that would shape Dallas local politics and business for most of the 20th century was already calling the shots, and hosting the MECS General Conference was quite a feather in the cap that would fill the hotels, cabs, restaurants with two weeks of business.   The MECS General Conference was so important that many secular newspapers of the South sent reporters to cover the events.  Their reports often included local color aspects of Dallas which brought even more publicity to “Big D.”  

A strange proposal was entertained and rejected at the Dallas General Conference to make Memphis, Tennessee, the site of future quadrennial sessions of General Conference.  

If the truth be told, Memphis needed the help.  Although it hosted MECS General Conferences in 1870 and 1894, it had lost much of its prominence.  It was still a major regional cotton market, but had been surpassed by St. Louis.   St. Louis had become the main Mississippi River crossing for east-west traffic.  The St. Louis bridge was completed in 1874 while Memphis did not have such a structure until 1892.  The yellow fever epidemic of 1878 was a crushing blow to future prospects. 
Proponents of the resolution pointed to the central position of Memphis to most of the membership of the MECS, and it was especially convenient to Nashville, the “Jerusalem” of the MECS thanks to the denominational publishing house and Vanderbilt University---still the premier MECS university.  

The resolution was rejected, and through union and merger, the General Conference locations have been held in various locations.  After 1939 and the creation of the jurisdictional system, the General Conference site has been rotated among the jurisdictions.

What about Dallas?  It hosted one more MECS General Conference, that of 1930.  In 1968 it received the huge honor of being the site of the conference at which the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren denominations united to form the United Methodist Church. 

Saturday, May 09, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History  May 10

Littleton Fowler Reports on Excursion to Galveston, May 14, 1838

Littleton Fowler, one of the first three officially appointed Methodist missionaries to Texas, concentrated his efforts in Houston from December 1837 to June 1838.  While Martin Ruter rode several thousand miles during that same period and established societies all along his route, Fowler spent most the time in Houston, the capital of the Republic of Texas.   Fowler secured appointment as Chaplain of the Legislature so he had a reason to stay in Houston, except for the winter recess when he went to Nacogdoches and San Augustine.  

As the legislative session was winding down, Fowler joined some legislators on a steam boat excursion to Galveston Island where developers had begun selling town lots on April 20.  

When Fowler returned to Houston, he wrote his fiancé, Missouri Porter, about the overnight jaunt.  Portions of the letter report “scandalous” behavior on the part of his traveling companions.

Half on board got into a real spree, pulled of[f] all their clothes & hats to linen and pants, bare headed. The boat was a real floating Pandemonaum[sic], its inmates acted as though they were the lunatics of Tofit* that had broken their chains and were sporting in chaotic and maniac wildness. Such was the drunkeness and profane swearing that I was afraid God Almighty would send a clap of thunder from even a clear sky and shiver the boat to atoms. To me the trip was one of pain not of pleasure. This sketch is confidential as the [?] we engaged would not like for me to tell tales out of school.

*Tophet  see 2 Kings 23:10  The place where children were sacrificed to Baal and Moloch.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History May 3

Ike Strickland Reports to Fowler About Brazoria Circuit May 7, 1839

The middle Texas Coast of Matagorda and Brazoria Counties was not just fertile farm land, it was also a fertile ground for planting churches.  In a letter from Ike Strickland to Littleton Fowler, May 7, 1839, Strickland reported more than a little resistance from his Episcopal counterpart, Caleb Ives.  

Strickland transferred from Tennessee to Texas in the fall of 1838.  His traveling companion was Jesse Hord.  At the Mississippi Annual Conference Strickland was appointed to help Robert Alexander on the Washington Circuit, but Fowler thought his labor was needed worse on the Montgomery Circuit.  He founded the church at Montgomery in December, but by January was dissatisfied and asked to a transfer.  When Joseph Sneed arrived as a recruit, Fowler had enough preachers to reshuffle the appointments.  Strickland went to the Brazoria Circuit to continue the work Jesse Hord had started.  

On May 7 Strickland reported the results of his first round around the circuit.  Matagorda was a strong Episcopal presence because the Rev. Caleb Ives had established a school there.  Strickland reported they didn’t get along.
He mocked him thus

In the evening went to the church to hear the Immortal Ives but few out, he at length made his appearance and when he entered the room I did not know but what one of the Prophets had arisen or St Peter the key holder for his appearance was something new to me. He was clad in silk from head to foot.

Ives refused to allow Strickland to preach in his Academy, but the Methodist found a private residence and preached.  Ives attended, and at the conclusion of the sermon, invited Ives to give the closing prayer.  Ives declined the honor.  

This letter offers insights into how Methodism was able to spread so rapidly.  Ives was tied down by his Academy.  Strickland preached at about 15 congregations in Brazoria, Matagorda, Wharton, and Jackson Counties.  

Strickland’s closing, was “yours till death.”  Unfortunately that death came only two months later, at Bell’s on the Brazos.  He had preached 6 years in Tennessee and 6 months in Texas.