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.