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.