This Week in Texas Methodist History September 27
El Paso Methodists Prepare to Host Two Annual Conferences, October 1896
In October 1896 El Paso had the rare privilege of hosting two Methodist Annual Conferences---the New Mexico Conference of the MECS convened on October 4, and the New Mexico English Mission of the MEC convened the next week.
The location of El Paso made sense for both New Mexico conferences since it contained by far the largest Methodist membership of any city within the conference boundaries. As the name “El Paso” indicates, the city owes its prominence to its location. It is located at the intersection of both east-west and north-south routes that had been used for ages. When the railroads built their tracks through El Paso, the city was transformed from a fairly major regional city to one of international importance, a status it retains to this day.
The development of mines in Arizona, Chihuahua, Sonora, and New Mexico helped make El Paso the most importing metal smelting site in Texas. Its commercial, military, manufacturing, and transportation functions assured it would be a major city.
Both the MEC and the MECS had a somewhat difficult time evangelizing New Mexico. In Texas Methodism had expanded with the expansion of European-American settlement. When Methodists arrived in New Mexico, they found expanding European-American settlements in the railroad cities, but there also existed a Native American/Hispanic culture that had roots deeper than any culture in the eastern United States.
One way to create New Mexico Annual Conferences with a large enough membership was to include El Paso and much of the rest of West Texas in the New Mexico Conference. That move, rooted in necessity, made a great deal of geographical sense then and still does today. El Paso serves as the main economic and cultural center of large sections of southern New Mexico.
As the two conferences planned their sessions, the newspapers highlighted the accomplishments of the bishops who were coming to El Paso.
The MECS bishop was R. K. Hargrove (1829-1905, elected 1882). Hargrove, an Alabaman and graduate of the University of Alabama was well known as college president, member of the Cape May Commission, and the man who suggested that the Woman’s Department of Church Extension take on the project of securing parsonages at all the churches.
The announced bishop for the MEC conference was John H. Vincent (1832-1920, elected 1888). Vincent’s reputation as co-founder of the Chautauqua Assembly preceded him. In addition to pasturing churches in the Chicago area, he also edited American Sunday School Union materials from 1868 to 1884—was thus known in other denominations besides Methodists.