Saturday, October 31, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History November 1

Texas Conference Trivia Question:  Which Bishop Was the Last One to Preside before A. Frank Smith Began his 26 Year Consecutive Presiding Streak?

The Answer;  Bishop Hiram Boaz at Marvin MECS in Tyler, Nov. 1-5, 1933. 

Bishop Boaz, born in Kentucky in 1866, moved with his family to Texas as a small boy and attended both Sam Houston Normal (today’s Sam Houston State University) and Southwestern University.  He taught school in Fort Worth but then received a license to preach and served churches in Fort Worth, Abilene, and Dublin.  He became president of Polytechnic (today’s Texas Wesleyan University) and earned praise for his vigorous leadership.

Boaz failed in his effort to move his alma mater, Southwestern, to Fort Worth, but became the vice-president of SMU as it was being organized.  Boaz was given much of the responsibility of raising the funds to get SMU started.  He accomplished that and went back to Polytechnic for a second tenure.  He served as Secretary of the Board of Church Extension briefly but was called back to Texas in 1920 to become SMU’s second president. 

In 1922 he was elected bishop of the MECS and assigned to the Asian conferences.  After one quadrennium presiding there, he was assigned conferences in the United States where he served until his retirement in 1938.  He lived until 1962.  His remains were laid to rest at Sparkman Hillcrest Memorial Park in Dallas. 

Marvin MECS in Tyler was a frequent host of the Texas Annual Conference.  Its commodious sanctuary, convenient location, good rail connections, and generous Tyler residents who offered accommodations made it a good place to meet.  Just three years earlier, in September, 1930, the Daisy Bradford #3 had come in just a few miles from Tyler.  While much of the rest of the United States was coping with the Great Depression, the Tyler area was experiencing a boom.

Two Tyler laymen were invited to address the Annual Conference.  The first was Galloway Calhoun, the subject of a previous post.

The other was also an attorney, Earl Mayfield, (1881-1964) who had served as U. S. Senator from Texas 1923-1929.  Mayfield had emerged victorious in the 1922 Democratic Primary over James, “Pa” Ferguson.  Ferguson’s impeachment as governor did not disqualify him for the Senate seat.
Mayfield became known as the preferred candidate of the Ku Klux Klan or “Klanidate” as the newspapers reported it.  Ferguson, although the son of a Methodist preacher, was a “wet,” and the Klan favored “dry” candidates. 

Mayfield was unable to win re-nomination in 1928 so he moved to Tyler, close to his birthplace of Overton.  There is no record of what the two laymen said to the Conference.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History   October 25

El Paso Methodist Preacher, Rev. A. C. Murphy, Offers Church Building for School

Although El Paso was far removed from eastern Texas and its tradition of racial segregation, it was still part of Texas, and that meant separate facilities and institutions for African American and European American residents.

In 1886 a dispute over facilities for African American students arose that involved the young Methodist preacher, the Rev. Alfred C. Murphy.

The El Paso School Board conducted a scholastic census and counted 775 children and young people between the ages of 6 and 17.  Of those only 14 were African American.  In accordance with the educational law of the 1880’s the City Council provided the facility, and the School Board operated the school.  The City Council required a minimum student body of 20 before it would build a school.

Instead of sending those 14 students to racially  integrated schools, the School Board rented the old African American Methodist Church building for $8/month.  The congregation had moved out of the building to more modern facilities, so one can imagine the poor quality of the facility provided.  

 The 1885-1886 academic year found the African American students in the old, inadequate building. 
As the 1886-1887 academic year approached, the community was split between competing offers from the Baptists and Methodists who both wished to hold the school in their buildings.  The new Methodist church, which had replaced the dilapidated one, was pastored by the Rev. Alfred C. Murphy, born 1859 in Rochester, New York.  Murphy was a graduate of Howard University and Wayland Seminary, also in Washington, D. C.    (Wayland later merged with Richmond Theological Seminary to become Virginia Union University.)  The School Board decided on the new Methodist building and hired Murphy to teach there.

It was common for preachers of the era to teach during the week and preach on Sundays.  The El Paso Methodist Church was obviously not equipped with desks, globes, scientific apparatus, or other accouterments necessary for high quality instruction.  Students sat on the same benches which the congregation used for pews, and there was a blackboard. In 1886 students provided their own textbooks.  State-provided textbooks did not appear in Texas schools until well into the 20th century. 

Rev. A. C. Murphy was a prominent citizen of El Paso throughout the 1890s.  He was often mentioned in the El Paso Times as a civic leader.  In 1888 he was the main orator at the El Paso Juneteenth celebration.  The reporter for the Times recorded the event with the highest praise.  He was an officer in the Knights of Pythias.

Murphy appears in the 1900 US Census, still living in El Paso with his occupation listed as teacher.  In the 1910 Census he is enumerated in Denver, Colorado, having lost his wife but with three of his sons (9 to 13 years old) still at home.  His occupation is listed as school janitor.  . There must be a story behind those census reports. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History   October 18

Rockey Spring Quarterly Conference Passes Resolution to Create Colored Mission in Harrison County, October 21, 1843

Clearing the raft of logs from the Red River by the U. S. Corps of Engineers under Captain Henry Miller Shreve had immediate effects upon Texas and also Texas Methodism.  A town named Shreveport was platted where the Texas Trail crossed the Red River.  Shreveport replaced Natchitoches as the head of navigation on the Red River, and steamboats soon found their way up Cypress Bayou to Jefferson.  The Texas Trail soon became the preferred entry from the United States to Texas, taking business away from  the Red River crossings at Natchitoches, Louisiana, and Fulton, Arkansas. 

Unfortunately many of the people coming to Texas during the period were enslaved persons being marched in chains to new lands being opened up in Texas for cotton production.  Shreveport developed a slave market, not as large as New Orleans, but still quite significant.  Many of the exploited souls ended up around Marshall and Jefferson.  The US census of 1850 revealed a very large percentage of the population there to be enslaved people.

The question of ”Colored Missions” or “African Missions” occupied a prominent place in the deliberations of Texas Methodism before emancipation.  Many Methodists were driven by the Gospel mandate to “preach the Gospel to all persons.”  Some of them interpreted that scripture to mean that such universality of preaching was a prerequisite for the second coming of Christ.
One of the problems was that “Colored Missions” depended upon the cooperation of the slaveholders, and their attitudes varied widely.  Some viewed religion as another form of social control.  Some refused to allow any contact by outsiders.  Still others were ambivalent on the subject. 

Methodism’s special problem was that the core source region for preachers volunteering for the Republic of Texas was the Ohio Valley, and especially the states of Ohio and Illinois.  Many slaveholders looked suspiciously upon anyone from the North.  William O’Connor, one of the 1842 recruits from Ohio had ruffled some feathers on the subject. Robert Alexander’s brother, David, had complained to Littleton Fowler, the Presiding Elder of the district who had recruited O’Conner, about possible “abolitionist” remarks. 

O’Conner died in Marshall in Aug. 1843, at the age of 27, and possibly since he was no longer alive, Harrison County Methodists began discussion of establishing a “Colored Mission,” this time under a preacher who would be “safe” on the slavery issue.  

The Quarterly Conference of the Harrison Circuit met at Rockey(sic) Spring on October 21, 1843 and passed a resolution to establish such a mission.  One of the sentences in the resolution is especially revealing

In the Southern States where the M. E. Church has established missions to the slaves the consequence has been that of a great moral and religious reformation of this class of population which tended to make them honest, industrious and more obedient to those who controuled them greatly to the advantage of both both the servants and masters.

The resolution directed John Woolam to secure the permission of slaveholders before an actually appointment would be made. 

The Texas Conference met the following December, and there was no appointment to a “Colored Mission.”  Harrison, though, had two preachers, William Craig and John Woolam.  One suspects that Woolam was directing his efforts to enslaved people.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History  October 11

Preachers Object to Advocate’s Strong Stand on Prohibition, October 16, 1885

When G. W. Briggs took over the editorship of the Texas Christian Advocate, he unabashedly proclaimed that he intended to use the denominational organ in the political battle over the prohibition of alcoholic beverages.   Texas dries felt encouraged by the added weight of the Advocate stance as they pushed for a statewide referendum to be put before the voters.  Such a referendum was held in 1888, but failed to secure a majority with the all-male electorate in that year. 

There were a few Methodist preachers bold enough to voice their opposition to the new editorial emphasis.   Their opposition was not in favor of alcoholic beverages, but their belief that the church should stay out of secular politics.  

Briggs sent an appeal to Texas preachers, asking them to submit letters to the Advocate on the subject of prohibition.  Rev. Scott of Willis composed a letter criticizing the involvement of the Advocate in politics.  Briggs did not print the letter.  He would have been better off just printing the letter.  His refusal to print letters disagreeing with his position just created more problems.  Rev. John C. S. Baird of Coleman City heard of the refusal to print the Scott letter.   

When Baird’s letter to the Advocate was also denied publication, he sent his protest to the Galveston Daily News which was all too happy to report on the minor Methodist journalistic spat.
Baird’s letter ended this way

Southern Methodist preachers are entitled to all the rights and privileges of American citizenship, but their citizen rights should be exercised as citizens, not as pastors of Southern Methodist churches nor as editors or paid correspondents of Southern Methodist newspapers. As citizens claiming to be quiet and peaceable subjects, we are entitled to such laws as will protect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  As members and ministers of the church of the Son of God, we are to remember that “ the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but are mighty through God (not the legislature), to the pulling down of strongholds, and the bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”

Saturday, October 03, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History   October 4

Representative Elkanah Brush Rebuffed in Attempt to Name Chaplain, October 5, 1836

Many Texans can recite in great detail the stirring events of the first months of 1836.  In just a few months, from January to April of that year the events that shaped our historical memory came in rapid fire order---the Siege of the Alamo, the Declaration of Independence, Goliad, the Runaway Scrape, and the Battle of San Jacinto—all occurred in a brief span that we Texas historians facetiously call “Texas Lent,”   approximately 40 days that created a new country.

Far fewer Texans can recite the events that occurred in the second half of 1836 as the scene shifted from winning independence to creating a government strong enough to protect the people from the various military threats that still existed, provide a stable currency, perfect titles to land, create courts for the administration of justice, provide postal service, and so on. 

The establishment of a new government under a new constitution took place fairly easily, mainly because the founders used the United States as a template.  Except for  Tejanos including such men as Navarro, De Zavalla, and Seguin, all of the new military and political leaders were recent arrivals from the United States.  Many of them had been politically active before they emigrated so by the fall of 1836 the Provisional Government which had won the Revolution was replaced by a constitutional republic.  

As previously noted the founders used the United States as a template, but in the area of church-state relations, the writers of the Texas Constitution of 1836---mainly Jeffersonian in their outlook—were able to write the strongest possible separation language into the founding document. 
At one time during the constitutional debates it was proposed that clergy should be denied the vote.  That was changed to a prohibition of clergymen holding office in the final version.

A primary interest of the founders was their fervent belief that the government should not favor any denomination or sect over another.  In addition to their Jeffersonian outlook, they also remembered the privileges of the Roman Catholic Church under Mexican rule.

Representative Elkanah Brush of Refugio was initially thwarted in his attempt to have a chaplain named for the Texas House of Representatives.  On October 5, 1836, he moved that the House appoint a Chaplain whose main duty would be opening each day’s session with a prayer.  The Chaplain would receive the same pay as the members—five dollars per day. 

Representative Thomas Jefferson Green* of Bexar, who had previously served in the Florida Legislature, objected.  His argument makes sense even today. 

. . .if he were a Methodist, he would feel much aggrieved at seeing a Catholic priest perform mass previous to their deliberations in that assembly;  he therefore objected to the resolution. For his part he did not know but that 600 different sects might claim the same privilege. 

Brush’s resolution was tabled, but about a month later revived.  Both the House and the Senate appointed Chaplains—including Littleton Fowler.  

Some of us are still troubled by the presence of legislative chaplains.   Tax monies collected from all persons---believers, non-believers alike—and used to pay someone to deliver a prayer seems like a direct governmental subsidy of religion and inevitably  privileges one religion over another. 

*Green later moved to California and was elected to the State Senat.  As a very young man he had served in the North Carolina Assembly.  He thus became one of the few people to serve in fourdifferent legislatures.