Saturday, March 26, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History   March 27

What’s the difference between Revival, Camp Meeting, and Protracted Meeting?

Fort Worth getting pious.  Twenty-five converts as a result of a Methodist protracted meeting were baptized there last Sunday.  Now let Dallas beat the record if she can, says the Waco Examiner. . .”  March 30, 1892

As we examine the documents of Texas Methodist history, we notice the terms “revival,” “camp meeting,” and “protracted meeting.”  Although there the three terms mean something very similar, there were actually some differences between them.  

At the risk of over simplification of phenomena that lasted well over 150 years in Texas and varied in style from place to place, we will try to distinguish them.

First, we must acknowledge that our ancestors considered revivals, camp meetings, and protracted meetings absolutely essential to the life of the church.  They would consider our practice of weekly Sunday worship services plus special Holy Week and Advent services as strange indeed.  Their religious life was marked by intense periods of activity once or twice per year rather than weekly services.  Remember that most Methodists belonged to churches that were “preaching points” on a circuit which the circuit rider visited only periodically. 

The earliest recorded religious meetings in Texas (1834, 1835) were camp meetings, but were just called “meetings.”  The participants camped in pleasant settings because there were no church buildings.  Sometimes the organizers would have prepared a simple structure called a “brush arbor,” and split logs to serve as benches.  The meetings usually began on a Friday and concluded with Sunday evening services.   Through the 1840s and 1850s the most common meeting occasion  was the quarterly visit of the presiding elder who would usually arrive in time for a Friday evening service, hold conference on Saturday, and then have three worship services on Sunday.  The presiding elder would then leave on Monday; hopefully having collected his “quarterage” (what we now call apportionment).  By the following Friday he would have arrived at the next circuit.

During this same era, in the more populated North, the “protracted meeting” was taking shape.  The purpose of the protracted meeting was not to revive the spiritual life of the existing congregation—that was a revival. The purpose was expressly to convert sinners and save them from an eternity of hell.  

The first known reference to the phrase “protracted meeting” was D. Griffiths, Two Years Residence in the New Settlements of Ohio (1835).  The practice seems to have originated in New England and the “burned over district” of Upper New York state.   The area opened to settlement by the construction of the Erie Canal experienced such an outpouring of religious fervor that it became known as the Burned Over District—meaning both that it had been touched by the Holy Spirit and that the bonfires associated with night time meetings made the area glow with the flames. 
A standard protracted meeting was at least eight days, encompassing two Sundays, but as the institution evolved, they became longer and longer---some even lasted two months.  After all, as the Evangelical Harp (1845) stated “Preaching on the Sabbath day will never convert the world.  The Apostles disputed daily in the Temple. “ 

David Ayres, prominent Texas Methodist layman, had lived in Ithaca, New York prior to his removal to Texas and had experienced the meetings there.

We have no record of “protracted meetings” in Texas until after the Civil War. 
By the time the institution got to Texas, it had been partially tamed.  Most churches on a circuit in the 1890s did have a protracted meeting yearly, but it usually lasted only a week.   Usually it was conducted by the preacher in charge of the circuit, assisted by local preachers in the area.  This distinguished it from revivals and camp meetings during the same era—they usually had visiting evangelists who provided most of the preaching.  (to be continued next week).

Friday, March 18, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History   March 20

Kenney and Matthews Refute Rumors about Abel Stevens, March 25, 1839

Several of the Methodist preachers who came to the Republic of Texas were from northern states and at least some of them were, from time to time, accused of not embracing slavery closely enough.  A previous post relates how Littleton Fowler had to admonish Wilbur O’Connor about public criticism of slavery.  

A very interesting episode regarding Abel Stevens and slavery occurred on March 25, 1839.  As you will recall Stevens, a well-educated New Englander, arrived in Texas in December 1838 and was quickly assigned the best circuit in “Western  Texas,” the churches in Austin and Washington Counties.  He immediately made a mark for himself through his effective ministry, especially in the donation of land on which churches and parsonages would be constructed. 
The brilliant start to the ministry stalled, however, when rumors began circulating that Stevens harbored abolitionist thoughts.  

On March 25, 1839 John Wesley Kenney and Henry Matthews decided to pay a call on William Punchard of San Felipe whom they had identified as the source of the rumors.  The two preachers conducted a heated “interview” with Punchard who was forced to admit that he had no evidence to back up the rumor he had been passing.  With the pro-slavery bona fides of Stevens reestablished, the two Methodist preachers went to court where probate court was in session.  Both Kenney and Matthews, in addition to being local pastors, also held county positions.  Kenney was County Surveyor and Matthews was Coroner. 

When Kenney entered the courtroom, he was recognized and appointed executor of the Texas portion of Martin Ruter’s estate.  That estate included a claim of 320 acres of Texas public land.  How convenient!  In his position as County Surveyor, he could expedite the process.   He split the 320 acres into two smaller portions and surveyed them adjacent to his own league in northern Austin County.  Kenney, then in his position as Executor, perfected the titles to the two tracts for the benefit of the heirs of Martin Ruter, including the widow, Ruth and several children. 
What about rumor-monger Punchard?  He continued to live in Austin County as plantation owner.  In 1854 he was appointed Postmaster of Sempronious, about 6 miles from Kenney’s residence at Travis.  He died at Riesel in McLennan County in 1878, where one of his sons had moved.   Punchard was born in Francistown, New Hampshire, in 1813.  Is it possible that he was spreading rumors about his fellow New Englander to reinforce his own image?  

Stevens, of course, was back in New York by June.  He went on to become the most well-known Methodist historian of his era.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History  March 13

Brunner Ave. Methodist Holds WCTU Silver Medal Contest, March 18, 1904

On Friday night, March 18, 1904 the Helen Stoddard Chapter of the WCTU held a silver medal contest at Brunner Ave. MECS in Houston.  The program featured a number of musical numbers such as Since Papa Doesn’t Drink, No Cigarette for Me, and The Temperance Flag.

The Houston women had chosen their name well.  Helen Stoddard (1850-1941) was one of the most significant figures in Progressive Era Texas.  

Stoddard was born in Wisconsin in 1850 and was educated at Ripon College and Genessee Wesleyan Seminary in New York.  She married in 1873, and the couple moved to Nebraska.  Stoddard was left a widow in 1878.  In 1880 she resigned her position of teaching mathematics at the Methodist Conference college in Nebraska and moved to Indian Gap where her parents now lived.  She taught first at Comanche College and then Fort Worth University.  

Anna Palmer, an evangelist for the WCTU influenced Stoddard to become active in temperance work.  At the WCTU State Convention in Tyler in 1891 the president resigned because of ill health, and Stoddard was elected as her replacement.

She resigned her teaching post and remained the Texas WCTU president for the 16 years.  Her accomplishments as president can hardly be exaggerated.  She revived the organization that had been demoralized by the defeat of a prohibition amendment by Texas voters (all men) in 1887.   She crisscrossed the state organizing, lecturing, and lobbying.  Among her lobbying successes were laws prohibiting the sale of cigarettes to children, receiving liquor by mail in a dry county, and restrictions on cocaine and gambling.  

She was instrumental in lobbying for the creation of what is known today as Texas Woman’s University. After the passage of the authorizing bill, she was appointed to the commission that chose the site for TWU—and was the only woman on the 13-person commission that chose Denton.  She served 6 years as secretary of the Board of Regents of the institution she had helped create. 
Stoddard was also active in national and international WCTU work as lecturer, author, and program director.  

In 1907 Stoddard resigned from her post because of ill health and moved to Southern California.   In 1912 she was the Prohibition Party’s nominee for the 11th Congressional District of California—the first woman ever to run for Congress from California.  While living in California, she taught high school and organized a WCTU chapter.  Upon the death of her son in 1935 she moved to Dallas with her daughter-in-law.  She died in Dallas, but her body was returned to California to be buried beside her son.  Here is the link to her page on Find A Grave.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History March 6

Denison Methodist Church Hosts Musical Program, March 11, 1878

In the late 1870s Denison was THE boomtown in Texas.  The Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway had selected Denison as the location that its rails would enter Texas.  The first train arrived Christmas Eve, 1872, and Denison soon blossomed as the leading commercial center of the northern Blackland Prairie.  Soon cotton, flour, and beef from all over Texas were streaming to the markets of the Northeast through Denison. 

An influx of merchants, bankers, and laborers from the Northeast streamed into Denison, and its population grew rapidly.  In the summer of 1873 it boasted a population of 3000.
The new Methodist church hosted a musical program on Monday, March 11, 1878 by the traveling singer, Phillip Phillips (not to be confused with the 2012 American Idol singer of the same name.)
The reporter for the Denison Daily News gave an unfavorable review to the program.  The songs were the epitome of the syrupy, over-sentimental compositions of the Victorian Era.  Here is the review

Mr. Phillip Phillips rendered a representative selection of his moral and sacred songs at the new Methodist church on Monday evening.  The house was pretty well filled, and the audience gave patient attention to the rather monotonous programme for an hour and a half.   The music was of the recitative order, and while the performer threw a good deal of expression into his pieces, n doubt a majority of his hearers went away wondering that it would have secured him the great reputation he seems to enjoy. Among the best of his songs given were, “Let us gather up the Sunbeams,”Leaf for Life,”“Self-Deceit (a temperance song)”“The Cradlebed Song,” and Tennyson’s “Too Late.”