This Week in Texas Methodist History April 24
Czech-Texan Joseph Dobes Gives Inspiring Speech for Unification, April 30, 1938
Joseph Dobes was born in Moravia, then part of the Austrian Empire, in 1876. He immigrated to the United States in 1907 and eventually found his way to Texas and to Southwestern University in Georgetown. When Austria went to war, Dobes went to the Bell Country Courthouse and became a U. S. citizen in September, 1914. He also became a Methodist preacher, serving as missionary to other “Bohemian” immigrants in both the Texas Conference (Bryan) and Central Texas Conferences (Temple).
When Czechoslovakia became an independent nation under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Dobes volunteered to return to his homeland as a missionary. He worked in that mission, and represented his conference as a delegate to the General Conference of the MECS in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1938.
The main business of the General Conference was the debate over the Plan of Union which would combine the MEC, MECS, and MP denominations into the Methodist Church.
On April 25, Dobes delivered an inspirational speech in favor of Union. Bishop Cannon was in the chair and called on Brother Dobes. His speech is memorable.
One of his arguments was that the division of Methodism into different denominations posed a significant problem as he conducted missionary efforts in Europe. Dobes claimed that many Europeans were sophisticated and well educated. They often knew a great deal about John Wesley and were attracted to his teachings, but could not understand the inclusion of the word “South” in the name of his denomination.
The entire speech in favor of Union is too long to reproduce here. Here is an excerpt based on a visit to an orphanage
A Christian lady was running that orphanage very beautifully, and I was astonished at the spirit that has filled the hearts of all those people. The lady took me into the garden and she told me this: Brother Dobes, do you see this pile of sand here? When our children fuss together, when they hate one another, we try to reconcile them. We take them both to this place and we say to them, “now children, dig a grave here, and in this grave bury your hatred, unbrotherly spirit, and then cover up the grave. Then go into the garden, bring some flowers, and plant flowers on this grave, and forget all that is behind you.”
. . . Brethren, bury the old spirit. Bury it deep, and don’t let it resurrect itself. Plant flowers on the grave. And now let us unite and work in harmony, brotherly spirit, and Christ is on our side because he said so==that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
The same week that Dobes was arguing for reconciliation in Birmingham, Alabama, Nazi traitors in the Sudetenland portion of Czechoslovakia were agitating for unification with Nazi Germany. After the General Conference adjourned, Dobes returned to a nation in crisis and the prelude to World War II.
The Methodist church did not fare well under either the Nazi or Communist dictatorships that formed the next tragic eras of Czechoslovakian history. Dobes made his way back to Texas where he died at the Houston Methodist Hospital on June 6, 1960.