Saturday, May 21, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History  May 22

Rev. E. B. Chappell Preaches Commencement Sermon at Sam Houston State Normal  May 1889

One of the interesting facets of Texas Methodist history is the number of families that have produced preachers through several generations.  In some cases the family name is preserved by using it as a given name as in the case of J. Fisher Simpson, a descendant of Orceneth Fisher. Bishop Monk Bryan was a member of the Monk family, and so on.

Another family of distinguished preachers are the Chappells.

One member, E. B. (Edwin Barfield) Chappell (1853-1936)  was the pastor of 10th Street Methodist in Austin in 1889 when he was invited to preach the commencement sermon at Sam Houston Normal (later Sam Houston State University) in Huntsville.  Chappell was only 10 years from his own graduation from Vanderbilt in 1879, but was widely seen as one of the young stars of the MECS.  He had already served Texas appointments in LaGrange and San Antonio before 10th Street.  

E. B. Chappell did not stay long in Texas.  He went from Austin to St. Louis and then back to Nashville.  After a pastorate in Nashville in 1906 he moved to the Publishing House as Sunday School Editor.  He stayed in that post until 1930 and exercised tremendous influence throughout the denomination.  He also wrote several books and was a delegate to seven General Conferences.  

The most famous member of the Chappell family was Clovis (1882-1972) who pastored some of the most prominent churches in the MECS, including First Methodist Houston.  Clovis Chappell published 35 books of sermons and was in great demand as a speaker and guest preacher. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History  May 15

G. W. Briggs, Galveston Pastor, Draws Editorial Ire for Radical Position, May 15, 1880

Perhaps you have been disturbed by radical positions of recent political/religious statements.  Although many of them are outside the limits of civil discussion, none can compare with the radical position of Rev. G. W. Briggs in 1880.  He called for the execution of persons who did not believe in the Bible.  Briggs was not some insignificant small town preacher; he was the editor of the Texas Christian Advocate and pastor of the MECS church in Galveston. 

His call for making disbelief a capital crime came about in a public lecture prompted by the growing popularity of Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899).  Ingersoll, the son of a Congregational preacher, was a lawyer, minor politician, Civil War veteran who was one of the finest orators of the era.  He spoke on many subjects including the importance of family life, patriotism, and so on, speaking without any notes for as long as three hours.  He is best remembered today, however, as the most able spokesman of the time for agnosticism and humanism.  His enemies began to call him “the Great Infidel,” but he continued to fill auditoriums with listeners who paid $1.00 each for tickets. 
Briggs felt it necessary to give a public lecture in the Tremont Opera House against Ingersoll in Galveston.  The Galveston Daily News (May 16) reprinted the lecture.  As you can probably guess, the call for capital punishment set off a firestorm of opposition.

From the Waco Telephone

Rev. G. W. Briggs, the southern Methodist minister in Galveston, in his recent lecture against Ingersoll, said a law ought to be passed making it high treason against the government for anyone who expresses open disbelief in the Bible. . .. We presume this man Briggs  is a kind of bigoted fanatic, whose sayings are more to be pitied than condemned..  .Why such a man is even allowed to fill the pulpit of the leading church in Galveston must be set down as one of those mysterious “dispensations of Providence” that cannot be explained.  Mr. Briggs has done the cause of true religion a great harm.  . .

From the Austin Statesman

. . .In our opinion the pulpit is responsible for such men as Ingersoll.  The average preacher is a prolific cause of infidelity, and the utterances of clerical stupidity and intolerance have raised up men like Bob Ingersoll, who echo the prayer of Voltaire, ‘The time may come when the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”

From the Mexia Ledger

If these ministers (Briggs) are in any manner imitating their meek and lowly Master, such commendable acts have failed to come to the knowledge of the general public.

Newspapers continued to carry articles about Briggs and his denunciation of Ingersoll through the summer of 1880.  One enterprising reporter interviewed Ingersoll in Washington, D. C.  One of the lines from the “Great Agnostic” shows his devastating wit.

Mr. Briggs is not so bad as the god he worships.  Mr. Briggs wishes to torture infidels for a few hours here, while his god will torture them forever.

Eventually the furor died down.  Regular readers of this blog will recall how Briggs ended up as a drunken Bowery Bum in a New York court room accused of shoplifting.  (see post for April 20, 2008)

Saturday, May 07, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History May 8

Ex-World War II Chaplains Meet to Organize, May 14, 1951.

A group of Texas Conference preachers who had served as chaplains in World War II met at the Pine Island Hunting Club near Lufkin on May 14, 1951.  The ex-chaplains present were Compton Riley, Ed Mathison, Clyde Thomas, Elwood Birkelbach, Weldon Morton, Alton Jones, Emmitt Barrow, Harold Fagan, and Mouzon Bass.  Bass was the pastor at First Methodist Lufkin and the convener of the meeting. 

The nine organizers proposed that a Texas Conference Chaplains’ Fellowship be created to promote fellowship and “mutual interests” of the ex-chaplains.  They also volunteered as a body to help chaplains in active service and to assist pastors counsel armed forces personnel in their churches.  They also offered to help other pastors organize Armed Services Sunday recognitions. 
They offered Bishop A. Frank Smith, and two World War I Chaplains (Guy Wilson and Jesse Thompson) honorary membership.  The nine in attendance were able to name 24 other Texas Conference members who had served in the chaplaincy.  

These members of the “greatest generation” had been changed by their service.  Many of them lived their lives with a new sense of urgency, and that urgency applied to Texas Conference affairs.  Although the Methodist Church has formal episcopal governance, there are informal power structures which play an important part in conference affairs.  The main power bloc in the Texas Conference in 1951 was the “Union,” a group of preachers who had taken over the reins of informal power from the Progressive Era leader, Rev. J. Walter Mills.  Although the bishop made the formal appointments, the Union members managed to secure choice pastorates, committee assignments, and General and Jurisdictional delegate slots for themselves.  Since the first clergy to be elected a General Conference delegate was usually considered for the jurisdictional episcopal elections, membership in the Union brought some advantages. 
The May 14 meeting date—just two weeks before Annual Conference convened on May 28—is significant.  Although the written records do not say so, it is very likely that the nine ex-chaplains discussed how they intended to cast their ballots in the delegate elections.  They felt like it was time for new, younger voices to be heard in Conference matters.

The balloting for the clergy delegates took all week at the Texas Annual Conference, and the chaplains made little progress against the Union candidates.  Finally on Friday morning, the last day of conference, Mouzon Bass was elected as the 3rd reserve delegate to Jurisdictional Conference—the very last position elected..  

It took another two quadrennia before the chaplains got their due in the so-called revolt of the 1959 delegate elections.  Members of the group provided conference leadership for decades, and many of them kept that sense of urgency throughout their careers.   Mouzon Bass, the convener of the group did not live long enough to see the eventual success of the “Chaplain’s Caucus.’  He died Sept. 20, 1959 at the age of 47 (see post for June 7, 2014).