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).


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