Saturday, October 29, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History  October 30

Texas Conference Passes Resolution to Change Date of Jurisdictional Conference, Nov. 4, 1943

The unification of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Methodist Episcopal Church South and the Methodist Protestant Church was accomplished in 1939.  Although unification had been discussed for several decades and representatives from the denominations had spent thousands of hours in deliberation, they could not foresee every circumstance that would arise after unification. 

One of the main changes after unification was the method of electing bishops.  Both the MEC and the MECS elected bishops at their quadrennial general conferences.  The MP Church did not have bishops.  The annual conferences met as committees of the whole in what they called “stationing committees” to make the appointments. 
Under both the MEC and the MECS, since bishops were elected by the General Conference, the newly-elected bishops might be assigned to preside over any annual conference in the respective denomination.
If General Conferences continued to elect bishops after unification, it would be possible for an African American bishop to be assigned to preside over a conference in the South. 
Such a possibility was anathema to the MECS delegates.  A compromise was devised in which the power to elect bishops was taken away from the General Conference and moved to a new entity, the Jurisdictional Conference.  The United States and its territories were divided into 5 regional jurisdictions.  The African American churches in the MEC would be grouped into the “Central Jurisdiction.”  Methodists in the South were assured that no African American bishop would preside over their annual conference—segregation was enshrined in church law.

At the 1943 Texas Annual Conference some of the preachers who had served as General Conference delegates before unification, tried to recapture some of the spirit of the old system. 
Before 1939 the most exciting feature of many General Conferences in both the MEC and MECS had been the election of bishops.  Some of the elections continued through scores of ballots.  Adjournment was often delayed became the episcopal elections dragged on so long, as at the 1902 MECS General Conference in Dallas.  Delegates often had to extend hotel stays, change their railroad tickets, and miss appointments back home.
But there was a tradeoff.  General Conferences concluded with the consecration service as the newly-elected bishops received their formal induction into office.  Such consecration services served as a unifying feature after the contentious election. 
On Nov. 4, 1943 J. W. Mills, Paul Quillian,  Guy Jones, O. W. Bradley, and F. M. Richardson presented a resolution to petition the 1944 General Conference to move the dates of Jurisdictional Conference so that they would meet BEFORE General Conference instead of AFTER.
Jurisdictional Conferences would still elect bishops, but their consecration would occur at General Conference.   The conference passed the resolution, but it was ignored by the General Conference.
The resolution makes an important point—that is that Methodist bishops are “General Superintendents.”  If consecration had been moved to General Conference, that point would have been reinforced.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

This Week in  Texas Methodist History, October 23

Missionary Couple Arrives in Europe, Missionary Voice Flubs Story  October 1926

Ninety years ago this month, Charles T. and Ruby Dunn Hardt arrived in Europe to begin their work with the Polish Mission of the MECS.  Unfortunately, the Missionary Voice, identified the couple as the Henry G. Hardts.   Henry G. Hardt was actually the father of Charles and three other sons who became preachers and a daughter who also became a missionary.  

The 4 preachers and one missionary all grew up in the church at Yancey in Medina County.  Dan,, the oldest, joined the German Mission Conference.  Louis and Charles joined the West Texas Conference.  Wesley joined the Texas Conference.  Alice worked in several Mexican mission schools, both in Mexico and at Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso.

Ruby Dunn grew up in McKinney and met Charles at Southwestern University where she had attended with help from a scholarship from the McKinney chapter of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Service.  

Both Charles and Ruby educated themselves for mission service at SMU and Vanderbilt. Charles was fluent in German, English, and Spanish he later learned Polish and Czech.  Ruby wrote her master’s thesis on Women in the New Testament. 
Funding for missions was devastated by the Great Depression so Charles and Ruby Hardt returned to Texas where Charles served a series of appointments in the West Texas and Southwest Texas Conference (after the name change).  

They both lived long lives and never lost the idealism that inspired them to volunteer for the mission field.  It was that idealism that made me love them all the more.  I admired their life-long work for peace and justice which was 
institutionalized with the Charles and Ruby Hardt Peace Fund administered by the Rio Texas Conference. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

This Week n Texas Methodist History  October 16

Danny Parker Organizes Union Primitive Baptist Association, Oct. 17, 1840

One of the dangers of writing church history is a denominational myopia.  There is a tendency to focus on our own “branch of the vine,” and ignore the larger context.    Such myopia is perfectly understandable.  Many denominational historians are linked through family tradition, personal history, and friendship networks to the denomination.  Our interest in Methodist history is often a voyage of self-discovery. 
On the other hand, if we really want to understand one denomination, we have to learn the religious context in which in which that denomination operated. 
A good example is the Methodist focus on the events of the Jacksonian Era that resulted in the formation of the Methodist Protestant Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church South from the Methodist Episcopal Church.

We have concentrated so much on the cycles of division and reunion that we often overlook the fact that other denominations were experiencing similar processes. 
Presbyterians were divided along creedal boundaries, with members aligning themselves with different “confessions.”   Revivalism helped create a new branch, the Cumberland Presbyterians.  Lutherans created synods based on linguistic (and therefore ethnic) groupings.  Baptists faced not only regional North-South, but also doctrinal splits.  

The divisions of the Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans all had some part in shaping the religious landscape of Texas.  One of the most interesting features is that four of the religious bodies created their denominational organization within a few months of each other, from April to December, 1840. 
The Cumberland Presbyterians organized their first presbytery in 1837, but then in 1840, others followed.

The Regular Presbyterians organized the Brazos Presbytery on April 3, 1840 at Chriesman’s School House on the La Bahia Road in northern Washington County.  On October 8 the Union Baptist Association was formed at Travis in northern Austin County.  On October 17 Danny Parker organized the Union Primitive Baptists Association at Douglas.  The following Christmas the Texas Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church was formed at Rutersville, also on the La Bahia Road, but in northern Fayette County, less than a day’s ride from both Travis and Chriesman’s.  

Although the Parker name is one of the most famous in Texas history, (Danny was Cynthia Ann Parker’s uncle), modern readers are probably less familiar with the doctrine that Parker espoused.  

The larger split was between Regular and Primitive Baptists.  Primitive Baptists adhered strictly to their vision of the New Testament Church.  The New Testament Church did not have Sunday Schools, Missionary Societies, Tract Societies, so the Primitive Baptists also eschewed such modern accretions.   The flashpoint accretion was missionary societies, and that issue provided the name Anti-Missionary Baptist Church.  The name “Missionary Baptist Church” one still commonly sees in Texas is a relic of that 19th century dispute, and one sometimes encounters the pejorative “hardshell” to refer to the Primitive or Anti-Missionary Baptists. 

Danny Parker split from most Primitive Baptists when the adopted the doctrine of “Two Seedism.”  They believed that human were made both in the image of God and of Satan and adopted what has been called hyper-Calvinism.   Although Parker did not believe in missionary societies, he did believe in establishing churches.  At one time there were 9 in East Texas, including the oldest, the Pilgrim Predistinarian Regular Baptist Church near Elkhart.   

Yes, Methodists were not alone in church disputes.  This author believes that the best interpretation of the era is to see them as the ideas of Jacksonian Democracy being applied to the religious sphere.  An expanding democracy was not confined to politics.   Religious life was transformed not just in Texas, but throughout the nation. 

Saturday, October 08, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History   October 9

Pioneer Pastor, Founder of Fort Worth Church, J. W. Chalk, Dies at Pilot Point, October 10, 1907

The organized of Methodism in Fort Worth and Farmersville, Rev. J. W. Chalk died on October 10, 1907.  Here is a 1912 account of his life. 

Rev. J. W. Chalk, one of the organic members of the North Texas conference, came from Maury County, Tennessee, in 1851; was admitted on trial in the old Texas conference, and sent to the frontier work. He organized the church in Fort Worth in 1855 or 1856; transferred to the East Texas conference, and was a pioneer preacher when it took grit and grace to do the work of a Methodist itinerant preacher. In those days, it was necessary to protect himself from the marauding bands of Indians, and he had to carry his gun, as well as his Bible. He had seen service in the Mexican war, and learned to face danger, and trust in God. He was a most honorable man, and was popular with all the people. His work on this circuit was crowned with great success, and many were added to the church. After more than a half century in the ministry, he fell asleep in Pilot Point. Many will rise up in the judgment and call him blessed.

Among his other appointments were Red Oak, Honey Grove, Bonham, Jacksonville, Bonham, and the Dallas and Denton Districts. 

Sunday, October 02, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 2

Tennessee Conference Meets in Huntsville, Alabama, Four Members Transfer to Texas, Oct. 3, 1838

Tennessee was one of the main source regions for immigrants coming to the Republic of Texas.  There were constant rumors that Mexico would try to retake its former province.  In 1842 two separate incursions by Mexican forces came all the way to San Antonio.  The Comanche were emboldened by the weakness of Texian defenses.  Although they were usually residents of the High Plains, they made at least one raid to the Gulf of Mexico town of Linnville.  The wealth of Texas was in land, but that land was not worth much if it was not producing agricultural products.  

A solution to these military and economic problems was an increased population.  Incentives in the form of land grants existed until the cut off date of January 1, 1840.  Any settler arriving before that date received a generous land grant. 
Meanwhile, Tennessee was one of the states hardest hit by the economic difficulties of the late 1830s.  Ironically, at least some of the economic woes were the result of the policies of Andrew Jackson, the most famous Tennessean of them all.  All over Tennessee, the letters GTT (Gone to Texas), were scrawled on the doors of abandoned cabins. 

It is not surprising that some of the immigrant stream consisted of Methodist preachers.  On October 3, 1838, the Tennessee Annual Conference met in Huntsville, Alabama (northern Alabama was part of the Tennessee Conference.) and four of its members transferred to Texas.  

Actually Littleton Fowler was already there.  He had come in 1837  and was now head of the missionary efforts in the Republic.  Ike Strickland, Jesse Hord, and Samuel Williams were the other three.  

Isaac Lemuel Gillespie Strickland (b. 1809) and Jesse Hord (also b. 1809) left for Texas together on Oct. 21.  Strickland died the following July 2 at Bell’s Plantation on the Brazos.  There is a bronze marker in his honor at Bell Cemetery at West Columbia.  Hord lived much longer, dying in Goliad in 1886.  

Littleton Fowler served courageously until his death in January 1846.  As you know, he is buried under the pulpit at McMahan’s Chapel.  Williams lived until 1866 when he died at the age of 56.  He is buried at San Augustine.