Saturday, November 26, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History  November 27

G. C. Rankin Transfers to North Texas Conference, Finds Interesting Cultural Differences between Houston and Dallas.  Nov. 27, 1896

George Rankin was completing his four year pastorate at Shearn Methodist (later First Methodist) in Houston.   Bishop Keener came from the Northwest Texas Conference to Houston and requested a bedroom and solitude from Rankin.  Keener took a stack of North Texas Conference Journals into the bedroom.  When he emerged several days later, he announced he had made the North Texas appointments and Rankin would be transferring to that conference but did not tell him the charge. 
The Texas Conference then met with Bishop Eugene Hendrix presiding, and when the appointments were read, Rankin discovered he was going to First Methodist Dallas.
Rankin served that pastorate and then assumed the editorship of the Texas Christian Advocate which had its offices in Dallas.  He managed to write his life story and included therein a most interesting comparison between Houston and Dallas circa 1896. 
Even before the oil boom, Houston was much more of a culturally diverse city.  Here how Rankin describes it. 

When the Texas Conference met in Bastrop, with Bishop Hendrix in the chair, I was transferred to the North Texas Conference.  I really regretted to leave that section of the State and those excellent brethren, but it seemed a necessity under the circumstances.  However, I felt that Texas was one, though divided into five conferences. 
True, the lines between them were closely drawn, but the Methodism of the State was one.  Nevertheless I found a striking difference between the people of South and North Texas; and I also9 found a difference between the preacher of the two sections. 
Down there (Houston) is a large mixture of foreign peoples, and the effect upon the customs and usages of the people is marked, they have a somewhat different texture of civilization.  Many of the people of foreign extraction have become largely Americanized, it is true, but many of them are as distinctively foreign as if they were living in Continental Europe or in Old Mexico. 
Among them are German, Bohemian, and Italian communities, but Houston was, and is, a composite mixture of many sorts of peoples.  A Catholic priest told me that in that in his one congregation, he had nine distinct nationalities.  The influence in this condition is seen in the social and political life of the city.  The saloons are a potent element, and in municipal politics, they are a dominant force. 
In North Texas it is vastly different.  The population is largely native and American ideas and customs more largely prevail.  There are comparatively few foreign people, and their presence and influence is not so much found in Church and State.  Protestant Christianity, public schools, and the English language have the right of way.  Moral sentiment is in the ascendancy and saloons have but little influence in social and political life.  The soil is more varied in its productions and the rural districts are more populated.  The cities and towns do not have so much their way, and the country idea of morals more than offset the tendency of the city toward vice and lax enforcement of law.  . . .
Hence throughout South Texas there is not much respect for the Sabbath except as a day of recreation and hilarity; the saloon and beer garden are popular resorts, and there is great antipathy to prohibition in any form.  . . .
So when I came to North Texas, it was like coming into contact with another civilization and with the masses of another race of people

Saturday, November 19, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History  Nov. 20

Bishop Pierce Presides at Texas Annual Conference, “Lord, Deliver Methodism from Popular Votes,”  Nov. 24, 1858

Bishop George Foster Pierce presided over the Texas Annual Conference held in Austin in November 1858.  Many readers of this blog already know that the MECS General Conference of 1866 changed the Discipline to allow lay representation in the annual and general conferences. 
Less well known is that informal lay representation had already occurred under the name “lay co-operation.”  Here is the way Bishop Pierce later described it.

Austin is beautiful located and is a prosperous town—the thriving capital of a great and growing state.  . . The session was short, pleasant, and I trust, profitable.  Here we had for the first time in the history of this Conference, ‘lay co-operation.’

Pierce then went on to list his objections to lay co-operation.  His first objection was that the increased representation would be a burden on the host community.  In this era attendees were fed and housed among the community rather than hotels. Increasing the number of delegates would also increase the number of beds and meals the host community needed to provide.  He objected to the possibility of lay delegates  “. . .representation involves the necessity of election by popular vote, from which evil may the Lord deliver Methodism.”  Thirdly, “. . . it is a mockery of the delegates, for they have neither vote   nor power—all they suggest. .. .”  Fourthly .  annual conferences do no have the right to legislate (only the General Conference has that power). Fifthly, the slippery slope argument—will every quarterly conference want lay representation?  

Bishop Pierce then pointed out the power that laity did have in the church—as stewards and trustees—they controlled the property—what else could they want?  He also argued that lay delegates would just follow instructions from their pastors anyway.

When lay delegates did appear after the disciplinary change mentioned above, Pierce’s biographer commented that he embraced the change and welcomed the lay delegates. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History  Nov. 13

Barbeque Follows Cornerstone Ceremony at Soule University,  Nov. 1858

I like barbeque as much as the next man, but am a little bemused at how the Barbecue Cult has become one of the major cultural touchstones of Texan (and US) culture.  The Houston Chronicle has a regular barbeque reviewer.  Texas Monthly publishes an annual list with ratings of the best “cue.”  There are also tours of the famous Central Texas establishments that go to Lockhart, Taylor, Lexington, and other smoky shrines to the art of spit and grill.    It’s even become competitive with contests that include seeding, divisions, and separate prizes for each delicacy (brisket, ribs, sausage, etc.).  It’s become quite a conversation starter when I meet someone from North Carolina and trash talk what they call barbeque---shredded pork!  No way!  With slaw?? Never!

On Nov. 9, 1858 the cornerstone for Soule University’s impressive building was laid with full Masonic honors.  On Nov. 17 an article appeared in the Weekly Telegraph (Houston) describing the event.  The reporting of the ceremony was typical, but the reporter then decided to describe the barbeque that followed with great literary flourishes. 

The ceremony consisted of officers of the local Masonic Lodge and the presentation of a satin flag with the name Soulé University on it. (note accent—it’s the only time I’ve seen the accent used in the name.)

John Wesley Kenney made the last speech of the day and then the interracial, intergenerational crowd moved to the food.  Here’s how the reporter described it.  

. . .the tables not only groaned, but grunted and heaved under their meats and other fixings.   Cow, sheep, hog, and for all I know, deer and opossum, together with flour fexins, and other doins, and various Gimcracks were in the greatest profusion.  Jewhillicans!  Didn’t they make the grease fly!  The attack lasted about an hour and three quarters and during two thirds of that time was awfully terrific.  In this description I do not try to do justice;  it would require the brilliant imagination of Lord Byron or the graphic delineation of Sir Walter Scott.  Meats, cakes, pies et cetera disappeared down the capacious necks of both sexes with a gusto, vigor, and velocity,  with a speed that would put to blush a railroad locomotive.  Imagine the fat, lazy voluptuous Abbott of St. Mary’s at Glendearg, picking into the fat venison and rich pastry of the good Dame, Widow Glendening,* and you may form some faint idea of the way Soule University barbeque was disposed of at Chappell Hill. 
*This is a reference to Scott’s 1820 novel, The Monastery.

The Nov. 1858 celebration was for a building that had a short life.  The university closed during the Civil War.  The foundation failed, Local citizens began salvaging building materials for other projects.  When F. A. Mood got there to reopen the school, the first item of business was fixing the roof.  A sad end for a building that had been started with such a celebration. 

Saturday, November 05, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History November 6

North Texas Conference Meets in 51st Session, Resolutions Demonstrate Progressive Era Thought Nov. 7-12, 1917

The North Texas Conference met in Sulphur Springs from Nov. 7 to 12, 1917.  Bishop McCoy presided.  The resolutions presented and passed are a veritable time capsule showing the complexity of the era historians call “progressive.”  The resolutions reveal the contradictions between “progressive” and “traditional” currents that flowed through not just the Methodists, but the larger society as well.
Taken as a whole, the resolutions demonstrate the complexities of the Progressive Era.
1.                      The Decatur District brought a resolution to the conference that called upon the conference to investigate the report that dancing was occurring at church schools.  If dancing was occurring, it should be stopped.
2.                      The conference passed a resolution calling on the 1918 General Conference to allow women to be delegates.  (that did pass)
3.                      The conference resolved to work against a bill in the Texas Legislature that would allow movie theaters in cities of greater than 5000 population to show movies on Sunday afternoon and evening.  A similar bill had failed in the 1915 session. 
4.                      The North Texas Conference petitioned the General Conference to delete the phrase “Holy Catholic Church” from the Apostle’s Creed.
5.                      In a resolution of war time patriotism the conference included a phrase that strikes directly at civil liberties.
        We denounce as a traitorous act any word or deed that opposes the Administration.

The Administration is, of course, the Wilson administration, which may have been progressive in economic matters, but opposed votes for women and was quite willing to imprison those who opposed the war in print.