Saturday, February 18, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History   Feb.19

“Most impressive gathering of young people ever” at Beaumont, Feb. 23, 1939

There was a time when Texas Methodist districts hosted huge youth rallies.  They didn’t need celebrity athletes, popular singers, magicians, or other attractions to draw a crowd.  The rally was just a church service with congregational singing, sermons, and special music.   They didn’t need celebrity attractions because Methodist youth were organized into Epworth League chapters in practically every church.  The League  held district and sub-district meetings regularly.  An elaborate system for encouraging attendance at these events was already in place.   Quotas for attendance at these meetings were assigned.  Prizes, in the form of felt banners or loving cups, were often awarded to the church youth groups that met or exceeded their quotas.  A friendly competition between the church groups drove much of the attendance.
A notable rally was on Thursday night, Feb. 23, 1939.  The organizers reported 1700 youth in attendance at First Methodist Beaumont.  One local reporter reported 2000 and also reported that many were turned away because of the lack of room.  The wings of the Akron style auditorium were thrown open and some attendees even sat on the floor inside the chancel. 
They came from Orange, Buna, Woodville, Port Arthur, Anahuac, Silsbee, and all other churches in the district.  They came by chartered Greyhound busses, school busses, and private automobiles.  Many of them arrived well before the stated starting time.  Each church tried to meet its quota---3/4 of the membership of the youth group reported at the last session of annual conference. 
The youth of Roberts Avenue Methodist started with their rendition of I Surrender All.  T. Walter Moore (Dayton) welcomed the youth and introduced N. H. Melbert (Port Arthur) who led a song service.  (We’re Marching to Zion, The Kingdom is Coming, and Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross) The host pastor, Joe Z Tower, welcomed the group and turned the program over to Grace Van Watts (president of the Tri-district Council) who read the scripture.  Agnes Dillenback (Dayton) spoke on Youth is Ready.  Jesse Thompson talked about the Youth Crusade then underway.   The Presiding Elder, W. R. Swain then introduced the main speaker for the evening, W. Angie Smith, of First Methodist Church Dallas.  Smith was the brother of Bishop A. Frank Smith who presided over the Texas Conference.  In 1944 Angie would also become a bishop. 
Such rallies continued into the 1950s, but became rarer as cultural changes made such events seem old fashioned.


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