Saturday, March 25, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History  March 25

Ladies Aid Society Sponsors Spelling Bee At MEC Church in Dallas, March 26, 1875

Methodist records of the late 19th century are full of fund raisers sponsored by Methodist women.  There are bake sales, ice cream socials, progressive dinners, craft sales, and so on.  Methodist societies never sponsored cake walks or raffles since those events included chance, and chance meant gambling.  Bake sales and craft shows are still popular and widely appreciated, but what about a spelling bee as a fund raiser?

The Rev. Lewis Carhart, (b. 1833) was the leading MEC preacher in North Texas in the late 19th century.  He is most famous as the founder of Clarendon, named for his wife, Clara Carhart and for his more famous brother, John Wesley Carhart.   (see post for April 5, 2008 for more on J. W. Carhart, preacher, physician, inventor)

On March 26, 1875 he filled the tabernacle of the MEC Tabernacle in Dallas with a spelling bee fund raiser.
Instead of raising money by selling admission tickets, Carhart had a better idea.  This is how it worked out.  
He announced the event and managed to fill up the building.  He had previously solicited the services of Judge J. C. McCoy to act as umpire of the event.  Naturally McCoy was supplied with a large unabridged dictionary.  R. G. Venable and R. W. Allen were named captains of the opposing teams.  The captains then chose audience members as children choose athletic teams, by alternate selections.   The teams eventually numbered twenty on each side for a total of 40 contestants.

Then the fun (and fund raising) began.  The rules were tweaked so that a contestant who misspelled a word could pay a dime and try again, and again, and again. . . as many times as the contestant wished. 
The Allen team eventually beat the Venable team, and prizes were awarded.  The winner received a napkin ring.  A Webster’s primary dictionary went to the runner up, Clara Carhart, and there was also a booby prize for the worst speller.  Mr. Nichols received a primer. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History March 18

Martin Ruter Licenses Robert Crawford to Exhort, March 18, 1838

On March 18, 1838 Martin Ruter, the head of the Texas Mission, licensed Robert Crawford to exhort at Washington on the Brazos.  That licensing was the first step in full ordination for a man who would spend the rest of his life in Texas Methodist ministries in four different conferences.

Crawford was born in Abbeville District, South Carolina, in 1815.  He was orphaned by the age of 15 and at age 19 was converted from his Calvinist faith to Methodism.  About the same time as his conversion he also experienced a call to preach and was preparing to enroll in LaGrange College to prepare himself for the ministry when he was inspired by the stories of the Texas revolutionaries.  He chose the Texian Army over college and arrived in Texas in time to fight in the Battle of San Jacinto. 

Less than one year later, came the licensure.  In September 1839 he was licensed to preach by Joseph P. Sneed and admitted on trial in the Mississippi Conference and appointed to Montgomery when it met the following December.  He attended the organization of the Texas Conference the next December and was appointed to Nashville.  At the Texas Annual Conference of 1843 he was ordained elder.    When the Eastern Texas Conference was organized in San Augustine in 1845, he went with that conference.  He served various circuits in East Texas and was elected delegate to the 1850 General Conference of the MECS.  

When the North West Texas Conference was created in 1866, he cast his lot with that body.  He was thus present at the creation of the Texas, East Texas, and North West Texas Conferences.   While in the NWT Conference he supervised missions in Robertson, Leon, Falls, Limestone, and Freestone Counties.  He died in November 1888 at his home in Franklin.  His memoir praises his pioneer work and admonishes the reader, “Let us not forget these old men.”

Saturday, March 11, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History March 11

Robert Alexander Reports on First Round of Quarterly Conferences, Mar. 16, 1840

By December 1839 Methodist work in Texas had grown so much that it was able to organize two districts in the Mississippi Conference.  Littleton Fowler was Presiding Elder of the East Texas District which consisted of the churches east of the Trinity River plus Montgomery with the exception of the churches in Northeastern Texas which were part of the Arkansas Conference.  Robert Alexander was Presiding Elder of the Rutersville District which consisted of the churches in western Texas.  They included Rutersville where the conference had opened a college in January 1840, Austin, Victoria, Houston, Galveston, Matagorda, Nashville, Brazoria, and Washington.
The duty of the Presiding Elder was to visit each  appointment 4 times per year to hold a quarterly conference.  At the end of his first round of visits Alexander sent a report of that round to Nathan Bangs in New York City.  Bangs was head of the Publishing House in New York City.   You have seen the iconic image of the circuit rider reading as he rode his horse with saddlebags.  The book he was reading was from the Publishing House and the saddlebags were stuffed with tracts and testaments from the Publishing House.  There was another Publishing House in Cincinnati because shipping costs to the West were so high.
The Publishing House also published the denominational newspaper, the Christian Advocate.   The two publishing houses were only buildings owned by the whole denomination.  There were no conference offices, no headquarters buildings for agencies, commissions, or boards, so correspondence of denominational nature went to the Publishing House, and Nathan Bangs often printed that correspondence in the Advocate. 

Here is an excerpt from Alexander’s report from March 16, 1840

.. .The preachers in their respective circuits  are truly in he spirit of their work, and do not seem to regard the difficulties and privation with which they have to contend, but rather esteem it a privilege to range these wilds in search of the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and regard the swimming of creeks and rivers and sleeping alone in the prairies, surrounded by howling wolves and beasts of prey, as very trivial circumstances, while the people appear hungry for the bread of life.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History  March 5

Bishop John Louis Nuelsen Preaches to German Methodists in San Antonio   March 5, 1910

Bishop J. L. Nuelson, MEC bishop from Omaha, had been touring missions in Mexico and was returning home.  He had a few hours to kill between train connections in San Antonio on Saturday, March 5, but that was enough to hold a preaching service at the MEC German Church, located on the corner of South Hackberry and Montana.  The service was scheduled for 7:15, and his train was set to depart at 9:00, but that was plenty of time for the bishop, known as “the youngest bishop in Methodism.” 

Bishop Nuelsen is not well known in Methodist history circles, but he stands as the first example of a trend that became more common in the latter half of the 20th century, the campaigning by ethnic caucuses to elect one of their own.  German speaking Methodists were an important constituency of the MEC and, to a somewhat lesser extent in the MECS, but no member of one of the German speaking conferences had been elected bishop until the 1908 General Conference of the MEC when Nuelsen, a college professor who was only 41 years old, was elected in Baltimore.  His election was the first example of an ethnic caucus organizing a successful campaign to elect a Methodist bishop.

John Louis Nuelsen was born in Zurich, Switzerland, to the Rev. and Mrs. Heinrich Nuelsen.  His father was a German immigrant to the United States who  returned to Europe as a Methodist missionary.   The younger Nuelsen lived in various cities in Germany as his father continued his missionary efforts, but when it was time for higher education, he enrolled in Drew Theological Seminary and received his degree in 1890.  Three years later he earned his Master’s at Central Wesleyan in Missouri. 
He served appointments in Missouri and Minnesota, and then was appointed to professorships at St. Paul College, his alma mater, and then at German Wallace College in Berea, Ohio.  It was from that post that he was elected bishop at the MEC General Conference of 1908 meeting in Baltimore. 
Instead of being assigned to one of the German speaking conferences, he was assigned to Omaha for the 1908-1912 quadrennium.  One of his assignments during that period was to visit Mexican missions, hence the reason for his train ride through Texas.

At the 1912 General Conference Nuelsen was assigned to the European area.  He returned to his birthplace, Zurich, and oversaw MEC churches in Switzerland, Germany, France, North Africa, Spain, Russia, Scandinavia, Italy, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.   World War I meant that he had church members and pastors on opposite sides of the conflict, and his position became extremely difficult.  After the U. S. entered the war, some American papers criticized supposed pro-German stance. For some of the war years he was confined to Switzerland. 

The 1920 General Conference divided the European Episcopal area into three parts,  left Nuelsen in Zurich.  He retired from the active Episcopacy in 1940 and died in Cincinnati, in 1946.