Saturday, May 06, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History   May 7

1866 General Conference Meets in New Orleans.  Important Changes for Texas  May 1866

Few Methodist General Conferences have been as consequential as the one that met in New Orleans during the first weeks of 1866.  There had been no 1862 General Conference of the MECS so there was much work to do.

Delegates dropped participation in a class meeting as a requirement for church membership and voted to allow lay delegates to conference.  Delegates doubled the number of active bishops from four to eight.  (Bishops Soule and Andrew were still alive but no longer traveled to hold annual conferences.)  One of those newly elected bishops was Enoch Marvin, the first bishop who had served a church in Texas. 

The General Conference divided the both the Texas Conference and the East Texas Conference into northern and southern portions, and created the North West Conference from the northern counties of the Texas Conference and the Trinity (later North Texas) Conference from the East Texas Conference.  It also changed the Rio Grande Mission Conference, making it the West Texas Conference (later South West Texas and later Rio Texas). 

German speaking Methodists in Texas asked for help from the General Conference, but it could offer little more than kind words.  Many of the German preachers then turned to the MEC which had greater resources than the MECS and had a vigorous German language publishing enterprise already in place for its German churches in Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Missouri. 

The editor of Houston’s Tri-Weekly Telegram in May, 1866 was the Rev. Clayton C. Gillespie, who had served as a colonel for the Confederacy.  Naturally he gave the General Conference extensive coverage.

He reported on the “ordination” service for the newly elected bishops (Marvin, Wightman, Doggett, and McTyeire).  He should have known better.  In Methodist practice, we consecrate bishops.  They are not ordained.  

The honor of preaching the “ordination” sermon went to one of the oldest preachers there---the Rev. Lovick Pierce (1785-1879), father of Bishop George Pierce, and one of the most beloved Methodist preachers ever.  Pierce had been ordained in 1804 so as he stood in the pulpit at the Candorolet Street Methodist Church, he was in his 62nd year of preaching and was attending his 12th General Conference.   His text was 2 Cor. 11:28, . . .I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.”
Lovick Pierce had a right to be anxious.  The Civil War had weakened many MECS churches and all of their institutions, including publishing and missionary efforts.  African Americans were in the process of leaving the MECS for other denominations including the AME, AMEZ, and the MEC.  

Lovick Pierce lived another 13 years after his “ordination” sermon.   Although he was past 80 years old, he had one more major task to perform for his church.  Some MECS leaders assume that since the cause of separation of the northern and southern branches was slavery, and that slavery was abolished, the two branches might re-unite.  Lovick Pierce was chosen as an emissary from the MECS to the MEC to explore reunion.  He was chosen because of his “irenic” disposition and his sterling reputation. 


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