Saturday, June 24, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History

 June 25


Instead of the usual post I have decided to share the eulogy I gave at my father's memorial service at First United Methodist Church, Dallas, on June 23, 2017.   This is the manuscript.  Naturally the eulogy as actually delivered varied somewhat from this text.


The family would like to thank you for all the expression of love we have been receiving from so many friends.  Your love and prayers have buoyed us in these difficult times.   Thank you to the choir and other worship leaders and those of you who have traveled to be with us.  We do have a regret---that is that we cannot have long, deep meaningful conversations with each of you—you know.  The kind of soul-to-soul conversations you had with John Wesley.    A man who could have such conversations deserves the most intimate eulogy possible so my remarks will be based on father-son conversations. 

1.  late winter, 1977    Finis finally talked me into it.”  “Talked you into what?”   “I’m going on a district.”  “Well, Daddy, I know a lot of preachers who would consider that a step up.”  No, Bill, the highest and best position any Methodist preacher can have is being a local church preacher.   I know sometimes they are called to appointments outside the local church, but they should always consider those temporary sacrifices they are making until they can get back in the local church.”

The starting point for understanding JWH was that he considered himself first, last, and always a local church pastor-----and what a pastor he was!    His idea of pastoring a local church was really very simple----convince the unchurched that their lives would be much better if they were in a church and convince the established members to increase their involvement in the church.  He had a small metal file box on his desk with index cards with each family in the church on a card.  “What’s that?” I asked.  “That’s my system for visiting every family at least once a year in their homes.”   “Is that really necessary?” I asked.  “You can’t really minister to people if you don’t know their needs, and you don’t know their needs unless you visit them in their homes.”  Those visits were mainly to increase involvement.  If the family attended and nothing else, the visit was to try to get them to Sunday School or choir.  If they attended church and Sunday School, the visit was to get them to teach Sunday School or serve on a committee.  If they served on a committee it was to assume a leadership role—and on up the ladder of involvement.   He didn’t succeed every time.  I was looking at the index cards and saw the initials BPO, and asked him—“:What does that mean? “Oh, those are ones who want their names on the roll but never come.  It stands for Burial Purposes Only.”

2.  Summer, 1980---“The most important leadership is moral leadership.”  JWH had been elected bishop and was packing in Baytown and moving to Oklahoma.  He seemed to want me around to talk.  I was in his office.  There were three stacks of books.  Two stacks were the last 10 years of Journals of the two conferences in his area.  By the time he got to Oklahoma, he knew the appointments for the last 10 years, the membership, lay delegates, pastor’s salary, and whether each church had paid apportionments.  The third stack was business management books.  He’d read them too, but waved them away---“They’re all about technique.  Technique without character leads to disaster.  In church, business, education, or government---a moral vision is what counts—not technique.”

3.  February 1984---I was wakened by an early morning phone call.  Well, Bill, we’ve just had one more demonstration of the temporary nature of the things of this world.”  He and Mother had just been the victims of arson—escaping with their lives and night clothes and nothing else.  He’s calling with a borrowed telephone wrapped in a Red Cross blanket---.  They rebuilt and on Labor Day holiday, the arsonist came back and did it again.   We all felt the family needed to be together so we all convened in Virginia at Christmas.  As my father and I talked about the events of 1984, he kept talking about the blessings he and Mother had received.  Finally I said, “Name one.”  He said, “I’ll name two.   The outpouring of love we have received from the Methodists of Oklahoma means more to us than all the furniture, cars, clothes, everything.”  He went on.  “All my life I have been the one bringing comfort.  The fires made me learn that sometimes it can also be a blessing to be on the other end.”

4.  After moving to SMU—“Bill, don’t you find it odd that I’m part of a seminary.  I’m no scholar.  I’m no theologian.  Yes, but he could supply something to Perkins no one else could.  My imagination takes to a seminary class on Methodist doctrine.  The subject is “sanctification.”  A student raises a hand.  “Professor, is sanctification an ideal we always strive for or a state we are supposed to achieve?”  The professor says, “You need to get to know John Wesley Hardt.  He’s the closest I’ve ever seen.”  Yes, JWH embodied sanctification---It was as if divine love so filled his heart that there was no room for anything negative.  In my entire life, I never once heard him utter a mean-spirited word against another person. 

His favorite time of the academic year was summer, because that meant “Course of Study, and that meant non-traditional students would be on campus.  He would say, “Bill, take me to Chapel.” And we would go.  I’ll tell you a secret.  He didn’t pay attention to the service.  He scanned Perkins Chapel making sure he knew everybody in the room.  If he didn’t know someone, he would make a beeline to the unknown student, introduce himself.  “Where are you from?”  “oh, a little town in East Texas.  You’ve never heard of it.”  ---Ha!  I knew what was coming.   “Well, I’ve been in East Texas, where was it” It didn’t matter if it was Center or Centerville, Douglass or Douglassville, the reply was the same.  “Well, I held a revival there in 1950.” Then he would recite the names of the church leaders whom he had met, and the student would walk away amazed.

5.  I wonder why I’m being allowed to live so long.”

 That’s easy.  God kept finding new ways John Wesley could be in ministry.  I would visit at CC Young. After dinner he would announce.  “So and So is released from the hospital over in rehab.  I’m going over for a visit.”   I would watch in suspense as he hobbled down that sloping sidewalk, hoping that he would not fall.  In a few minutes he would be back—and glowing—He was back from just one more bedside prayer, one more consoling visit to a family---the flame that burned in that pastoral heart could not be dimmed even by infirmity.

I’ll close with a story. (You didn’t think you were getting out of here without some Methodist history did you?)   Right after the Civil War some Southern Methodist leaders thought that since the north-south split had been caused by slavery and slavery was now abolished, there were possibilities of reunion.   They decided on a plan.  They would send an ambassador to the MEC General Conference of 1868.  They knew that such an ambassador had to be someone universally recognized for his holiness, and they had such a person, a retired preacher from Georgia, already in his 80’s named Lovick Pierce.  He had been ordained in 1804, and in the more than 60 years of ministry, no one person could point to any stain or shortcoming on his record.  Contemporary descriptions include phrases like, “he wore goodness like a cloak,” “sweet spirit,” and “irenic heart.” 

There is no doubt that if such a mission were needed in our era, to find the one person our church wanted to present to the world and say----“look, look, here is the proof that the abundant life proclaimed in the Gospel and preached from our pulpits, it’s true, it’s possible.  It would have been John Wesley Hardt.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History   June 18

Women’s Choral Group Gains National Attention for Lon Morris   June 1949

Lon Morris College, an institution of the Texas Conference of the Methodist Church, was nationally famous for its fine arts program.  Several of its former students achieved fame as professionals.  It was no accident.  The Lon Morris administration was devoted to the fine arts program.  Lon Morris recruited talented students and provided the resources they needed to succeed.  Readers will recognize the names of Tommy Tune, Sandy Duncan, K. T. Oslin, and Margo Martindale.  All of them attended Lon Morris. 

One can get a good idea of such support by looking at the schedule of a choral group of 8 women during June 1949.  The women appeared at Annual Conference in Houston and at the formal opening of Lakeview Methodist Assembly in nearby Anderson County.  They sang several times each week at luncheon clubs and churches and highlighted the Watermelon Festival in Nacogdoches.
The big trip, though, was to New York City to sing at the International Lion’s Club Convention.  While they were there, they also appeared on several national radio broadcasts.  

Lon Morris was a junior college so all the students were barely out of high school when they participated in these travel experiences.  The eight women who made up the group were Joy Hamilton (Rusk), Ruth Wilson (Huntsville), Jean Officer (Jacksonville),  Jackie Strickland (Lufkin), Shirley Richards (Freeport), Veldean Scott (Fairfield),  Mary Crouch (Port Arthur),  and Nelda Million (Liberty).  

There was another Lon Morris student who achieved musical stardom, but those talents weren’t really developed at Lon Morris.  Johnny Horton, from Gallatin, came to Lon Morris and played basketball.    He practiced his singing talents in the beer joints over the Louisiana line. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History   June 11

Granbury College Holds Commencement Exercises  June 15, 1883

19th century Texans didn’t have many choices for higher education.  The state government didn’t see its role as spending tax money for colleges and universities.   Public higher education came to Texas only after the Civil War through the federal legislation creating land grant colleges which had been sponsored by Justin Morrill  (1810-1898) of Vermont.   The passage of the Morrill Act was one of the most important events in American history since it spurred the creation of universities throughout the nation.  The Morrill Homestead in Vermont has been preserved.  I have visited it to my great pleasure.   The impact on Texas was the creation of Texas A & M and Prairie View A & M.

Those two institutions could not begin to meet the educational needs of the state, and the denominations continued to create schools as they had done before the Civil War.

In 1873 the Weatherford District of the North West Texas Conference of the MECS authorized the construction of a 3 story stone building that would be used as a high school in Granbury.  The school opened but was beset by difficulties.  In 1881 it expanded to junior college status under the presidency of Rev. David A. Switzer. 

Commence exercises often consumed an entire week, and in 1883 the festivities were to begin with a worship service on Sunday, June 10 and continue through the 14th as students demonstrated what they had learned—mainly through elocution exercises, musical numbers,  and standing before audiences who asked them questions over their course material.

The week started poorly when Rev. John Murphy of Weatherford who was to preach the commencement sermon, became ill and didn’t arrive.  The newspaper report said—“No great loss.  There had been a heavy rain and most of the congregation didn’t come either.”

The elocution exercises were competitive so a highlight of the proceedings was the announcement of the winner.  P. B. Ward of Bosque County won the most prestigious award, the Lane Gold Medal, donated by the Presiding Elder of the Eastland District, Rev. J. K. Lane.  The Faculty Medal for the female who submitted the best original composition went to Miss Fannie Tramell of Coryell County. 

In January 1887 Granbury College burned and all its contents were lost.  It survived by moving to Weatherford.  The institution went through several reorganizations, but has managed to survive when many other similar institutions failed.  From 1943 to 1949 it was part of Southwestern University under President J. N. R. Score’s plan to make Southwestern the head of university system with feeder junior colleges.

 It officially serves Parker, Hood, Jack, Palo Pinto, and Wise Counties with multiple campuses and educational programs.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History  June 4

C. A. West Announces Publication of Methodism on the March, June 4, 1959

On Thursday morning, June 4, 1959 the Rev. C. A. West announced the publication of the only comprehensive history of the Texas Annual Conference, Texas Conference:  Methodism on the March.  He also distributed order forms for the volume which had not yet been printed.  West indicated that the book would be available by the first day of annual conference, 1960.

The history was a project of the Historical Society of the Texas Conference through an editorial board it created for this effort.  In 1958 it received a loan from the conference.  Repayment of the loan would be made possible through books sales. 
1960 seemed like a good time to publish a history.  Bishop A. Frank Smith had presided over the conference since 1934.  He would be retiring in 1960, and everyone knew an historic era was ending.  1960 was also the publication date of the History of Texas Methodism:  1900-1960, edited by Olin Nail of the South West Texas Conference.  Nail’s history was an attempt to update the older histories written by Thrall and Phelan.  

Both history books were committee efforts and therefore vary in quality by section.  C. A. West is listed as Editor of March.  The other named contributors include Monroe Vivion, Mark Lewis, Gordon Alexander, Nace Crawford, Tom Felder, Harry Holmes, Ray Loden, Pat Thompson, and Mrs Lamar Clark.  

Readers familiar with Texas Conference history will recognize that Alexander, Crawford, Thomson, and Alexander all had Lakeview connections.  That was no accident.  In the 1950s there was no Commission on Archives and History.  The archives and historical interests of the conference were served by the Historical Society.  When the Central Building was built at Lakeview, the Society created a Historical Center as part of the new construction.   That Center displayed historic documents and artifacts.  

March is still useful, but more as a reference work instead of a history.  It contains the Conference officers for 1959, a photo directory of preachers, and capsule histories of the Conference institutions.  The largest section of March consists of summaries of the sessions of the Texas and East Texas Conferences.  They list ordinands, retirees, transfers, etc.  

March was published by Parthenon Press of Nashville.  I don’t know if sales were strong enough to pay off the debt incurred by printing expenses.  When I became Archivist, I found unopened cases of the book, still in the original shipping cases, in the Archives.  If you would like to own one, contact me.