Saturday, July 29, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History   July 30

Travis Park Women Provide Program for Brooks Field Troops, July 30, 1918

The entrance of the United States into World War I opened up a new mission field for Methodists in Texas, especially the Woman’s Missionary Society.  Texas had wide open spaces, good rail connections, and a supportive population.  The Department of War considered Texas an ideal place to build new military posts.  Many troops went sent to Texas for their training before being deployed to France.  Texas was the only place that American aviators were trained.  If a man wanted to earn his pilot’s wings, he had to come to Texas. 

Many Texas churches saw the military bases as a mission field.  Part of their concern was expressed by Rheta Childe Dorr (1868-1948), a fearless journalist who covered both the war and the Russian Revolution in spite of obstacles thrown up because she was a woman.  The War Department would not give her credentials as a journalist so she went to France credentialed as a lecturer for the YMCA.  In one of her dispatches from France she wrote, 

(a mother wrote to me)  I know my boy is being well cared for by his regiment, and I’m not afraid of what may happen to him as long as he is on duty.  But what about his off hours?  What is to prevent him falling into bad company?”  

Dorr replied (in part)  Even if France were a second Sodom or Gomorrah, our soldiers would be safe there.  

The War Department was sensitive to the fears of mothers who imagined the worst for their sons, many of whom were away from home for the first time.  They did what they could to suppress prostitution, drinking, and gambling dens near the new military facilities.  The generals knew they needed help in preventing venereal disease, drunkenness, and attendant loss of military readiness so they were eager to accept civilian help.  Church women in San Antonio mobilized themselves to help.  They channeled most of their efforts through the YMCA and the Red Cross, since both institutions had existing relationships with the military.

On July 30, 1918, the women of Travis Park Methodist provided a program for troops from Brooks Field.   The event was held at Brooks Field in the YMCA building.  The official host was the Comrades in Service Bible Class whose teacher was Mrs. L. B. Haines.  

The Post Commander provided five trucks to transport young ladies of the Philathea Sunday School Class from Travis Park Methodist Church to the base.   Some readers may recognize the Philathea Class as the class in which the Upper Room devotional magazine began. The class was founded at Travis Park in 1907.  It also was the origin of the San Antonio YWCA (1910).  In 1918 it had about 100 members.  

Older women, members of the Woman’s Missionary Society, arrived in a caravan of ten private automobiles.  The program was mainly musical.  It started with the entire assembly singing America, and then the Comrades in Service Class sang their class song, Over the Top for Jesus.  

After alternating vocal and violin solos with dramatic readings, everyone adjourned for refreshments.  Mrs. L. B. Haines organized the whole event.  She was assisted by Miss Ella Bowden*, Mrs. E. Nance, Mrs. S. Grayson, Mrs. Chaplin Stanford,  Mrs. G. Snyder, and Mrs. E. Wright,  Mrs. Rogers, and the young women of the Philathea Class.  

Events such as this were not confined to San Antonio.  Many other churches around Texas made similar efforts.  In addition to morale-building programs such as this, church women often wrote letters for wounded or semi-literate soldiers, brought flowers, or sat beside soldiers in military hospitals reading to them. 
Some Texas women were also moved to go to France with the Red Cross or Y to provide similar services “over there.”  

*Ella Bowden (1880-1953) was a Deaconess, one of the founders of the Wesley Settlement House and assistant to the pastor at McKinley Ave. Methodist Church. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History July  23

Holding Institute Suffers under Increased Border Security  1918

File this one under “I’ve Seen this one before” category.

Principal J. M. Skinner’s report for Holding Institute complained that enhanced border security reduced the mission school’s enrollment so that it now has difficulty in achieving its goals.

Holding Institute was founded in 1881 in Laredo to serve the needs of Mexican children.  It soon became a project of the Woman’s Missionary Society and prospered.  It offered both residential and commuter students both primary and specialized education. The report for 1918 showed 75 commuters and 241 boarders.  It trained students for Christian vocation and also prepared Mexican students to become teachers.   By the 1910’s the minutes of the Woman’s Missionary Society reveal it received more financial support than any other Society institution. 

The Mexican Revolution threw the borderlands, including Laredo, into turmoil, and Holding Institute was naturally impacted.  On the one hand teachers in Methodist mission schools in Mexico had to leave, especially after President Madero's assassination in 1913. Many missionary teachers  chose to sit out the Revolution along the border in Laredo and El Paso.   Some Mexican families sent their children to Holding to protect them from revolutionary violence.
On the other hand, as the Revolution dragged on, the Mexican economy suffered and families could no longer afford the tuition for boarding school.  

The U. S. government also enacted stricter border security.  The concern was genuine.  The borderlands were a dangerous place.  Revolutionary organizations raised troops and bought supplies in the relative safety of San Antonio and El Paso, and some revolutionaries such as Pancho Villa brought their troops into the United States, most famously at Columbus, New Mexico.  Pascual Orozco, another revolutionary general, was killed in the Van Horn Mountains of Texas.

Before the Revolution crossing the Rio Grande to attend Holding was simple.  Students even had a crude footbridge for access.  They regularly swam in the river for recreation.  The border tensions resulted in a crackdown, and here is how J. M. Skinner reacted

Never before have passport restrictions been so severe nor enforced with such tenacity.  Many of our patrons in Mexico, after several efforts proved fruitless, gave up in despair. Some secured passports, but were not permitted to use them because of a slight technical error in filling the same.  As we have always enjoyed a good patronage from the republic, we feel this loss very keenly.  However, now that the war is over, we are expecting a return of prosperity in the way of an increased attendance.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History  July 16

St. John’s Houston Cornerstone Laid, July 16, 1917
On Monday, July 17, 1917,  Presiding Elder, R. W. Adams of the Houston District, led the service of cornerstone laying at St. John’s Methodist Church in downtown Houston.   A worship service preceded the ceremony.  Speakers at the service included O. E. Goddard, pastor of First Methodist Galveston and the editors of both the Houston Post and Houston Chronicle.  

The pastor of St. John’s was the Rev. John E. Green, and this was, remarkably, the fourth church he had built in Houston.  The Rev. Green was what we would call today “a second-career preacher.”  He was a locomotive engineer when he received the call to preach and felt a keen sense of brotherhood with railroad employees all his life.  After serving rural churches, he moved to Houston to pastor the “railroad” church, Washington Avenue.     

In doing so, he was participating in a common trend.  As Texas cities grew and required more Methodist churches, the second one built was often built in a neighborhood inhabited by railroad employees.  To take a larger perspective, Methodism was in the process of separating itself by class.  The “railroad” churches appealed to the working class more than the professionals.   Other cities such as Tyler, Paris, Texarkana, and Palestine all owe their second church to the railroads.

The early 20th century witnessed a boom in Houston’s population that is still in progress.  Because of its excellent rail network (Its city motto was “Where 17 Railroads Meet the Sea.”) it had a leg up on its competitors to become the center of the new petroleum industry.  The storm of 1900 eliminated Galveston as a serious rival as the main city of the Texas Coastal Plain.  The stream of new arrivals needed Methodist churches so from 1900-1910 the Texas Conference planted churches at a fantastic rate.  Some of them such as St. Paul’s and Grace, continue, but several of them were built near the Ship Channel and have since closed.    John E. Green was front and center in this church planting and described it in his memoir, John E. Green and His Forty Years in Houston (1928).  

Although this event occurred 100 years ago, Rev. Goddard’s message resonates today.
He said this church and every Methodist Church should be founded on 4 principles:
·        A true conception of God
·        An aggressive evangelism
·        Holy and scriptural living
·        Active missionary policy

St. John’s continues with its special ministries serving the whole community, including the homeless who are often ignored.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History  July 9

Daniel and Jane Poe Die in San Augustine  July 11, 1844

In the mid-19th century death was a constant companion, and religion provided much comfort to dying patients.  A conventional “good death” narrative grew up among Christians of the era.  A “good death” was one in which the dying person remained true to the assurance of eternal life even though the body may be wracked with pain and fever.  In July 1844 Daniel and Jane Poe died on the same day, Thursday the 11th

Littleton Fowler had just returned from the General Convention in New York City and brought with him a letter from Adam Poe, Daniel’s brother.  Adam was a prominent preacher in Ohio and is best known to us today for his editorial work on many MEC publications of the era.  

In 1854 James Finley wrote Sketches of Western Methodism and included the “good death” scene.  Here it is
When he closed his sermon, he gave out the 
first two lines of a hymn, and stepping down from the 
stand, approaching the Doctor with his hand on his tem 
ple, he said, " Doctor, I feel as if my head was bursting." 
The Doctor perceiving that he had a violent fever, 
assisted him to his carriage, and took him to his house, and 
by prompt attention, through the afternoon and night, he 
thought him better next morning, and took him home. 
On Sabbath afternoon his wife was taken worse, and his 
two eldest children were violently attacked with the 
same fever. On Tuesday evening the Doctor told him 
his wife must die. About the same time Rev. L. Fowler, 
having returned from New York, where he had been at 
tending General conference, brought him a letter from 
his brother, and spoke to him of the probable division of 
the Church. He read his letter, and laying it down ex 
claimed, "0, must Methodism be rent in twain!" He 
was unable to see his wife, as they were lying in separate 
rooms, and said to Brother Fowler, "Tell Jane to
 commend her soul and her children to God. If I live Fll do 
the best I can for them, if I die I want Adam to come 
and get them." He grew rapidly worse, and on Wednes 
day morning he was told that he too must die. He 
immediately commenced giving some direction about his busi 
ness, requested Rev. Lester Janes to write to his brother, 
and request him to come and settle his business, pay all his 
debts, and bring his children to Ohio. In the midst of 
these efforts, his mind wandered, and he complained of 
excruciating pains in his head and of choking. In this 
condition he remained till morning, when brother Fowler 
returned and found him dying. He took him by the 
hand and said, " Daniel, you are going !" He answered, 
in a whisper, " Yes I" Brother Fowler asked, " How do 
you feel?" He replied, "Happy, very, very happy!" and 
expired. His wife had conversed, after being informed 
that she must die, with brother Fowler on her spiritual 
prospects, and asked him to pray with her; and while he 
prayed she was powerfully blessed. She then had her 
children brought to her, and commending them to God 
in a few words of prayer, gave them her last kiss, and 
handed them to friends standing around her bed, saying, 
"Take care of them till their uncle Adam comes for 
them." She knew their father was dying too ; and though 
she was one of the most affectionate mothers we ever 
knew, she seemed to give her children to her heavenly 
Father without a single distrustful fear; and then in 
bright and joyous vision of her home so near, she shouted 
glory ! till her voice sunk to a whisper; and she breathed 
out her happy spirit into the arms of the Blessed, who 
waited to bear her to heaven. They died within forty 
minutes of each other, and were buried in one coffin, 
immediately in rear of the Methodist church in 
San Augustine. "Lovely and pleasant were they in their lives, 
and in their death they were not divided." .  
Adam Poe came the following January to get the Poe orphans and take
them back to Ohio.  He was accompanied by Bishop Edmund Janes who
was coming to hold the Texas Annual Conference in San Augustine.
This was the conference at which the Texas Conference was divided at the 
Trinity into the Western Texas and Eastern Texas Conferences (later the 
Texas and East Texas).  The Janes in the passage above refers to Lester Janes, 
nephew of Bishop Edmund Janes and president of the short-lived 
college Methodists had started in San Augutine.
I have written elsewhere that in the 1930's Rev. C. A. Tower exhumed a few 
leg bones, presumably those of Daniel and Jane and reburied them in
McMahan's Chapel Cemetery.  Over twenty Methodist ministers 
attended that service, and after the service they laid plans for a new 
church building at McMahan's. 


Saturday, July 01, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History   July 2

Bishop Martin Receives Space Mementoes from Astronaut Thomas Stafford, July 6, 1966

On July 6, 1966, Astronaut Thomas Stafford and his pastor, the Rev. Conrad Winborn, Jr., came to the Methodist Building on South Main in Houston to present space memorabilia to Paul E. Martin, resident bishop of the Texas Conference. 

Stafford had taken three items into space.  The first was a bronze medallion honoring  the bicentennial of Methodism in America.  The second was another medallion, this one showing McMahan’s Chapel which honored the establishment of Methodism in Texas.  The third was Martin’s personal copy of John Wesley’s Psalms and Hymns which had been published in 1741. 

The original plan was for Stafford to present these items to the Texas Annual Conference as it met the previous June 6-9, but Stafford’s flight was postponed so that he was making his flight during Annual Conference. 
Stafford and his family were members of Seabrook Methodist Church where Winborn was the pastor. 

The decision to locate NASA on a large tract of coastal prairie on Clear Lake between Houston and Galveston was momentous in many ways.  Houston changed from the “Magnolia City” to “Space City.”   The impact of new industries including aviation, aerospace, space medicine, remote imaging, and so on cannot be denied, but NASA’s presence also changed the Methodist landscape.   There had been little development in the Clear Lake area before NASA.  There were some recreational and fishing settlements, but the arrival of tens of thousands of new residents prompted a wave of church building.   Seabrook, already mentioned, was a main beneficiary as were churches in Clear Lake.