Saturday, December 30, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History  Dec. 31

Houston Post Writer Predicts Methodist Union in 1918   Jan. 6, 1918

100 years ago this week Houstonians opened the January 6 issue of the Houston Post and found an in-depth article on the prospects for reunion of the various Methodist bodies which had been separated since the departure of the Methodist Protestants and the division of Episcopal Methodism into Northern and Southern branches.
The writer was H. L. Millis, (1888-1942) Religion Editor of the Post.  Perhaps you are wondering why a man of draft age was not serving in January 1918.  Millis claimed a deferment because of deafness. 
The feature article adds a great deal of context to the three meetings of the era in which the MEC, MECS, and MP churches sent delegates to discuss reunion possibilities.     Millis provides the insight that World War I has produced a feeling of national unity so that the grievances of the Civil War were lessened.  Millis also opines that the spirit of industrial cooperation evidenced in the war effort has influenced not just industrial operations, but also churches.   “Cooperation is substituted for commercial rivalry. . .it is probable that lessons learned during the war will be continued in practice. . .we shall not return to the haphazard methods of everyone for himself and “the devil take the hindmost.”    “.. .unification of Methodism will mean it will be unnecessary to maintain sets of general officers, with the attendant heavy expense.   It will mean the stopping the duplication of efforts in many fields, especially along the border states. .. .where frequently a Northern and Southern church face each other across the street, . . . in many cases each one starving the preacher.” 
Millis also pointed out that the real obstacle to reunion was the race question.   Millis believed that the African American members of the MEC would be combined with CME, AME, and AMEZ into three organizations similar to the Central Jurisdiction which was finally established in the 1939 unification.  Millis correctly pointed out that such a plan would create problems concerning the equity of disbursement of the MEC educational institutions to the new regional African American conferences. 

Millis was, of course, mistaken in his optimism that a grand reunion of Methodists would occur in 1918.   His article is full of perceptive insights on the issue, but his prediction of reunion in 1918 did not occur. 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 24

Texas Conference of MEC Meets in Houston, December 1870

The Texas Conference of the MEC met in annual conference twice during the calendar year 1870, once in January and again the following December.   Having two annual conferences in one calendar year was rare, but not unknown.  Annual Conferences were scheduled to accommodate the travels of the bishops who would preside at those conferences.  The bishops would meet as a group and divide the annual conferences among themselves.  It was customary for the most arduous travel assignments to be assigned to the most junior bishops who were usually younger and better suited for the rigors of 19th century travel.  The MEC eventually formed so many conferences that the annual sessions had to be conducted through much of the calendar year.   With a few exceptions, northern conferences were held in the spring and southern conferences met in the winter.  The most arduous travel of all, to mission conferences such as Liberia were eventually turned over to a special category of bishops, African Americans who did not preside over annual conferences in the United State, only in missions. 
The December session of the annual conference was held in Shearn Church (later First), a MECS congregation that opened its doors to the MEC.  A formal greeting was supplied by G. S. Hardcastle, a steward of the church who had been an original member, joining in 1837.   The Shearn pastor at the time was B. T. Kavanaugh, brother of Bishop H. H. Kavanaugh, and transfer to Texas from Kentucky in 1866.  After his four years as Shearn pastor, he located and resumed his former profession of medicine. 

Between the two 1870 annual conferences the churches reported a gain in membership from 5846 to 7934, a very respectable increase.  Two new districts had been created, the Tyler and the Guadaloupe (sic).   Although most of the conference consisted of African American members, all the Presiding Elders were European American except for B. O. Watrous (1811-1884), P. E. of the Waco District. 
The largest membership by far was Navasota with 915 members.  Then came LaGrange (400), Millican (312), Springfield (368), and Anderson (269).  By way of contrast, the 5 appointments in the German District reported a total of 209 members.  (remember that the appointment was a circuit—several churches—rather than a station—one church.  Navasota did not have one church with 950 members.)
The conference was in a growth pattern of receiving both probationary and full members.  Only one preacher located, and another was suspended for remarrying while his first wife was still living.
The church and Texas both faced huge problems.  The yellow fever epidemic of 1867 was catastrophic, killing several preachers and many church members.  The tensions associated with Reconstruction continued.  The MEC was naturally associated with the “Yankees” and some of the European American MEC preachers were seen as “carpetbaggers.”  The P. E. of the Tyler District, J. Brock, reported, “Serious opposition involving great personal peril is now passing away.” 
As a final gesture of good will the final action of the annual conference was an offer to fill the pulpit of Shearn for the Sunday services to be held on Dec. 18.  We do not know whether that offer was accepted. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History   December 17

African American Methodist Preacher, “Boston” Named in Newspaper, December 22, 1855

One of the tasks of the historian is to give voice to the voiceless, and in Texas history that often means combing records to find the names of African Americans who were enslaved and denied not only voice, but also the identity that comes with a name.  Thus when we find a enslaved African American identified not only by name but also identified as a Methodist preacher, we wish to recognize that person.

The best known African American enslaved preacher identified by name before 1860 is “Uncle Mark” who lived in Washington County.  We know about him from the memoir of Joseph Sneed who commented favorably on his ability as a preacher.
We also know of another enslaved Methodist preacher of the era, “Boston” because his enslaver placed a newspaper ad in an Austin newspaper on December 22, 1855 offering a $200 reward for his return.  The enslaver, named W. Fitzgerald of Colorado County was unsure whether Boston had run away or been abducted.  The $200 was for return with enough evidence to convict the abductor. 
The advertisement describes Boston as 31 or 32 years of age.   Fitzgerald also says Boston “talks a great deal about his religion.”—

I have searched the census records of Colorado County for 1870 in the hopes I could find a last name for our Brother Boston.   Of course he may have chosen to live somewhere else.  The Colorado County census for 1870 reveals 3 African American men named “Boston.”  I would dearly love to find more information about him.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History   Dec. 10

Bishop Keener Organizes German Mission Conference in Houston, Dec. 16, 1874

On December 16, 1874 Bishop J. C. Keener organized the remaining MECS Germans in Texas and Louisiana into a new conference, the German Annual Mission Conference of Texas and Louisiana.   I say remaining because the MEC had seen a vast exodus of former MECS preachers and churches into the Southern German Conference of the MEC.  That conference had been organized in Industry in 1873.   
The new conference consisted of the former German speaking congregations in Texas and Louisiana of the MECS.  The charter members of the new conference, as listed by F.W. Radetzky,  were Charles Grote, J. A. Pauly, F. Vordenbaumen, J. Prinzing, J. C. Kopp, J. A. Schaper, August Engel, J. B. A. Ahrens, Jacob Bader, Al. Albrecht, J. A. G. Rabe, H. Evers or “Ebers”, J. Wohlsclaegel, W. A. Knolle, Jacob Kern, , and C. Thomas. 
That organizing session also authorized starting a school, Fredericksburg College.  In 1886 the Louisiana churches became part of the Louisiana (English-speaking) Conference.  In 1894 the college was sold for $8000, and trustees managed those funds for scholarships.  In 1929 the residue was turned over to Southwestern University as an endowment for a lectureship for ministers and teachers. 

The MECS General Conference of 1918, in response to World War I, changed the name to Southwest Texas Conference.  That name was temporary.  In October 1918 the Annual Conference voted to dissolve.  Three churches, Bering and Beneke in Houston and East Bernard joined the Texas Conference of the MECS.  The others joined the West Texas (today Rio Texas) Conference.  Those churches were kept in a newly created district—the Southwest District with E. A. Konken as Presiding Elder.  Three years later the district was enlarged by the inclusion of English speaking churches and renamed the Kerrville District. 

Saturday, December 02, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History  Dec. 3

Methodist Churches Cooperate with ABS for “Khaki Bibles” for the Troops, First week of December, 1917

The American Bible Society, an ecumenical group devoted to Bible translation, publishing, and distribution, designated the first week of December, 1917, for a massive fund drive that would enable the purchase of a Bible for every American soldier.  The Methodists of Texas responded eagerly to the call. 
The goal was $400,000 and both San Antonio and  Houston were assigned quotas of  $3000.  The ABS would provide the Bible for $.25, and they would be distributed free to the troops through the YMCA.   The drive was supposed to last from Dec. 1 to 11, with every preacher delivering a sermon on the topic on Dec. 9.    Methodist preachers in Houston at the time were I. B. Manley at McKee St., R. E. Ledbetter at West End, and J. W. Mills at St. Paul’s. 
If they had any doubts about were the church hierarchy stood on the war, those doubts were shattered when the MECS College of Bishops issued a formal statement on participation the war after their meeting in Jackson, TN.
The committee that signed the statement consisted of Bishops Atkins, Murrah, and McCoy.    The bishops admit “Our government did not enter the war through military necessity, but from higher compulsion---by a compelling sense of comradeship with all that is highest and best in human civilization.”   Students of just war doctrine will note the dismissal of that doctrine.
The main justification to the bishops was that the war was really against rationalism.  German theologians and philosophers had led the movement toward examination of Biblical texts as historical documents-(rationally).  The bishops conflated rationalism with materialism and atheism.  Germany must be defeated or the world would be taken over by atheism!  That was the message.  

 Six months later, at the General Conference of 1918, John Moore was elected bishop of the MECS.  He was one of the very few Methodists who had actually gone to Germany for theological study.