Saturday, February 03, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History February 4

Bishop Simpson Tells His Side of the Story about Church Confiscations  February 4, 1869

Bishop Matthew Simpson is remembered as the preeminent Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church during the mid-19th century.  He achieved national attention because of his close association with President Lincoln.  Simpson’s funeral sermon for Lincoln at Springfield, Illinois, was widely reprinted. 

Simpson came to Houston in January 1867 to organize the Texas Conference of the MEC.  He continued to exercise episcopal oversight in Texas.   In 1869 he returned and used the opportunity to tell his side of the story in the church confiscation controversy of the Civil War.    During the Civil War several MECS churches were seized by Union forces and were put under the control of Bishop Edward Ames.  Ames appointed Unionist preachers to those churches.  Naturally the dispossessed MECS preachers and laity hated the confiscation.   The controversy did not end with the end of the Civil War.  The question remained a festering complaint between the MECS and MEC for years. 

On his 1869 trip to Texas Simpson gave his side of the controversy in the Houston Weekly Telegram.  The article is unsigned, but one of the associate editors was Homer Thrall, so it is quite possible that Thrall was the author of the article.

Simpson’s basic defense was that he appointed only one preacher to an occupied church, McKendree in Nashville, after visiting the church and finding that it was already in use as a hospital.  After the war, in consultation with President Johnson, he advised returning McKendree to the MECS and advised the preacher to relinquish the church.  The McKendree pastor, though, had been appointed by Bishop Clarke and believed that he needed to confirm the decision with the bishop who had appointed him.   Accordingly, the McKendree preacher went to Cincinnati to confer with Bishop Clarke.  Bishop Clarke concurred with Bishop Simpson’s decision.  The MEC preacher  returned to Nashville, and gave up McKendree to the MECS. 

In the meantime, though, Secretary Stanton had added to the controversy by demanding surrender of the church thus unnecessarily pouring fuel on an already volatile situation.

The author of the Telegram article also repeated Simpson’s claim that he had no intention to proselytize Southern Methodists, but felt a duty to care for those Methodists who came to the decision to leave on their own.   

The concluding paragraph of the article says   he desires peace,  prays for the prosperity of the M E Church South, and hopes the time may yet come when the two branches of Methodism may again become united in one body.  


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