Saturday, April 28, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History April 29

Hiram Boaz Named Secretary of Church Extension, May 1918

Hiram Abiff Boaz was a commanding figure in Texas Methodism for decades.  He was president of Polytechnic College, vice president and president of SMU, and also led the transition of Polytechnic to its becoming Texas Woman’s College.  He was elected bishop of the MECS and presided over annual conferences in Texas and elsewhere until his retirement in 1938.  

Boaz was tall and had a commanding presence.  He also had a forceful personality and was no stranger to controversy.  In 1909, for example, he led voting in the election of delegates from the North West Texas Conference  to the 1910 General Conference, even though he was the youngest of the 18 delegates.  Four years later, as member of the newly created Central Texas Conference which had been split from the North West Texas Conference, he was voted 3rd alternate—quite a comedown.
Much of the controversy between 1909 and 1913 had to do with his activities in trying to move Southwestern University from Georgetown to Fort Worth.   He recognized that North Texas should have a major Methodist university, and he wanted it to be in Fort Worth.  The SU president, Robert S. Hyer, thought Dallas a better site.  In 1910 an Educational Commission received bids from both Dallas and Fort Worth and chose Dallas only after the Dallas group was allowed to increase their offer after hearing Fort Worth’s incentives.  Boaz thought the process had been conducted unfairly, but agreed to serve as vice president of the school being built in Dallas.    

While Hyer supervised the creation of the university, Boaz raised the money to make it possible.   In 1913, having raised $500,000, Boaz returned to Polytechnic in Fort Worth where his successor, Frank P. Culver, had resigned.    The next year Polytechnic became Texas Woman’s College.   (It later resumed its coeducational mission and is named Texas Wesleyan University.)

At the General Conference of 1918 Boaz was elected Secretary of the Board of Church Extension.  The task of the Board was to help churches pay down debt and to provide incentive grants for the construction of new church buildings.     
The new position required relocation to Louisville, Kentucky, where the Board of Church Extension had its offices.   The new position required constant travel throughout the South and also to New York City to solicit funds.  
The travel schedule was arduous, but it was also the path to the episcopacy.  Candidates for bishop in this era had to become known throughout the denomination.   There were plenty of “favorite son” candidates, but to win, one had to secure votes from more than one’s own conference.    There were three ways to achieve that denominational recognition.  One was by the presidency of one of the Methodist colleges.  A second was by transferring among the various annual conferences every four years.  The third path was working for one of the denominational offices or the Publishing House.    Each of those paths broadened the network of contacts and increased election chances.

Boaz was elected to the Board in May 1918 and moved to Louisville.  He stayed only until February, 1920 when he was informed that the SMU trustees had accepted President Hyer’s resignation and elected Boaz the 2nd President of SMU. 
SMU had opened its doors in the fall of 1915.  Hyer, a brilliant academic physicist, had made decisions on everything from architecture, to faculty, to choosing the name of the mascot (Mustangs), but now SMU needed more of a fundraiser instead of an academic  so Boaz returned. 

He did not stay long in that position either.  The General Conference of 1922 elected him bishop.   

Saturday, April 21, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History April 22

Methodists Organize Sunday School Convention for May 1, 1860, in Houston

Methodists in Houston spent the last week of April, 1860, organizing a grand Sunday School Convention to be held on May 1.   They invited Methodists from Richmond, Chappell Hill, and Galveston.  They invited Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Lutherans from the Houston churches.  The planners secured an open air site on the east side of Buffalo Bayou at the foot of Main Street.  To allay fears about crossing that stream, they arranged to have a pontoon foot bridge available.   

The effort was led by prominent Houstonians.  T. W. House was the leading cotton and wholesale merchant and an early railroad investor.  He was also the business partner and son-in-law of Charles Shearn for whom the Methodist church was named.  In only two years House would be elected Mayor of Houston.  Naturally he was on the finance committee for the Sunday School convention.   His son, E. M. House, became Woodrow Wilson’s closest advisor.  Charles Longcope (`803-1880) House’s partner in a stream ship company with service between Houston and Philadelphia, as well as numerous other businesses, also served on the committee.  Longcope had been a Trustee of Rutersville College and married Virginia McAshan and after her death, married her sister Courtney McAshan.   McAshan Methodist Church was eventually located about ½ mile from the site of the May 1st event.   The third member of the organizing committee was James  F. Dumble, another prominent industrialist of the era who has given his name to a Houston street.

Although Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Lutheran Sunday Schools were invited, the three speakers had all served Shearn MECS at one point in their careers.  The first was J. W. Phillips who had served 1849-50 and then gone on to Bryan, Columbus, Seguin, and presiding elder appointments.  While he was at Shearn, members complained about his formalism.  In any case he eventually became an Episcopal priest.

William N. Seat was the Presiding Elder of the Galveston District which included Houston.  In 1861 he was appointed to Shearn.  The third speaker was J. E. Carnes, editor of the Texas Christian Advocate.  When Civil War conditions required the relocation of the Advocate offices from Galveston to Houston, Carnes was appointed to Shearn.  

The Shearn pastor in May 1860 was William McKendree Lambdin, who served only one year and transferred from the Texas Conference.   

May 1 was a Tuesday, and it leads to the question. “Why was such a event held on a Tuesday?”

I can only speculate since the organizers left no documents relating to their motives in choosing the date, but it is possible that they were providing a religious alternative to May 1 celebrations which were sometimes marked by pagan revelry.   Although the German Maifest is the most widely known expression today, other Northern European cultures had some sort of spring festival that preceded the introduction of Christianity.    Sometimes there was tension between the pre-Christian and Christian values.  Hawthorne used that tension in the famous Maypole of Merrymount.   As more German immigrated to Texas, they brought Maifest with them.  Maifest celebrations included beer drinking, as they still do.  My hometown of Brenham will soon celebrate Maifest as it has done since 1881.  

I cannot be sure that organizers picked Tuesday May 1, 1860 for the Sunday School convention, but it is possible they were providing an alternative to what they considered to be paganism.   

Saturday, April 14, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History  April 15

180 Years Ago This Week

The week of April 15-21, 1838 was marked with intense activity of the Texas Mission.  It was one of the few times that the three missionaries saw each other during the life of the Texas Mission which I define as the period between September 1837 when Robert Alexander first set foot on Texas soil to December 1838 when the Mission was attached to the Mississippi Conference.  

On Sunday April 15, 1838 Littleton Fowler preached twice in Houston.  William Y. Allen, a Presbyterian missionary, also preached.   Having Sunday morning, afternoon, and evening preaching services were common in the era, and citizens of Houston were happy to have the services.  Congress was in session so the young capital city was crowded with visitors including legislators.  

Martin Ruter, the head of the Mission was in Washington.  On Saturday the 14th he had sought medical treatment.  There were two Methodist local preachers in Washington who also practiced medicine, Abner Manly and William P. Smith.  We know now that he had only a month to live.   On Sunday Ruter preached and then rode to Kessee’s (near the present town of Chappell Hill) where he spent the night. 
On Monday the 16th Ruter rode to Centre Hill in northern Austin County.  Fowler remained in Houston where he visited his Masonic Brothers.   Since the Congress of the Republic of Texas was in session in Houston, it was a good time for the Grand Lodge to meet.  Fowler gave the opening prayer and then was named Chaplain of the Grand Lodge of Texas.  

On Tuesday the 17th Ruter and Alexander were in Centre Hill where Ruter wrote two letters, one private and one intended for general circulation.   The general letter detailed the plan of appointments he had devised for the three missionaries and the local preachers who also preached but did not ride regular circuits.   The private letter revealed his illness and told of his plans to return to New Albany, Indiana, to bring Mrs. Ruter and the younger children to Texas.  The family had been staying in New Albany while Ruter came to Texas because Martin Ruter’s brother, Calvin, was Presiding Elder of the New Albany District.

That afternoon Ruter rode to John Rabb’s.  

On Wednesday the 18th Littleton Fowler went down Buffalo Bayou to Harrisburg to preach the funeral service of a man named Nathaniel James Dobie (1811-1838).  (N. J. Dobie was J. Frank Dobie’s great-uncle.)

On Thursday the 19th Ruter rode back to Hall’s where he wrote a report that could rightly be considered the first Texas census of Methodists.  He reported 20 societies with 325 members and 12 local preachers.  Church buildings were mainly still under construction and were located in Washington, Caney, San Augustine, Nacogdoches, and Cedar Creek.   After writing his report, in the company of William Chappell, he departed for the Red River area.  He planned to visit Methodists mainly around Clarksville and then proceed to New Albany.  

Saturday the 21st was the second anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto.  Both Alexander and Fowler were in Houston for the event.  Ruter, though, became so ill that he advised Chappell to go on without him.  The next day, Ruter decided to return to Washington to seek medical attention from Manly and Smith.  

April 15 to 21 1838 was quite a week.  Martin Ruter, a man so sick he would be dead in a month, did not spend two consecutive nights at any one house from Sunday through Friday.  He managed to write at least three letters and rode about 12-15 miles each day.   Robert Alexander spent the week in Austin County and Houston.  Fowler stayed in Houston/Harrisburg all week.  

The young mission was about to experience tragedy because of Ruter’s death.  April 15-21 was probably the last week of “normal” operations.     

Saturday, April 07, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History   April 8

     J. W. Fields Solicits Funds for Church Building in Rusk, April 8 and 9, 1850

Fields spent the month of April, 1850 riding his circuit, and what a circuit it was!   He began the month in Anderson County on the Palestine Circuit.  The next Sunday he was in Rusk for the quarterly meeting of the Cherokee Circuit.  He held a love feast at 11:00 on Sunday but found the congregation to be “a fearful, faint and fearful church, everything unfavorable to religion.”  Fields proposed the erection of a meeting house and contributed $5 toward that goal in the hopes that his display of generosity would stimulate others to give.   Fields added in his memoir that the $5 had been pressed into his hand at annual conference by a member who had recently returned from the California gold fields.   The contribution kick started the pledge drive and construction began almost immediately. 

The next stop was the Tyler Circuit meeting at Kennedy’s School House on the 13th and 14th.   The next week found Fields at Kingsborough (name changed to Kaufman in 1851).   On Monday Fields started for Dallas but found the creeks so high that he was forced to turn back.  When he returned to Kingsborough, he found the congregation still there since they were also unable to return to their homes because of the flooded streams. Fields naturally called the congregation together and held a preaching service.  On Tuesday he found the minor creeks had gone down, but the larger ones even higher than before.  Since minor creeks had to be forded and larger ones had ferries, it was possible to travel.   He got the East Fork of the Trinity which he described as “the worst and most dangerous stream in North Texas.”   The ferryman was reluctant to carry Fields across, but finally agreed.  The ferry ride was across the main channel, several sloughs, and finally the ferryman had to get on his horse to guide Fields through the bottoms.   By the 27th Fields was at Webb’s Chapel in Dallas County---what a month of circuit riding!