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.   


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