Saturday, February 23, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History February 24

Greenville Preacher Quits Because Church Can’t Support Him, Feb. 29, 1868

Although Texas escaped much of the horror of destruction of military conflict during the Civil War, tough times followed.   Economic conditions in even Hunt County with its famously fertile soils deteriorated to the point that the Methodist preacher in Greenville abandoned his post because of non support.

Green Boyd was the MECS pastor appointed to Greenville.  In February 1868 he used the courthouse as a preaching hall, but failed to attract followers.  The Independent reported that he “preached a fine sermon to empty walls.” 
The Independent went on

We are sorry to learn that Rev. Mr. Boyd, the preacher in charge here, has been forced to abandon his ministrations for want of the necessities of life.  Must everything elevating and ennobling die prematurely in Hunt County?  If the people are so stingy and tight that preachers can’t live among them, we know what they can’t do?  They can’t starve out the lawyers and printers.  They’re starvation proof

What does a Methodist bishop do if the church can no longer support its preacher?   The answer in 1868 and today is to add congregations to the appointment.  The next year in the minutes, “Greenville” is changed to “Greenville Circuit.”   Basically the bishop says, “Boyd, if Greenville can’t support you, go organize some country churches and preach there too.”  

By 1870 Boyd’s name does not appear in the appointments. 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History  Feb. 17

Two Cooperative Mission Movements Compete for Resources   February 1919

One of the main events in the aftermath  of World War I was Woodrow Wilson’s failed campaign to create a lasting peace that remove the causes of war.  The linchpin of his plan was the creation of a League of Nations in which nations of the world would meet in a cooperative spirit to prevent war.  The League was created, but the United States did not join it, and in the 1930’s it was ineffective in countering the aggression of dictators.

The same zeitgeist of optimism had echoes in the religious community.  The Centenary Movement, in which MECS and MEC churches joined forces for missionary efforts, has been the subject of several previous posts on this site.
Less well known is the Interchurch World Movement.  Although the movement was created by the Presbyterian Mission Board in December 1918, in only two months local organizers were holding meetings in Texas. The IWM did not seek organic union o f denominations, but sought cooperation so that mission efforts would not be duplicated much like the League of Nations did not seek organic union. 
The IWM chose S. Earl Taylor as its general secretary.  Taylor had proved his abilities by heading up the Methodist Centenary Campaign which was then in progress.   Taylor recruited representatives to spread across the country to create local organizing committees.

In February 1919 Fred B. Smith of New York City made the case to 600 attendees at the City Auditorium in Houston.  The result of that meeting was the creation of a Houston chapter of the IWM consisting of W. Clyde Howard (Presbyterian), J. W. Neal (Baptist), Peter Gray Sears (Episcopalian), Mose Hutcheson (Methodist), A. E. Ewell (Christian), and Charles L. Johnson (Congregationalist).    P. W. Horn, school superintendent, was added to the committee as secretary.

The IWM fell apart in 1920.  The organization planned to finance its efforts through bank loans, but found that the various denominations were unwilling to place their own assets at risk by guaranteeing the loans. 

Methodist enthusiasm for the IWM must have been undercut because of the Centenary Movement which was just getting started at the same time.  At the same time Smith was boosting the IWM in the City Auditorium Bishop John M. Moore was kicking off the Centenary Movement in First Methodist Church by announcing a full program of speakers planned for the following week.  Those speakers included Methodist preachers such as Ira Key and E. L Shettles; banker John Scott; Judge Leddy; and others.  One the speakers was P. W. Horn—dividing his time between the IWM and the Centenary Campaign. 

Both movements, born out of the crusading optimistic spirit of the Progressive Era, eventually dissolved as nations of the world turned inward and more suspicious of cooperative enterprises.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History  Feb 10 

Disillusioned Pastor Abandons California, Returns to Texas,  Feb. 10, 1888

The most famous Texas Methodist preacher to go to California for evangelistic purposes in the 19th century was Orceneth Fisher.  He was not the only Methodist to head to California.  One should not be surprised since California’s wealth, climate, and other natural resources have proved compelling since the acquisition of California in 1848. 

Sometimes the image did not meet reality.  On February 10, 1888, the Rev. M. G. Jenkins sought out a reporter on his return to Fort Worth and readmission to the Northwest Texas Conference.  The year before Jenkins had transferred to California and appointed to Bakersfield.    Let him speak for himself. . .

He told the Gazette reporter. . .

I might be able to deter some others from venturing in a country so cheerless, comfortless, and utterly desolate as found California.  It is Christian duty I feel bound to perform to warn all I can from going there.   It is sinful.  Last fall I was transferred by the Northwest Texas Conference to Bakersfield, a small place  (1890 census pop. 2616)  in the San Joaquin valley, about 160 miles north of Los Angeles.  I went there expecting to find a country rich in all that goes to make life pleasant, but I found the whole country bleak, barren, and desolate, in fact a great desert, resembling that arid waste stretching from New Mexico to Yuma; in fact I believe it to be the same desert, intersected only by the Sierra Madre mountains.  It is the most God-forsaken country.  (If a minister can use such an expression.) I ever saw.  The ministers have no support there, all those of Protestant denominations being supported by missionary appropriations from the east.  The people as a rule take more interest in their rabbit drives than in the preaching of the gospel.  The only man in the whole country, who wanted me to stay when I had up my mind in utter disgust to leave, was a gambler who said he would contribute to my expenses if I would stay, but would not attend my service. 
This is no place for a man of whatever occupation to go.  It is expensive to live and there is no work to do. In the village of Bakersfield they had town lots surveyed off out in the desert, which they hold at $200 and $300 per acres, but there were few people foolish enough to buy at such figures.  

We may smile at the ironies in some of the opinions Rev. Jenkins expressed. 
Bakersfield, far from being a desolate waste, is one of the most productive agricultural areas in the nation. It produces almonds, carrots, alfalfa, citrus, grapes, cotton, and roses—all dependent upon irrigation that transformed the San Joaquin Valley from desert to farmland. The region also has oil production and manufacturing.  

The greatest irony, though, is that just 40 years after Jenkins warned Texans not to go to Bakersfield, it was the main focus for emigrants form the Dust Bowl---If only Jenkins had snapped up some of that cheap real estate!

Saturday, February 02, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History Feb. 3

Methodist Minister, Kavanaugh, Debates Spiritualism, February 2, 1876

Most readers of this column are aware of the tsunami of religious activity that occurred in the northeast U. S.  during the middle years of the 19th century.  Some of that activity resulted in denominations that continue to be active today such as the Jehovah Witnesses (PA), Christian Science (MA), Mormons and Adventists (NY). 
Several other religious movements also arose in the same milieu that did not result in formal denominations that persisted.  Most notable of these is probably spiritualism which was a significant force in the mid-nineteenth century but today most of us know about it mainly through movies depicting séances with characters in trances communicating with deceased spirits—or at least claiming to do so. 
Although the stuff of movie plots today, in its era it was important enough to influence President Lincoln and Queen Victoria, Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as many others.   

Although attempts to communicate with the deceased are probably ancient and there are various sources, the modern version may be dated to Upstate New York in 1848—when the Fox sisters told others they heard rapping which they interpreted as signals from the after life.  

One should remember the context-in mid-19th century America, death struck suddenly and to persons of all ages.  Many families, not just Abe and Mary Todd Lincoln, grieved over the death of a child.

Spiritualism never developed as did some of the other religious movements of the same time and place, (there is still a Spiritualist Church of New York City, and the town of Lily Dale, NY, is devoted to the religion.  There are certified mediums there who practice clairvoyance every day for the benefit of visitors.)

Spiritualism also came to Texas in February 1876, in the form of a practitioner of trances named Mrs. Colby who communicated with the spirit of the departed “Professor Wood”.  In Houston she challenged the pastor of Shearn MECS (today’s FUMC) to a debate.   The pastor was Benjamin Taylor Kavanaugh, brother of Bishop Hubbard H. Kavanaugh.    B. T. Kavanaugh was also a physician who joined the Texas Conference in November 1866.   His first appointment was Chappell Hill, and regular readers of this column will remember the yellow fever epidemic of 1867 that hit Chappell Hill particularly hard, leading to problems trying to reopen Soule University.  Kavanaugh lost a son and daughter.  

Members of Shearn protested Kavanaugh’s debating Mrs. Colby, and even wrote a formal statement asking him not too.  He debated her anyway, but in a theater, not the church.   There is no record of who won the debate.

After his 4 years at Shearn, he remained in Houston and practiced medicine.  Some of his former parishioners joked that he was a" better physician than a preacher.”
After a while he moved his practice to Hockley, but in 1881 he moved back to Kentucky where he lived the rest of his life.