Saturday, July 27, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 28

My home church, Brenham FUMC, is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year.  I am contributing articles for our Newsletter.  For the next few weeks I will share these articles on this site.

The origin of First United Methodist Church of Brenham may be traced to 1844 when a group of worshipers met in Hickory Grove School House, but in a real sense, the origins lay deeper than that—at least 20 years before that.  Many of Austin’s colonists who began receiving land titles in what is today Washington County were Methodists and provided a warm welcome to Methodist preachers coming through the region.  There is evidence that Henry Stevenson preached to the family of Amos Gates in 1824.   In 1834 William Medford, who entered the Missouri Conference on 1818 and came to Texas after assuming the local preacher status, set up an informal four point circuit which included the Walker House on New Year’s Creek.

 The camp meetings of 1834 and 1835 that resulted in the petition to send missionaries to Texas occurred on a branch of Caney Creek, just to the southeast of Brenham.   Those meetings were quickly followed by others just to the north at Yegua Creek.  The grandest Methodist ambition of all in the neighborhood was Centre Hill, David Ayres’s attempt to create a Methodist town just a few miles south of the Caney Creek meeting site.    When Centre Hill lost out on the location of the Methodist university to the new town of Rutersville in Fayette County, the town fizzled. 

The Texas Mission was established by the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1837, and by 1839 the Washington Circuit which consisted of Washington County and a few adjacent preaching points, was considered the strongest circuit in “Western Texas”, and ambitious preachers vied to be appointed here.  In an era in which congregations met in school houses, court houses, and private residences, Washington County had a church house at Washington on the Brazos. 

The practice of the day was  for preachers to ride circuit among possibly as many as a dozen or more “preaching points” so much of the task of keeping the church active between those circuit rider visits fell to laity.  Each preaching point would have at least one class leader who led the flock in the weeks when the circuit rider was not there.  Most churches also had a Sunday School Superintendent to make sure that everyone---both adults and children attended to the study of Holy Scripture.  Another lay position of the era was “Exhorter.”  Whoever held that position was official recognized for gifts of fervent prayer and persuasion.   In 1844 Brenham was fortunate to have strong lay leadership, chief of whom was Jabez Giddings.  Much later his nephew, James Sloan Giddings wrote about the origins of the church.

In 1844 there were about six houses situated near the place where Brenham now stands. 
There was a log school house a half mile NE of the present court house.  It was called Hickory Grove.

The first teacher was Jim Mitchell, and he was a Methodist.

J. D. Giddings married that year, and built a log house about one hundred yards north of the school house. He married Miss Ann Tarver. 

The Methodist church was organized in that school house in that year 1844.  A Sunday School was started with Edmund D. Tarver as supt.  

Four years later the church had grown enough to buy a building lot.  Giddings described it

It was about 30 by 50 feet.  It had two doors in front—three windows on each side two on the north side-one on each side of the pulpit, which was high, reached by two or three steps and was boarded around.  When the preacher sat down, he was almost out of sight of the congregation.  It had a steeple and a bell.  

That church building served the needs of the congregation until 1879 when it was sold to the Christian denomination and a new, larger church made of brick instead of cedar logs was built on a different lot.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History  July 21

A Thank You to MEC District Superintendents for Their Frankness

The United Methodist Church that we know is the result of mergers of various denominations.  The largest of these were the MEC and the MECS.  Those denominations separated after the 1844 General Conference of the MEC but remained very similar in doctrine and polity.  The lack of divergence made unification in 1939 easier.  Both denominations had changed, but had changed in similar ways. 
One way the MEC and MECS diverged was in the editing of their journals.  The MEC included two features in its journals that are of tremendous help to historians that the MECS did not.  The first is that the entire pastoral record of every conference member is printed in the Journal every year.  Open up a Journal and see the appointments the preacher had served, a real convenience for historians.
The second was that District Superintendents (the term when the MECS still used “Presiding Elder”) gave a short report on every church in the district.  Even better, the DS’s were frank, brutally frank—for which historians are grateful.  Here are a few examples all taken from the 1917 Texas Conference of the MEC Journal.

Onalaska Circuit:  Brother Manning was assigned to this work but failed to look after it, which led to his suspension. 

Trinity Circuit:  We were unable to get a wide-awake local preacher to supply this mission with two points. . .
Woodville Circuit:  Brother Wm. Brooks is our pastor at this place; it is more a name than anything else.  He will make his report.

Rev. L. H. Barrett has done the best he could at Mallalieu Heights.  Mallalieu is located in a white settlement and has absolutely no future, but a few members there cannot be prevailed upon to sell and move into a neighborhood of their own people, and the struggle must go on and some preacher must serve them.  (Mallalieu continued into the 21st Century but is closed)

Rev. J. O. Williams has had an uphill pull at Trinity. He has been seriously handicapped on account of inadequate income to pay the debts as they came due. 

Rev. P. L. Jackson closes his fourth year at Spring. This is a poor charge but Brother Jackson has supplemented his meager income by raising a good garden and fine crop of corn.

Gilmer:  The Rev. J. R. Carnes was assigned to this place. . .He was told at the start that he had no members at this place, saving one, the others having deserted the church, and further that the church was in a lawsuit.  He said that if people were there, he would live.  All he wanted was to be where there were people.  But I think Bro. Carnes has changed that.  He has not been able to do anything there this year. 

Harleton Circuit:  Bro. P. P. Phillips, a local preacher, was assigned there.  He preached one sermon and returned to the farm.  

Caldwell Circuit has felt the drought that came on this area very, very keenly, for it was on this circuit that some of the leading farmers made just one-half bale per acre. . .and scarcely any corn at all.

Hearne:  It seems as if Hearne has already enjoyed its best days. .they seem to have become discouraged and lost interest.

Jewett-Buffalo is pastored by Rev. W. W. Randall.  While the people here are in no wise been in heartfelt accord with the pastor, he has succeeded against the odds. 
Franklin:  the Rev. G. M. Stewart was assigned to this place, only to keep up his conference relationship.  There being neither house of worship nor any members, he has not done anything.  Only he reports some benevolence money given out of his own pocket. 

I salute the MEC District Superintendents who wrote so frankly and honestly that the reports are a gold mine for historians.   Journals can be cold, impersonal (except for memoirs), and statistical.  The details included in the DS reports show the churches as multi-dimensional, complex organizations, not just a collection of statistics.   

Saturday, July 13, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 14

Travis Park Honors Former Pastors Who Became Bishops  July 23, 1939

Trivia Question:  Which Texas Methodist church can claim the most pastors who were elected bishops?  Houston First? Dallas First? Highland Park?  Polk Street?  El Paso Trinity?
Actually I haven’t bothered to go through the records to find the winner.  Perhaps a reader of this blog already has.  Conditions of a previous era made it more likely that one church would be served by several preachers who later elected bishops.  The first condition was that there was a four year rule.  Itinerancy once meant itinerancy.  Preachers moved often.  At the end of the 4th year  the pastor had to move.  An informal circuit of the large membership, high salary churches developed.   An elite group of preachers known for their pulpit prowess rotated among the highest paying churches. ---Trinity, El Paso, First Houston, First Dallas, First Birmingham, Boston Ave. in Tulsa, Polk Street in Amarillo , among others.

A key to being elected bishop both before 1939 when General Conferences elected them and after 1939 when the jurisdictions elected bishops, was garnering support from several conferences besides one’s own.  Episcopal candidates needed visibility in several conferences to get enough votes for election.

   In the 19th century the visibility beyond one’s own conference was achieved mainly by college presidents and staff members at the denominational newspapers and boards such as the Board of Missions.  College presidents traveled among the conferences raising funds, and denominational officers duties also took them to the conferences on official business.  

In the early twentieth century that tradition lingered –as with the election of Bishops Ward and Tigert-but increasingly the candidates were “giants of the pulpit’ who served the big churches in several conferences and thereby forged connections in several conferences.  I would place the Smith brothers, W. C. Martin, Arthur Moore, and many others.

Travis Park, San Antonio, was on the circuit, and in July 1939, it celebrated its former pastors who were later elected bishop.  They were John M. Moore (1898-1902),  Edwin Mouzon (1904-1908),  Arthur Moore (1920-1926), and Paul Kern (1926-1930).  Mouzon was deceased.  Bishop John Moore preached that day and a marble plaque was affixed to a wall and dedicated. 

The election of Travis Park pastors to the episcopacy did not end in 1939.  Kenneth Copeland was elected in 1960.  

In the later 20th century and burgeoning bureaucracies in all the conferences, delegates began favoring pastors with management experience over pulpit prowess.  The four year rule was discarded so the “giants of the pulpit” who once rotated among the large churches tended to remain at the same church for 20 years or even more.   Service as a District Superintendent or perhaps the Provost office became more valuable to episcopal candidates. 

Saturday, July 06, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 7

Josef Dobes Informs Texas Methodists about Conditions in Czechoslovakia   July 1939

In 1938 and 1939 Hitler’s aggressions increased, and the small nations of Czechoslovakia and Austria paid the price for those aggressions.  In 1938 Hitler had incorporated both the Sudetenland and Austria into his empire, and on March 15 1939 the rest of Czechoslovakia surrendered.    Although England had promised to protect the integrity of  Czechoslovakia, the British sold them out.  Hitler was emboldened, and in a few months the invasion of Poland ushered in the most destructive 6 years Europe had ever seen.

Texas Methodists had a personal connection to the tiny nation of Czechoslovakia in the form of missionaries who had received their education at Southwestern University, Josef Dobes (1876-1960) and Joseph Paul Bartak (1887-1964) about 1910.  They both became Methodist preachers and were appointed as missionaries to Czech Texans.  Dobes entered the Texas Conference by transfer from the Central Texas Conference in 1912 and lived in Marlin where he could work among the Bohemian farmers of the Brazos Valley.  

After World War I the nation of Czechoslovakia was created from the wreckage of the Austrian Empire.  One of the emphases of the fund raising Centenary Campaign was to provide missionaries to Europe.   Dobes and Bartak volunteered and arrived in Europe in 1920.  They first provided humanitarian relief, but when that effort ended after five years, they continued to establish churches.   They continued corresponding with their Texas Methodist friends, and in 1925 Advocate editor, A. J. Weeks went to Europe and visited them in the company of Bishop Darlington.  

Their job was not particularly easy in either Europe or Texas.  Most Czechs were Roman Catholic, and those who weren’t were mainly Brethren.  

Nazi occupation made their task even more difficult.  Bartak had become a naturalized American citizen, so he was interned the day Germany declared war on the US.  He was later exchanged in a prisoner swap.  He served Texas appointments in Texas during the war but returned to Prague after the war, but then Communist regime forced him out.  He moved to Vienna. 

Dobes became a major interpreter of the war years 1939-1940 through letters to the Advocate.  In 1940 he returned to Texas and preached in many Texas Methodist churches, taught at Schools of Mission, and always found a ready audience.  Among the pulpits he filled were First Fort Worth, First Temple, First Houston, and Tyler Street, Dallas.   In one Advocate article he concluded his remarks thus:  Let us not forget our young daughters—Poland, Belgium, and Czechoslovakia—in your prayers.  Let their burdens also be our burdens and their joy will also be our joy. 

Dobes spent his final years in Houston where he attended First Methodist.  He died in 1960 and is buried at Forest Park Cemetery.