Monday, September 24, 2012

Institutional Solidification (30s/40s): Black and Drury

The review reaches chapters 11-12 today from Bob Black and Keith Drury's, The Story of the Wesleyan ChurchSo far it's been:

Chaps 1-2  About Wesley and the origins of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in abolitionism
Chaps 3-4  About its activist early days that were low church, pro-women (and anti- some other things)
Chaps 5-6  The post-Civil War let down, when the best and brightest returned to the Methodists
Chaps 7-8  Birth of Pilgrim Holiness Church
Chapter 9   Multiple Ministries
Chapters 10-11 Roaring Holiness 20s

And now chapters 12 and 13.
Chapter 12
The Pilgrims seemed resistant to centralization, but the Great Depression was the kind of crisis that facilitated the move to one General Superintendent.  Seth Rees died (1933) and Walter Surbrook took over.  It would push Finch out (the man who had so successfully raised money for himself and missions), first out of head leadership and eventually out of the denomination.

In a denomination everyone would consider extreme today, he was even more extreme.  The leaders of the church would push him out of control of the Colorado Springs Bible School and he would leave the denomination to form another that would split into another.  He is a great example of the paradox that was the Pilgrim church.  It was formed by so many mergers and yet so many of these groups were just as quick to pull back out.  The New York Pilgrims, for example, would pull back out in the early 60s over things like wedding rings.

In retrospect, you have to wonder how much damage to the kingdom went along with the good these groups were doing.  How many people they brought to faith left just as quickly in bitterness because of the legalism, "twice as much a child of hell as before."

But the Pilgrim church, and to a lesser extent the Wesleyan Methodists, were growing significantly because of 5 things: 1) revival meetings, 2) camp meetings, 3) Sunday Schools, 4) Church planting, 5) Bible schools.

I was with my mother this weekend and we read this chapter together.  She actually has some candlestick holders that were Walter Surbrook's, bought from his daughter at an auction at Southern Wesleyan.  In the 1930s, Frankfort Pilgrim College closed for a time sending my grandfather Harry Shepherd elsewhere.  First, he taught at an early attempt to start a Bible college in Kernersville, North Carolina (it didn't take the first time--this attempt was by a former president of Central Wesleyan). He pastored a couple churches (at the same time) in Virginia.  Then he taught a year at Kingswood in Kentucky.  Finally he would pastor some churches in southern Indiana before Frankfort reopened in the late 30s.  My father's father also pastored Pilgrim churches around Indiana in the 30s, as he had in the 20s.

The story of the Storey's in the Philippines--the death of his daughter from drinking from a river and their participation in the "death march" led by the Japanese is also one well known to my family.  My mother was a student at Frankfort when they returned after the liberation of their prison camp and my mom recalls how they led a joyful procession to downtown Frankfort.  My grandfather retired from teaching when R. K. Storey was later president of Frankfort.

My sister Juanita was a missionary to the Philippines later in the 70s and married Eduardo Garcia, son of Saturnino Garcia, the first General Superintendent of the Philippines.  And I have childhood memories of Flora Belle Slater and Daisy Buby, a couple of lifelong missionaries who only bring a smile to my face in retrospect.

Chapter 13
In the 40s, the Wesleyan Methodists went to a single General Superintendent in the person of Roy Nicholson, whom I remember from my days at Southern.  At the last General Conference, Lee Haines remarked that he seriously regretted recommending only one General, but those were days before jet setting and serious delegation.  He appears to have been the voice of wisdom in stopping more legalistic districts from having a higher standard than the denomination as a whole on wedding rings and such.

There have been several moments of clever politics and hard decisions in the denomination. One was over wedding rings where, after legalistic groups had fought over and over to prohibit members from having them, the leaders put a stance against wedding rings in a section called "Special Directions."  But the ruling thereafter of the leaders was that this section was not binding on members, only a recommendation.  It was that same section that would later have positions on not going to movies and such, which even denominational officials tended to ignore.  At the General Conference before last, they finally removed the special direction on buying on Sunday.

It's no skin off the Free Methodist's nose, but the Wesleyans have almost merged with them so many times.  More on this to come.  Also, more to come on the rise of neo-evangelicalism in the late 40s.

1 comment:

Keith Drury said...

Again and again you summarize our chapters so superbly. Now you are getting up to the "history" that your family lived!