Church History: Methodism comes to Texas It all began in 1835, before Texas won independence from Mexico. The publisher of the New York Christian Advocate, a Methodist publication, received a letter from the Mexican colony of Texas. Written by 26-year-old Col. William B. Travis of the volunteer Texas army, the letter called for the establishment of a Methodist presence in the region where settlers were beginning to revolt against the government of Mexico.
Travis wrote, "I regret that the Methodist church, which, with its excellent itinerant system, has hitherto sent pioneers of the Gospel into almost every destitute portion of the globe, should have neglected so long this interesting country." He asked that five Methodist missionaries be sent to Texas. Travis was killed 7 months later, serving as commander at the Battle of the Alamo. Texas independence soon followed and the Methodists in the northeast sent three volunteers to start the Texas Mission of the Mississippi Conference and steady growth of Methodism began. sources: We Finish to Begin by Josephine Forman, www.TexasAlmanac.com,www.southwestern.edu
In 1837, the first three Methodist missionaries came to Texas after a request was received from Col. William B. Travis that they were needed. The next volunteers, six Methodist missionaries from Ohio, came to Texas in 1842, including 24 year old John Wesley DeVilbiss. Here is his account of what he encountered in this area:
"In April, 1844, in company with Rev. John McCullough of the Presbyterian Church, I made my first visit to the ancient city of San Antonio. We started at Victoria and travelled up the valley of the Guadalupe to Seguin. At this place we procured an escort of Captain Hays' Texas Rangers. Between Seguin and San Antonio we passed through what was then a most beautiful country. The valleys were not then, as now, covered with a dense growth of mesquite and small trees, but were covered with a beautiful coat of grass about knee high.
We put up at a hotel on Soledad Street, not far from the Convent. It was then the outside house in the direction of San Pedro Springs. We took a general look about the city, visiting San Pedro Springs and missions below the city. We notified the English-speaking people that we would have preaching on the Sabbath. We met at the County Clerk's office on Commerce Street. About fifteen persons attended the services. Mr. McCullough and I left on Tuesday for Seguin, where we parted but agreed to meet again in this same city of San Antonio."
During 1845, he held monthly services in the parlor of theVeramendi Hotel, "the same building where Milam met his fate," in the location where the empty Solo Serve store now sits on Soledad Street.
In 1846, Rev. DeVilbiss received his appointment to the San Antonio Mission Station to organize a church. He moved to San Antonio and, finding no convenient house available in the city, rented a small house seven miles down the San Antonio River. He taught in a small school to earn extra funds while getting the mission started in the city. He arranged for regular use of the Court House on the east side of Main Plaza as a place of worship and he built the pulpit and seats used in these services. DeVilbiss preached regularly and often had to contend with the noise of the people who gathered on the plaza to engage in cockfighting.
This congregation who met in 1846 was the beginning of the community of faith that grew into Travis Park United Methodist Church.
Sources: Reminiscences of a Superannuated Preacher by John Wesley DeVilbiss, We Finish to Begin by Josephine Forman.
As John Wesley DeVilbiss worked to build a Methodist congregation in San Antonio, he worked closely with his friend, John McCullough, a Presbyterian minister. In 1846, they held services together in the Old Courthouse on the East side of Main Plaza, preaching on alternate Sabbaths. The Methodists bought a lot in 1847 for $100 on the San Antonio River (now part of the Arneson River Theater). DeVilbiss travelled to several states to try to get support for the building of the church and returned with very little money but did obtain building materials, including a bell which was placed on the Villita lot to call worshipers on Sunday. His Spanish-speaking friends called him "el padrecito que tiene la campana," the little father who has the bell. The Presbyterians were building on their lot on Commerce Street and used the materials DeVilbiss had collected, with the understanding that the Methodists could use the building, called "The Old Adobe". It was also called "The Mud Temple" and the walls were made of native rock sealed with plaster. In the San Antonio of the 1840s stone was the most economical material for heavy walls, available from the crumbling walls of the abandoned old Spanish fort or the Alamo. Desperately in need of money, the city government offered stone from the walls of the Alamo at fifty cents a cart load. When it was completed, the bell was moved to the new church but it was not given to them. "The Old Adobe" was destroyed in a violent wind and hail storm in 1868. No Methodist church was ever built on the Villita property because it was lost due to defect of title. In 1852, the first Methodist Church building was erected in San Antonio. Paine Church was on Soledad betweenTravis and Pecan Streets. It housed our congregation until 1883. Property was purchased at our current location in 1882 and, while a meeting place was being built, the Methodists met in Odd Fellows Hall, at Houston and St. Mary's Streets, where the Gunter Hotel is now.
By the early 1880s, the church had outgrown Paine Chapel, built in 1853 on Soledad Street. Pastor W.J. Young wrote to the Texas Methodist Advocate: "I have been glad to see in the Advocate mention made of our church... and the necessity of a new building... We do need a new church and we must have it! The one we occupy at present is old and dilapidated, and is fast falling into decay.... We have decided to build....but the question arises, how are we to raise the money?.... Our people, though willing to give liberally, are not able to do all.....Every other denomination has a neat church building....Will the people of Texas help us?... Throngs are now coming into our city, and we must be prepared to receive them. Send anything, but let everyone send something." In 1882, a lot on the corner of Navarro and Travis Streets was obtained for a new church building, facing 68.48 feet on Navarro and about one hundred feet on Travis. A church brochure stated that "the block, which is now one of the most valuable pieces of business property in the city, was then about three fourths lumber yard. The old Vance Hotel stood where the Gunter Hotel is now, and back of it was a long low barracks extending down the St. Mary's Street side to Travis, and down Travis Street the extent of one or two rooms. The rest of the block was occupied by a lumber yard which fronted on Houston, Navarro, and Travis Streets." The Vance Building was used from 1851 to 1861 for the first US Military Headquarters in Texas; between 1861 and 1865 it served as Confederate Headquarters; it was opened as a hotel, Vance House, in 1872. The basement was constructed on the new lot and equipped for use as a church, and served for that purpose for almost two years before the building was completed. From The Daily Express, Feb 27, 1883: "Sunday, Feb the 25th, will be marked as a red letter day in the history of West Texas Methodism. On that date....the cornerstone of the new Paine Church, corner of Travis and Navarro streets, was laid.... Several hundreds of ladies, gentlemen and children were present to do honor to the occasion. A new church dedicated to God.... is certainly a glorious event, and one worthy of the highest praise in this community where there is much need of churches. The building will be modern in structure, neat and substantial in all its appointments, and when completed will be a worthy temple in the sight of the Great Architect of the universe, as well as an ornament and credit to the city." The altar was at the west end of the sanctuary between wall panels bearing the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer. It had a seating capacity of 480.
On Feb 26, 1886 the San Antonio Light announced: "The new auditorium will be occupied for the first time tomorrow morning. Seats free. E.B. Chappell, Pastor."
Sources: We Finish to Begin by J. Forman, and the TPUMC Archives.
In 1886, the new church building ("First Church Unit") at Travis and Navarro was completed, having moved to the new lot from Soledad Street nearby. The 1880s and 1890s were years when San Antonio was growing faster than ever before; three and even four story buildings became common. The Methodists were also growing in their efforts to reach out in the community. In 1895, the San Antonio District Conference discussed what they perceived to be the greatest evils preventing the ministry from reaching the masses. They passed a resolution condemning "the open saloon, the card table, modern dance, and a whole train of kindred vices."
The red light district in downtown San Antonio in 1894 covered ten square blocks and, despite various attempts at reform, it was not closed until the outbreak of World War II in 1941. In early 1895, Madame Volvino, the madame of one of the houses of prostitution, had recently lost a daughter to death and was in great need of spiritual help. She was inspired by a street revivalist and returned to her house on San Saba Street in the red light district, vowing to begin a new life. She asked Mrs. H.C. Ostrum, a member of Travis Park Church, to get a minister to come to her place to preach. Dr. W.W. Pinson, former pastor of Travis Park Church, was both a strong evangelist and social activist. He and his wife went to the home and prayed with the madame. He later wrote: “We prayed and when we arose from our knees, the thought came to me and I said, ‘This property has been like a black river of destruction. Why not turn it into a current the other way, and set it to saving the unfortunate women who have found it a door to ruin.’ ”
The next day Madame Volino attended Travis Park Church and responded to the altar call given by the pastor, Rev. New Harris. Through financial and emotional support of the Methodist community and Travis Park Methodist Church, Volino converted the brothel into a rescue home for "fallen women,” Travis Park Church provided extensive funding for the home and, in the early days, supplied most of the leadership of the home. By the early 1900's, most of the women who arrived were pregnant and unwed and the Rescue Home became known primarily as a maternity center. Providence Place, previously The Methodist Mission Home, now on Whitby Road in Leon Valley, provides adoption services for birth mothers, birth fathers, adoptive families, and adoptees. They also house the Southwest Center for Higher Independence, helping young adults with disabilities learn the independent living skills to overcome barriers through a transitional life and vocational education.
Sources: We Finish to Begin by Josephine Forman, “The Mission Home Story” by Ted Richardson, and the Methodist Mission Home website:
Our church moved into the “First Church Unit” at Travis and Navarro in 1886. The auditorium had a seating capacity of 480.
Church membership grew significantly under the leadership of Rev. John M. Moore, a young pastor who served from 1898-1902 and who later went on to become a bishop and strong leader in United Methodism.
The growth of the church brought about the need for more space. In 1901 a building committee was formed. At the time the first part of the church was built (now the back part of our sanctuary), two lots had been acquired, but one was sold to provide money to pay for the first church building. When the auditorium was enlarged in 1901-02, that lot was bought back. The new part, added on the south side of the original building, became the sanctuary, separated from the old part by folding doors, and the rear room was used for Sunday school. For services, the folding doors were opened and chairs were used in the back. The seating capacity of the enlarged building was over 1400. The walls were papered. The altar was still along the west wall and back of it was the organ in an alcove. On each side of the altar was a large stained glass window. One, showing Christ walking in agarden, inscribed “The Lord Is My Shepherd, He Leadeth Me Beside Still Waters,” was given in honor of the pastor, Dr. John M. Moore; the other, a full length figure of Christ, bearing the inscription “I Am the Resurrection and the Life” and “Peace Be With You,” was in honor of Buckner Harris, pastor from 1868-72. These windows were preserved in a later remodeling and are still in the sanctuary, though the Harris window is not in its original location.
Also added during this remodeling was a short spire on top of the tower, later replaced with the taller spire that remains today.
Source: We Finish to Begin by Josephine Forman
Church History: The Philathea Class - "We Do Things"
The class motto was "We do things" based on Philippians 4:13 - "I can do all things through God who strengthens me." The word "Philathea" means "lover of truth" and the class platform was "young women at work for young women." The first Philathea Class for young women and its parallel Baraca Bible Class for young men, began in 1898 in Syracuse NY. The Philathea and Baraca Classes at Travis Park began in 1907. They met in the balcony of the sanctuary at first and soon raised money to remodel rooms in the basement, where they moved in 1908.
In 1909 the Philathea Class opened a "Girls' Rest and Lunch Room" in the basement for "business girls." They took turns preparing lunches for 15¢. The lunch room became so popular that it was necessary to hire a cook to help. In 1910, "the ladies of the city," seeing the success of the lunch room, asked that it be turned over to them so they could use it as a nucleus for starting a YWCA, which the class did. The San Antonio YWCA is celebrating their 100th Anniversary this year.
From the very beginning, the class members devoted themselves to social service. In 1910 the class began a sewing school for little girls in the "slums" of the West Side. Enrollment quickly grew to 100 students. The class became part of a community center called Wesley Community House, where a free kindergarten was started. During World War I, they worked to welcome and support the soldiers stationed in San Antonio. In the 1920s, they worked in the Methodist orphanage and the Mission Home and Training School. Over the years, they worked at the State Hospital, TB Hospital, and made cancer dressings for the American Cancer Society. The class's interest in education was ongoing and they provided many college scholarships.
One of the reasons for the strength and close spirit of the Philathea Class was the way they kept in touch with their members through visits, telephone calls and cards. Their aim was to make each member feel that it is their class and not the property of the teacher. The original organizer, leader, teacher and guiding spirit was Mrs. Ella Goodwyn Carter, and the class was eventually named for her. Mrs. Frances Craig was the teacher of the class in the 1930s and she lead effort to produce the first Upper Room devotional guide.
Source: "History of the Ella Goodwyn Carter Philathea Class" written in 1985.
The large stained glass window in the shape of a cross (on the front of the Youth Building facing Navarro Street) was a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Porter Loring. At the time of its installation in 1950, the fifty foot window was the tallest in the United States. It is made of 4700 pieces of stained glass from many countries, including England, France, Belgium, Germany, and the US. Architect Henry Steinbomer conceived the idea and the design was done by Joseph Meyer of the Jacoby Stained Glass Studio in St. Louis, Mo.
The story the window tells begins with Genesis, executed in dark, somber colors. Progressing through the ages, we come to the Law with Moses holding the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. On the opposite side is a figure symbolizing the Prophets. Surmounting all is a figure of Christ. Here the light will be brightest and light colors will be used. The outline of a cross behind the panel forms the uppermost sides and top of this inspiring point of interest, with the stone forming an appropriately sturdy and beautiful background.
The window covers a height of three floors. Cost was $10,000, and thesteel structure necessary to hold it cost about an equal amount.
Currently, the TPUMC Trustees are looking into the replacement of the protective plexiglass that covers the entire window, as it has become cloudy with age.
Update: Jan. 2012 - New protective Lexan panels are installed thanks to a generous gift from the Loring family.
Sources: Church Archives and We Finish to Begin by Josephine Forman
Church History: Go and Make Disciples by Rev. Larry Ravert, retired pastor, University Park UMC, Dallas Excerpt from "The University Park Word" 10-17-08
When I was in the Air Force in 1951, I was transferred to San Antonio. Having been raised a Presbyterian, I decided to visit the downtown First Presbyterian Church. I sat by an elderly woman on the bus and told her I was new to the city and wanted directions to the First Presbyterian Church. She told me she knew exactly where it was, but she invited me to go to her church, Travis Park Methodist Church.
She gave me every reason to at least visit, saying it had the finest pastor, greatest worship services, many servicemen in attendance and a large, exciting youth group. Oh yes, she did mention that there were many single and beautiful young ladies who also were in the youth group – not that that was of any interest to me! I decided to accompany her, and upon arrival, she introduced me to a young man in front of the Youth Building and went on her way. I enjoyed Sunday school and worship that morning and decided to visit the Methodist Youth Fellowship that night.
That was the beginning of my journey – taking me and my life in a totally different direction. I soon attended church and the youth group on a regular basis, later worked on the staff part time as athletic director, became a member of the Methodist Church and became active in that downtown church. Still later, I surrendered to the call to ministry, found Carol Ann, the love of my life, and still later, was married and was ordained at that altar.
The interesting thing about my story is that I never knew who that lady was. I don't remember her giving me her name, nor what class she was in or where she lived. For that matter, I never saw her again, and yet her simple invitation was a changing point in my life. It's been, well, let's say a few more than 20 years since that morning, but today I am a United Methodist minister and married to a wonderful lady because of that simple invitation. I share with you this episode in my life not to put any special spotlight on me, but to emphasize how important an invitation may be from you to someone you live near, work with, play with or shop with. You are the church, and someone you meet today or tomorrow might be waiting for their lives to be changed as that invitation changed my life. The last words of Jesus Christ, as recorded by Matthew, were, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…." This was the commission to the disciples, and that is our mandate as well – to make disciples of Jesus Christ. As I look back I realize that invitation was a generation to generation invitation, from one older lady to a young serviceman, but it made all the difference for me.
In 1998, I was exploring a call to ministry and, though I decided not to attend seminary, felt called to a ministry focused on social justice. When moved to San Antonio, we visited Travis Park as a courtesy to our former pastors at Oak Hill UMC in Austin – John Flowers and Karen Vannoy. John and Karen were never ones to let you just sit in a pew, and they asked me to develop a program that would involve "young people" and active outreach ministry.
So, in December of 1998, Amy and I began pulling together some ideas. John and Karen referred us to several young folks (ages 20-40) in the church. Part of their thinking was that young people today do not connect to church in a traditional way, but instead seek ways to use community services as part of their spiritual discipline. For me, this was also an opportunity to try some ideas that worked in other communities.
My first inspiration came from my mother. My uncle is a stereotypical Vietnam Veteran – an alcoholic who has lived on the streets from time to time. One day when my mother was visiting us in Austin, we were driving in our car and passed by a few homeless guys who were scamming the passers-by. My mother rolled down her window and proceeded to give them some money. When I scolded her for giving money to guys with questionable sincerity, she said, "I know, but that could be my brother." And she was right. Figuratively and literally, our brothers and sisters are on the street today – many facing the demons of alcohol and drug abuse and mental illness.
I also researched other programs to find inspiration. I studied several success stories, including the work of Cecil Williams and Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco. Most of these programs started with a need, an idea, and a genuine desire to treat people with dignity and love. I took inspiration from the writings of other United Methodists who challenged us to think differently about serving with, not for, the poor. And indeed, John Wesley also challenged the church to open the doors of grace to everyone. For biblical inspiration, I turned to the book of James and to Jesus' Sermon on the Plain (Matthew 9:10-13).
There were about 20 of us when we met to plan for the Café in 1998 and 1999. The planning phased involved these "young" people – but many unsung angels were also involved financially or otherwise. Not everyone in the church was thrilled with our idea – but eventually – everyone was involved in some way.
Although we opened with a short homily and prayer each Sunday, we never wanted people to feel that a belief in God, or a particular interpretation of God, should be required to be fed. We chose the name "Café Corazon," a name connected to San Antonio's Spanish and Mexican heritage, to help convey the spirit of inclusion, dignity, love, and grace that we envisioned.
The essence of our original goal of treating people with dignity still remains. Café Corazon has moved beyond what many of us ever imagined and I expect that it will continue to impact individuals in our community in many different and new ways.