What’s an Annual Conference?

I haven't written much about the Methodist half of my job lately.  In fact, I have been a little bit remiss in maintaining the blog since Commencement on May 17.  Since graduation, I've been catching up on some reference questions and trying to get ready to process some interesting collections this summer.  I still intend on posting some information about the Class of 1959, who celebrated the 50th anniversary of their graduation this year.  

This week, I attended the Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in South Carolina.  An Annual Conference is a confusing term, for it is a geographic region, a meeting, and an organization.  The South Carolina Annual Conference is an organization that includes all of the United Methodist congregations in the geographic area of South Carolina, and that meets once a year.  All ordained Methodist clergy – elders and deacons – are members of the conference, and they are appointed annually by our bishop to serve the churches in the state.  They, together with local pastors and lay representatives from all of the churches, meet once a year (or more often, if a special session is called) to conduct the church's business.  

I am a lay member of the South Carolina conference not because I'm the conference's archivist, but because I have been selected by my local congregation.  However, my local congregation selects me largely because I'm the conference archivist and it's helpful that I attend.  

So, what does this organization do?  Well, there's a lot of sitting in meetings.  We hear reports from various conference boards, commissions, and committees.  We talk about ministry plans for the upcoming year.  This year, there was a lot of talk about new church starts, and most of the worship leaders were ministers involved in starting new churches.  We also talk about our work in supporting the conference's retirement homes, the children's home, ministries for people with special needs, and for our four colleges.  We allocate money in our budget to support these, and also to pay for important items like retirement pensions, insurance for clergy, and for global ministries.  We give awards – and the commission I work with recognized a number of churches for their work in preserving church history.  We also proposed naming a church in Chesterfield County a historic site of South Carolina Methodism.  There's time for worship, and for fellowship.  

The fellowship is especially important because clergy are actually not members of local churches – their church membership rests in the Annual Conference, so in a very real sense, the Annual Conference is their church.  Most of the clergy know each other – many have been coming to Conference for years – or decades.  Many of them attended seminary together, served in neighboring churches before being sent to churches far apart, or have served on conference boards together.  Conference is the one time each year where they are all together.  It sort of makes some of us in the laity feel like we're standing around the edges watching the fellowship.  One retired minister who attends my local church – who has known me since I was three years old – told me on Monday that this was his 60th consecutive Annual Conference, and also his last.  I pause here to reflect on how the conference, the state, and ministry in general have changed since he entered the ministry some 60 years ago.  

And in fact, that's the main reason I attend the conference: to act in a limited way as a collector of information, of stories, and of memories.  I talked with at least three district superintendents about church records, and with several lay members who have done research in the archives.  I do my bit of advocacy for the archives and for historic preservation.  I sort of stand out at conference because of my age – until people look at my nametag, they often think I'm in the clergy because there aren't many youngish lay representatives.  Someone in the elevator recognized my name on my nametag and offered that she had expected that the archivist would be a little older.  I've been attending conferences myself since 1993, when I was one of Wofford chaplain Talmage Skinner's student workers helping to run the behind-the-scenes logistics.  This was my 7th year as a lay member, which is amazing considering I'm not even 40 yet.  Part of my job is to collect materials that document the session, but also to collect those things that don't always get written down.  

So that's Annual Conference in a nutshell.  
Methodist Photographs

New Photo Collection

In addition to sharing some of Wofford's history or the history of Methodism in South Carolina on this blog, sometimes I highlight new collections, interesting documents, or old photographs.  Today, I'm hlghlighting a collection of photographs that my student assistants and I have been working on for several months.  Several years ago, I found an old photo album maintained by a Methodist minister from the late 19th century.  With a better scanner and better ways to present these images, my student assistants scanned all of the indivudal photos in the album.  Over the past few weeks, I've been trying to get them uploaded to Flickr and labeled in such a way that a researcher could find them.  

We've added about 35 photos to this point, and there are about 150 in the album in total.  So far, I've got the pictures of a group of bishops, of a few of the ministers, and of some individuals who must have been friends or family members of the Rev. William Wynn Mood, who maintained the album.  

Here's the set page for the William Wynn Mood Album, in Flickr

These photos will be useful to local church historians who are looking for photos of some of their earlier ministers, as the album covers years prior to the first conference biographical directory.  I'll continue to add items to this album until I have the entire set of photos added, with information about as many of the individuals as I can locate.  Then, I'll start adding the photos from the 1901 and 1914 biographical directoies.  

The two photos come from the album.  They are the Rev. Frederick Auld, above, who was a Methodist minister in South Carolina from 1858 to 1902, and Bishop William Wallace Duncan, left, who was a Wofford graduate in 1858, a Methodist minister in Virginia, a Wofford professor, and a Methodist bishop from 1886 to 1908.  

Methodist missionaries

This morning, I was leafing through a 1925 issue of the Southern Christian Advocate, the Methodist newspaper for South Carolina, in search of an answer to a patron's query when I found a special issue on women's foreign and home missionary work.  I noticed the picture of Mary Winn, who was a South Carolina Methodist missionary in China for a number of years from the early 1920s to the late 1940s.  Her name and picture jumped out at me because some years ago, we received a batch of letters she wrote to her family in the College Place neighborhood of Columbia.  Her letters have been processed and are available here in the library.  Here's the link to the collection.  One of the benefits of working in these records over a number of years is that you see so many connections between different parts of the collection.  I noticed in her letter that she talked about learning Chinese and teaching English in a missionary school for girls in Soochow, China, and she commented on how difficult it was for her to learn the Chinese characters.  I am sure many of our students at Wofford today who are studying Chinese would agree with her.  

I thought I might share an excerpt from her letter back to Methodists in South Carolina as it was published in the June 4, 1925 issue of the Advocate.  

Sometimes in writing to our friends back home we wonder what they are most interested in, but I believe they like, most of all, to hear about the work that our schools are doing every day and about the girls in our schools.  That, at least, is what I am most interested in.  Every day there is a new charm and a new attractiveness to the girls in my classes.  Their eyes are so bright and they seem to be just bubbling over with life. While I am writing this there is a group of girls out in the yard playing volley ball and they are entering into this game with all the zest and pep of teen age girls the world over.

This has not been an easy year for us.  Just as we were ready to open school last September the fighting began in this province and it was the first of November before our girls could get here and classes could begin.  Then everything ran smoothly until the last of January when the war rumors bcame more serious.  The fact that the country was at war was very audible to us early one morning when we heard the boom of guns outside the city wall.  There was one night that the Chinese teachers felt that it would be best to have the girls stay together rather than scattered around in their bedrooms so they all brought their mattresses down to the dining room and slept on the floor.  During all this time we tried to be cheerful and happy and to keep up with our regular schedule but of course we didn't know what was going to happen next.  

This year, my time is divided between language study and teaching.  I study Chinese from nine to twelve and teach from one to four.  Just now I am trying to review my examination on Chinese characters.  The second year course requires us to write five hundred characters from memory.  These characters are certainly fascinating and interesting but they have a wicked way of deserting one's brain just at the moment when one needs most to write them, so the mastery of these evasive creatures is a long and tedious process.  

Reading letter such as this one or the dozens of letters in her papers brings us closer to her time and place.  I am sure we could all hear these schoolgirls outside playing volleyball and sense the fear that Mary and her fellow teachers felt when they heard the sounds of war so close.  Archives are about connecting us to our past and keeping alive the actions of people who came before us.  I try to remember that every time I read something from an old newspaper or letter.  

John C. Kilgo, Wofford alum, educator, and Methodist Bishop

John Carlisle Kilgo is probably better known for playing a leading role in the transformation of Trinity College into Duke University, but he learned much about higher education as a student and faculty member at Wofford.

Born in Laurens in 1861, the son of a Methodist minister, Kilgo enrolled at Wofford in 1880.  He soon had to leave, however, as his poor eyesight made it difficult for him to study.  He entered the South Carolina Methodist Annual Conference in 1882 and served churches for several years, and in 1888, he was called back to Wofford to become the college's financial agent.  He studied privately with Professor Henry Nelson Snyder, and though he never took a bachelor's degree, the college gave him an honorary master's degree in 1892.  He was appointed acting professor of metaphysics and political science, a position he held from 1891 to 1894. 

As financial agent of the college, he functioned primarily as the college's fund-raiser and public spokesman.  The college's president in those days was Dr. James H. Carlisle, who was a revered teacher and ethical leader on campus and in the state.  Carlisle, however, was very much averse to raising money and refused to do it.  Partly due to their age differences, Carlisle was in his mid-60s and had been on campus longer than anyone else, and Kilgo was in his 30s, and partly due to their difference in outlook, there were tensions between Kilgo and some of the younger faculty and Carlisle and the older professors.  Carlisle began to believe that Kilgo wanted his job, and was heard to tell friends that if he wanted it, he could have it.  Despite these tensions, Kilgo was successful as a financial agent, as the faculty in 1890 received their full pay for the first time in over 25 years.  

Kilgo's role as financial agent brought him into contact with Methodists all over the state, and perhaps got him noticed outside of the state as well.  In 1894, the 33-year old Kilgo received an offer from Trinity College that he could not refuse when the growing North Carolina Methodist college elected him as its president. 

From 1894 to 1910, Kilgo helped build the college, which had moved to Durham with a very small endowment only two years earlier.  By the time he left Trinity to become a bishop in 1910, Trinity had the largest endowment of any southern college, thanks in large part to Kilgo's cultivation of the Duke family. 

KilgoJC002Some of the lessons Kilgo learned as a fund-raiser at Wofford informed his views on education in the south.  He believed that the Methodist Church was neglecting its historic duty toward education and that the church had become lukewarm toward its college. He felt that raising money from large numbers of people in the south was difficult because southerners could not visualize the large amounts of money needed for higher education.  He felt that education in the South was handicapped by weak preparatory schools and low collegiate standards.  Still, he believed strongly in church-related higher education and worked tirelessly in that cause. 

 Kilgo believed Trinity and other colleges should make public opinion, not follow it.  He became a critic of southern conservatism and believed that the colleges in the region should help break the stranglehold that the past had on the region.  He believed in industrialization in the region and was also an early liberal on racial issues.  He championed academic freedom, defending faculty members who took unpopular stands on issues. 

Elected a bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South in 1910, he continued to work in support of Methodist higher education.  He served as chair of Trinity's board of trustees, and remained a forceful preacher and public speaker until his death in 1922 in Charlotte. 


Methodism and Education

In answering reference questions and looking up obituaries in the Advocate, South Carolina's Methodist newspaper, I occasionally come across stories that give a bit of the flavor of their day.  Last Saturday, between the football game and a reception on campus, I copied an obituary and discovered a column in an October 1961 issue of the Advocate by Bishop Paul Hardin Jr, Wofford Class of 1924.  Bishop Hardin, who served as South Carolina's Methodist bishop from 1960 to 1972 and oversaw the desegregation of South Carolina's Methodist Conference, wrote a "bishop's notes" column most weeks.  Here are some excerpts from one of his columns. 

As soon as these notes are written I will join the trustees, faculty, students and friends of Columbia College in a service for the Breaking of Ground for the new Science building at that fine institution.  On October the 17th my schedule will take me to Spartanburg Junior College (Now SMC) and on October 21 I will take part in the formal reopening of the Main Building at Wofford.  Just a few days from now I will meet with the Committee on Higher Education of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, where a campaign for our colleges and Wesley Foundations has gone well beyond the million dollar mark.  I mention these engagements to remind you that The Methodist Church is fully committed to the task of providing excellent church-related colleges schools and colleges for the benefit of our people and the nation at large.  By comparison with some other denominations we do pitifully little for our church-supported educational institutions.  I have been worried by the fact  at many of our people and churches have made no payment on the pledges which they made during e campaign of 1959.  The Methodist Higher Education FUnd is essential to the continuing development and strengthening of our colleges. 

Tuesday, October 31st is Reformation Day and Sunday, October 29 is Reformation Sunday.  I hope that our ministers will observe it, not in a negative way by denouncing another faith but in a positive way by taking the opportunity to let our people know more about the basic beliefs of Protestants in general and Methodists in particular. 

By the time you read these notes I will have been to Joanna (SC) for homecoming and the dedication of the educational building.  It is truly a "homecoming" for me for nearly fifty-eight years ago I was born there.  While I make mention of many places and people in these notes, let us not forget that the Church has one main purpose and goal — to seek and to save the lost.  Let us be forever busy at that task!

African-American History Methodist

Silver Hill – Spartanburg’s oldest African-American Methodist Church

On Saturday morning, February 9, I am giving an address to the South Carolina Annual Conference Historical Society on the history of Methodism in Spartanburg.  The Historical Society is a group of lay and clergy Methodists from throughout South Carolina who share an interest in the history and heritage of United Methodism.  The group meets twice a year, in February and October, often in local churches.

In my research for the address, I looked at some of the things that have made Spartanburg more of a Methodist town than most of us would realize.  The city is home to two Methodist church-related colleges, but in its history, other Methodist agencies found their homes in the Hub City.

Of course, there are many different kinds of churches.  One of the city’s older churches is Silver Hill United Methodist Church.  It’s the oldest African-American Methodist congregation in the city, dating back to 1869.  Tradition holds that as the first permanent church building was being built, church members placed silver dollars under each corner of the new church on a hill, giving the name “Silver Hill.”  For generations of Methodists in Spartanburg, Silver Hill was the center of the community.

Silver Hill was founded by the Reverend James R. Rosemond, who also served as the church’s first minister.  He was held in such high esteem by black Methodists in his day that he came to be called “Father Rosemond,” an unusual title for a Methodist elder.

Father Rosemond founded a large number of African-American Methodist churches in the Upcountry – from Anderson and Oconee counties in the west through York and Chester counties in the east.  Rosemond’s is an inspiring story; he was born in slavery and separated from his parents at age six.  He was sent to live with a Methodist minister’s family, and early on felt a call to preach.  As a young adult, he was licensed to exhort, which was something like today’s lay speaker, and much later, was licensed as a “colored preacher” in the 1850s.  After emancipation, he was ordained into the Methodist ministry and sent to minister to the freedmen in the Upcountry.  He faced no small amount of hostility from white Carolinians, but was able to establish churches nonetheless.

He returned to Spartanburg in his last years, and at least one of his daughters remained a member of and Sunday school teacher at Silver Hill for years.  His daughter Mary went to Claflin University in Orangeburg as well as Scotia Seminary in North Carolina and became an important teacher and civic worker in Spartanburg.  She founded the Carrier Street School, which was later named in her honor.  Her name: Mary H. Wright.  The school still operates on Spartanburg’s Southside.

Silver Hill Church moved from its home on North Converse Street to a new location west of downtown in the late 1990s.

The photos, of Silver Hill, of Rev. James R. Rosemond, and of the interior of Sliver Hill, come from the History of Silver Hill United Methodist Church, 1869-1981, edited by Mac Goodwin and published by the church in 1981.