THE MERGER OF NORHILL AND WOODLAND
While it is true that the name “St. Mark’s” was first used after the merger in 1938,and the present building was occupied in 1940, the roots go back many years as outlined in the preceding chapters.
Norhill Methodist Episcopal Church had 539 members and Woodland Heights Methodist Church, South, 650 with both buildings “bulging at the seams.” No land, vacant or otherwise, was available adjacent to their church property. However, Woodland had purchased a site midway between the two churches on Pecore Avenue and was anticipating the construction of a new church there.
Then, talk of a merger of the two began early in 1937. Which church actually initiated this talk is not known, but the first mention of consolidation appears in the minutes of the Woodland Church building committee to the quarterly conference of April 6, 1936:
“We have also considered the possibility of a unification of our church which will affect the Methodist Churches of this section, but we are unable to prophesy what turn this will take or what combinations will be made at this time. It, therefore, seems advisable to retain the Pecore property for possible future use in case our church should be combined with the Norhill Methodist Episcopal Church.”
During 1936 and 1937, conversations between the ministers and laypersons of both churches were progressing although no written record of the discussions exists. By late 1937, a joint committee composed of six members from Norhill and six from Woodland, plus pastors, had been appointed -
Glen J. Wait W.R. Shriner
A.H. Marquart John B. Williams
R.B. Fischer L.L. McReynolds
A.W. Kobs O’Banion Williams
M.V. Shively W.S. Brandenberger
D.B. Keller Ralph Walton
Rev. A.A. Leifeste Rev. D.L. Landrum
The minutes of this committee’s first meeting held on January 5, 1938, reflect that Mr. W.R. Shriner was elected chairman and Mr. Glen J. Wait, secretary pro tem. The “Declaration of Purpose,” drawn up by Ralph Walton, attorney, was read -
DECLARATION OF PURPOSE
NORHILL METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH
WOODLAND METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH, SOUTH
January 5, 1938
STATE OF TEXAS )
COUNTY OF HARRIS )
WHEREAS, unification of the METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH, METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH, SOUTH, and the METHODIST PROTESTANT CHURCH has been under consideration for a long time and has recently been receiving general approval by the properly constituted bodies of the different church organizations involved, and it now seems assured that the unification of said churches will be finally consummated in the near future; and,
WHEREAS, the members of the NORHILL METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH and the members of the WOODLAND METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH, SOUTH, believe that they can best promote the work of the Kingdom of God and render service to the community and the people whom they serve by merging the two congregations into one, and to that end and purpose the undersigned joint committee has been duly appointed and constituted by the two said congregations and has been instructed to come together in a meeting for the purpose of working out the best plan of uniting said congregations and,
WHEREAS, the WOODLAND METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH, SOUTH, has already sold its present church property located on Houston Avenue, which necessitates the erection and moving into a new church plant in less than one year from this present date, and it now seems to the committee expedient that immediate steps be taken toward uniting the two said congregations with a view toward erecting an attractive and commodious building and toward providing the necessary physical equipment , with which the two congregations may carry on their united work more effectively;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the undersigned joint committee herby adopt the following plan and that said plan be presented by the members of the committee to their respective church congregations with the recommendation that the two separate congregations approve and adopt the same, at least, as a declaration of purpose.
For the present time, the two congregations shall remain separate and independent, except in those matters pertaining to the building program. However, all preliminary and necessary steps shall be taken as time requires, for uniting the congregations into one in conformity with the rules of the churches, and such legal steps shall be taken as may be necessary to a proper uniting of the two separate congregations.
An appropriate name for the new church shall be selected either by this joint committee or by another committee specifically appointed for that purpose, as soon as may seem opportune.
The two congregations shall pool all their physical assets immediately, or as soon as this can be done legally, for the purpose of erecting a new church building on a site to be chosen by the joint committee. Also, both congregations shall exert all energy and influence of their command toward the raising of funds for the erection of the new building, and to this end each congregation shall have members on a building committee which shall represent both congregations, and which committee shall work as diligently as possible and with the greatest possible speed, to the end that the new building may be ready for occupancy at the proper time.
This plan shall not, for the present at least, affect the positions of the two pastors serving such churches, but it is recommended that the pastors take up and discuss the proposed merger of the two congregations with the proper church authorities to the end that proper assignments of duties might be worked out, when the two congregations are fully combined.
The new church organization shall operate under the charter of the METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH, SOUTH, until such time as the details of the unification of the denominations shall have been completed.
It is understood that the action, and any other action taken toward unification of the two congregations, shall be contingent upon the approval of the Southern Conference of the Southern Methodist Episcopal Church, and it is also understood that no steps shall be taken toward the carrying out of this program until a favorable vote upon the proposed plan of unification shall have been recorded by the Annual Conference of the METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH, SOUTH.
Thus adopted by the undersigned joint committee on this the ____ day of _____________ A.D., 193__.
The signed copy was probably placed in the cornerstone.
After the reading of the resolution “Rev. Leifeste made the motion that the proposition of merging the congregations of Norhill Methodist Episcopal Church and Woodland Methodist Episcopal Church, South, be presented to the two separate congregations with the recommendation of the committee that if a merger is agreed upon, a new church be built on the Pecore Street lots, which is in the possession of the Woodland Church, and are free of debt. The motion, seconded by Rev. Landrum, was voted upon unanimously.”
At the next meeting of the committee on January 26, 1938, Rev. Landrum reported the Woodland Church, by a standing vote of members present during the January 15, 1938, worship service, enthusiastically gave a unanimous vote of confidence to merge the two congregations. Rev. Leifeste reported the Norhill Church limited the vote taken on January 22, 1938, to members 21 years old and over. This secret ballot reflected a six to one majority in favor of the merger. Also at this meeting it was decided that each church, at a quarterly conference, appoint a committee of seven members to act in behalf of their respective churches, and to be charged with the auspicious task of acting as the Steering Committee for this momentous undertaking. The following were appointed -
A.W. Kobs W.R. Shriner
M.V. Shively L.L. McReynolds
Glen J. Wait O’Banion Williams
R.B. Fischer W.S. Brandenburger
A.H. Marquart Ralph B. Walton
D.B. Keller John B. Williams
W.E. Vater L.R. Gripon
Rev. A.A. Leifeste, Rev. D.L. Landrum, ex-officio
Both Bishop A. Frank Smith of the Methodist Church, South, and Bishop Chas. L. Mead of the Methodist Episcopal Church registered their approval of the plan. (It is noteworthy to remember this merger of two churches from different conferences preceded the favorable vote of the two conferences to merge themselves.) It was this unique state of affairs that attracted interest, not only in Methodist circles, but throughout all religious organizations as well. As Bishop Smith wrote to church members on April 30, 1938, while attending the general conference of the Methodist Church, South, in Birmingham, Alabama on page 86.
A. Frank Smith, Bishop
Methodist Episcopal Church, South
2308 Southmore Boulevard
April 30, 1938
Fellow Worker for Christ:
While waiting a chance to speak personally to you and your Church, I want to convey to you my heartiest congratulations on the movement of your congregation for merger with the Norhill Methodist Church. This project is becoming more widely acclaimed than you perhaps realize.
It will be chronicled in years to come as the first union in the march of Methodism toward consolidation of its ranks; and - with all the Christian world today meditating on the need for at least unity of works - your pioneering steps will be watched by many creeds in far-flung climes.
Yours is something of a “test case” that will serve as a model for others. You and I are interested, then, in seeing to it that this great trail-blazing movement, initiated in Houston for aggregating Christian soldiers to greater service for the Christ we both adore, shall be effected with an exemplary success that shall inspire others to closer co-ordination. You have coming to you the glory of pioneers. You have that responsibility also.
Necessarily, there is a financial responsibility. I often have reflected that Jesus measures Christians more by their willingness to give than by their eagerness to receive.
You have before you a big task in raising funds for your new Church. I am hopeful that your devotion to your Church, your loyalty to your pastor, and your love for your Christ will be equal to it. If you and your fellow members achieve well now, it will make the way lighter for you in years to come. You will have an institution unfettered by the costly and service-hampering shackles of debt.
I feel I do not need to emphasize that the success of the fund-raising campaign will depend on your doing your part. But I would like to hearten you with the thought that you will be happier, in looking back on the project, if you can rejoice in recalling that you had a noble part in it. You have before you the call of your Savior to service and sacrifice. I entreat you to lend your energies heartily to the church-building campaign, to give unstintedly of service as a canvasser or to whatever task you are assigned and to give generously from the material means with which God has endowed you.
A. Frank Smith
Word of the merger soon spread throughout Houston with favorable comments from all religious denominations in addition to many positive news items in the local newspapers. Warm words of praise and wishes for a brilliant success were received in unanimously adopted resolutions from the Houston Ministerial Alliance and also from the Methodist Pastor’s Association.
City-wide prestige was augments by one of the most unusual programs ever held in Houston, when Bishop Clinton S. Quinn, C.S.Q., of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, hosted a testimonial luncheon on May 6, 1938 at the Texas State Hotel honoring the Rev. Leifeste and Rev. Landrum. This meeting was attended by more than 100 significant churchmen and laymen from the city-at-large. Pastors representing four other Protestant denominations, in addition to a priest and rabbi, praised our pastors’ work in pioneering practical Christian unity.
Those in attendance included - Dr. Charles L. King, First Presbyterian Church; Dr. Harry G. Knowles, First Christian Church; Dr. Luther M. Schleicher, Zion Lutheran Church; Dr. William States Jacobs, Independent Church; Dr. F.B. Thorn, Second Baptist Church; Rev. James Patrick McCarthy, Christ the King Catholic Church; and Dr. Henry Barns ton, Temple Beth Israel. John T. Scott, prominent lay leader of the First Methodist Church and president of the First National Bank also spoke and, although unable to attend in person, Jesse H. Jones, Reconstruction Finance Commission Chairman and prominent lay leader of St. Paul’s Methodist Church, wired his regrets and salutations from Washington D.C. After talks praising the two pastors’ courage and spirit of unity, Fred L. Wadley, lay leader of the First Christian Church, presented Rev. Leifeste and Rev. Landrum with bound booklets commemorating the occasion and containing signatures of those present.
The efforts for unification culminated in a glorious service on May 8, 1938, at the Norhill Church when, by “The Scratch of a pen Heard ‘Round the World,” as proclaimed in the Houston Times headline of the day, the covenant of consolidation was signed by Rev. Leifeste of Norhill and Rev. Landrum of Woodland. A children’s procession, led by Billy Leifeste and Lawrence
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Diocese of Texas….
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Pastors of Merging Churches
Are Praised for Pioneering In
Christian Unity at Luncheon
Landrum, Jr., sons of the pastors, carried the scroll containing the sacred document to the altar where the signing ceremony was carried out. After messages from each pastor the service closed with the hymn, “Blest Be The Tie That Binds.”
The Houston Post described the significance of the service with the following editorial on May 8, 1938 -
Pioneers of 1938
Significant in church history and in the efforts of men to safeguard civilization are brief ceremonials which will be held here today in sounding the close of the careers of two old churches and the birth of a new and greater one.
Months ago, Rev. D.L. Landrum of the Woodland Methodist church, South, and Rev. A.A. Leifeste for the Norhill Methodist church agreed the strength of their institutions should be consolidated to meet mutual objectives in a mutual field. Their congregations voted for union, without waiting to see whether their denominations would unite. Sunday morning in joint services at the Norhill church the merger will be effected.
It needs no prophet to predict that these two Houston churches’ daring stroke for unity will have repercussions for good far beyond the confines of Houston. Just how far religious forces can hope to go soon in achieving unity is a perplexing question, but more and more emphasis is being given the fact that church and Nation are threatened by subversive forces, that things which God-fearing Americans always have prized as best are menaced, and that to protect itself and the Nation a strengthened church is needed.
It is significant that the unification here will take place on the eve of a gathering in Holland of a world-wide council of spiritual leaders held expressly to discuss an ideal the Norhill-Woodland group is putting into action - the ideal of practical Christian unity. Whatever is accomplished in years to come in clothing this ideal with acts as well as words, we will have the satisfaction of recalling that in Houston some pioneering steps were taken. Meanwhile, congratulations are in order for their merger, and city-wide support for the church-building program upon which they are embarking.
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When Two Churches Became One
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The whereabouts of the covenant agreement is not known at this book’s publication date. It has not been found at the church and it is not known whether or not it was placed in the cornerstone at St. Mark’s.
And why was the signing of this instrument “Heard ‘Round the World?”
Because the general conferences had not yet voted to merge and their next meetings where this action could possibly be taken were more than a year away. However, out two far-sighted Houston churches had joined hands to form a common spiritual bond, a unified church. This caused much excitement in religious circles, Methodist and other denominations, alike.
A year later, on May 10, 1939, The Houston Post reported on the proceedings of the merging general conference meeting in Kansas City. Under the headline, “Methodists Proclaim One United Church,” the account told of the unanimous vote to merge the three branches of American Methodism - the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church. More than 10,000 persons attended this ceremony which climaxed 23 years of unification dreams and work to make one Methodist Church.
A name for our new church was needed and the pastors sent letters to five groups of interested citizens for a vote. Those groups included:
Members and Friends
Neighbors and Friends
Our Fellow Clergy of Houston
Significant Methodist Laymen of Houston
Friends of the Norhill and Woodland Churches
Copies of those letters are in the Heritage Room. They state a ballot with five suggested names was enclosed, but now, 50 years later, no actual ballot can be located and no member can recall the names suggested. Obviously, St. Mark’s was the first choice, whatever the makeup of the names on the list.
The minutes of the Steering Committee meeting of June 27, 1938, reflect the following:
“Upon motion by Rev. Landrum, seconded by O’Banion Williams, the steering committee presented its findings with reference to naming of the new church. The committee then considered the informal votes which had been submitted by the members and by interested non-members. Committee stated that the weight of its responsibility was great and that before acting it had given consideration to the name having the greatest number of votes; whereupon, on motion of Mr. O’Banion Williams, seconded by Mr. Brandenburger, it was recommended that the name of the new church be ST. MARK’S METHODIST CHURCH, and vote being taken, the motion was unanimously carried.”
It was soon thereafter that both congregations voted in favor of this new name, St. Mark’s.