Four: On the Edge

In the Fall of 1906, Pastor Nat Read received reappointment as Midland’s pastor at Annual Conference. However, he had to travel south instead of north to learn this. In a bit of geographical rearranging, the Texas Methodist church redrew some of the Conference boundaries. When Read returned, the Midland congregation learned that their church had changed conferences.

What remained the same was their relative location. Lying on the southern rim of one conference, they now found themselves at the far northern edge of another. Though little was entered into the official record until years later, most members probably did not view the change as in their best interests.

From its beginning, Midland Methodist always seemed to find itself on the edge of the map. When the church began as a congregation that gathered whenever a circuit rider passed through, Midland was a tiny frontier town. This part of western Texas contained only a handful of settlements, most of them scattered along the route of the Texas and Pacific Railroad. The coming of the railroad helped change that, however, providing easier access to much of the region.

The rapidly shifting West Texas population led to redrawing of Methodist conference boundaries within Texas. In 1886, the Panhandle became part of the Northwest Texas Conference. The southern edge of the revised conference actually bisected Midland County from east to west. The city of Midland lay just across the boundary in the West Texas Conference. West of Midland, the Trans-Pecos region fell within the New Mexico Conference.

In 1894, the southern boundary of the Northwest Texas Conference was tweaked to include the town of Midland. Midland Methodist remained in the conference for over a decade until its reassignment back to West Texas in 1906.

San Angelo hosted the 1907 West Texas Annual Conference meeting in early November. Midland Methodist Episcopal, South became part of the San Angelo District. The counties just to the west were annexed into the New Mexico Conference. In 1907 the West Texas Conference still remained a vast territory which included the southwestern half of Texas. The conference encompassed over 83,000 square miles and extended from Midland County at its northwest corner to Brownsville at the southern tip of the state, almost 700 miles from Midland.

In many ways, this was not a good fit for Midland. Lying on the southern edge of the Llano Estacado, the community and church had more in common with neighbors to the north than to the south. Also, the city of Midland had somewhat of a commercial rivalry with San Angelo. From its beginnings, when Midland County was formed from Tom Green County, the two had sparred over their influence on the space between them. To be assigned to a San Angelo district might not have set well with church officials who were also prominent businessmen.

The Fourth Quarter reports of 1913 do record some dissatisfaction with Midland’s assignment. Church stewards voted on a petition to the General Conference to move Midland back to the Northwest Conference. The vote was split, however, five for, two against. The petition went unheeded. Midland remained in the West Texas Conference.

With the discovery of the large oil resources in 1923, the rivalry with San Angelo intensified. The early oil strikes lay along the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railroad, which ran through San Angelo and gave that city rapid access to the new oil fields and boom towns that sprang up. Midland leaders, including prominent Methodists such as B. Frank Haag, lost little time in initiating efforts for improved highways south from Midland to the new oil fields. As Midland’s growth as a business hub for the Permian Basin oil fields began to eclipse that of San Angelo, the new oil city had even less in common with most of its rural neighbors to the southeast.

In December, 1933 the Midland church officially began an important process of change. Reverend Kenneth Minter, who had been returned to Midland for another year, opened the church year with a sermon entitled “Looking Forward.” At the First Quarterly Conference of 1933-1934, the members present voted for Reverend Minter to call a church conference to consider transferring the Midland church back to the Northwest Texas Conference. Presiding Elder S. L. Batchelor would act as the church’s agent in the transfer. Even as they voted to begin the process of moving, the group also appointed a committee, consisting of Fred Wemple, W. I. Pratt, N. Y. Oates, and Kenneth Minter, to analyze the merits or demerits of the transfer. The merits must have outweighed the demerits as the Midland Methodist Church rejoined the Northwest Conference in 1934 and became a member of the Sweetwater District.

First Methodist Midland has remained a member of the Northwest Texas Conference since that date, looking to Lubbock for leadership rather than among its oil-based neighbors, who largely lie in other conferences.

One other important change occurred in 1952. Between 1948 and 1958, all major cities in the Northwest Conference saw the creation of new churches. St. Mark and Asbury Methodist were established in Midland during these years under the leadership of First Methodist. At the 1952 Annual Conference, the Sweetwater District was dissolved and Midland became part of the new Big Spring District, where it has remained.

Studying the changing conference maps reveals Midland’s consistent location near the conference boundaries. That status, and the moves back and forth to neighboring conferences, may represent Midland’s unique position, not quite completely at home in any of them. First Methodist, in some ways, remains a frontier church, on the edge of the map.


[NEXT: The Final Service]