EPWORTH LEAGUE. For over half a century the Epworth League, the Methodist youth organization, was especially strong in Texas. The group was authorized in 1890 by the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and local churches in Texas soon began organizing their youth in Epworth leagues. The purpose of the leagues was to develop young church members in their religious life and to provide training in churchmanship. It was parallel to the Sunday school and typically met on Sunday nights. The name Epworth came from the boyhood home in England of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement.
A Texas State Epworth League was organized in 1892, and meetings across the state were attracting 10,000 members by 1896. In the early years there was a state league newspaper. In 1905 state encampment grounds were secured near Corpus Christi Bay and called Epworth-by-the-Sea; there, more than a thousand persons gathered annually until a tropical storm in 1915 led to the sale of the property.
Epworth leaguers of the state paid for a $13,000 boat, which they named the Texas, for use in Methodist mission work on the Congo River in Africa in 1920. By 1925 Texas had 40,000 league members. Some of these, especially the leaders, were young adults. The leagues provided many of the leaders, lay and clerical, in the years following for the Methodist Church in Texas. Statewide meetings were later converted to regional annual conference meetings, and they reached even more youth. Olin W. Nail wrote, "Perhaps no other similar movement in Methodism influenced so many, at such a formative period of life, as [the Epworth League] did."
Texas Methodist youth were also introduced to unsegregated meetings at International Epworth League conventions; this was a foretaste of later unsegregated meetings after Texas Methodists merged in the United Methodist Church, in which were blacks, Indians, Asians, and Hispanics. Leaders and speakers at Epworth League rallies involved such prominent Texans as Robert S. Hyer, Bishop Seth Ward, George C. Rankin, Frank S. Onderdonk, and J. Morris Sheppard. One well-known Texas Epworth League project was the Ruby Kendrick Memorial Fund. Ruby Kendrick volunteered as a missionary to Korea in 1907 but died in less than a year, and Texas leaguers ultimately raised nearly $120,000 in her memory as a mission project.
Several Texans served on the national staff of the Epworth League in Nashville, Tennessee. Horace M. DuBose, Texas pastor for several years, became the churchwide executive in Nashville in 1898; Gus W. Thomasson, called by some "Mr. Texas Leaguer," served a few years on the staff; Ina C. Brown served many years; and Walter Towner of the North Texas Conference guided the transition from the Epworth League organizations to the Methodist Youth Fellowship in the 1930s. Walter N. Vernon became a frequent contributor to league publications about the same time and by 1938 went to Nashville as an editor of youth study resources. In more recent years Wallace Chappell from Texas was a staff member for youth ministry.
Walter N. Vernon et al., The Methodist Excitement in Texas (Dallas: Texas United Methodist Historical Society, 1984).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Walter N. Vernon, "EPWORTH LEAGUE," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ixe01), accessed January 30, 2015. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.