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N 1892 the General Conference met in Omaha, on Monday,
May 2d. The sessions were held in the Exposition Hall. There were three hundred and fifteen clerical and one hundred and eighty-nine lay delegates, representing one hundred and thirteen annual conferences. David S. Monroe was elected secretary, and eighteen assistant secretaries were appointed. By a vote of the separate orders, the lay delegates were seated apart from the ministerial.
The usual standing committees were appointed, twelve in number; and special committees on Temperance and Prohibition of the Liquor-traffic, Deaconess Work, Judiciary, Epworth League, Equal Ministerial and Lay Representation, General Conference Districts, Columbian Exposition, American Bible Society, and minor topics.
The quadrennial Address of the Bishops was read by Bishop Foster, and the subjects spoken of properly distributed among the committees. It was ordered that it be printed in the Daily Advocate and other official papers, and that an edition of three thousand copies be printed in pamphlet form. Bishops Thoburn and Taylor made reports of their work, both of which reports were ordered to be printed in the Daily Advocate, and that of the former to be printed in pamphlet form, two thousand copies, for distribution among our academies, seminaries, and colleges.
The secretary was instructed to tabulate and print in the Daily Advocate the votes taken during the last quadrennium by order of the General Conference; namely, the vote of the annual conferences and the membership on the eligibility of women to the electoral and General Conferences; the vote of the annual conferences on the proposed change of the Restrictive Rule, so as to admit women, and on the ratio of representation, and also the vote on the Philadelphia proposition. The summary of lay votes showed that 235,668 voted for the eligibility of women, and 163,843 against their eligibility. The ministerial vote was 5,634 in favor and 4,717 against the admission of women as delegates; so the necessary majority of votes was not given for any one of these changes.
The use of the hall where the Conference met was granted to Rev. Samuel A. Keen every afternoon from four to five o'clock, when not required for other purposes, for the holding of special evangelistic services. Mr. Keen's meetings were attended with great spiritual power, and much good resulted from them.
This being the centennial year of the General Conference, the first Conference being held in 1792, it was deemed fitting to celebrate its organization and work; and it was therefore resolved that such a celebration be held on Tuesday evening, May 17th, with appropriate addresses and other exercises. The Book Agents at Cincinnati were instructed to engage the services of some competent person to collect and arrange the data for a "Reproduced Journal of the General Conference of 1792,” from whatever sources of information were possible to be collated. The same was ordered to be published in a size uniform with that of the Journals of the General Conference. This reproduced journal appears in the present volume. It is also printed separately.
Though the General Conference had previously expressed its sympathy with the American Bible Society, and directed that collections should be made in its behalf in all our congregations, it again gave it a special indorsement. By reason of its undenominational character and its indispensable aid in foreign mission work, the Conference urged on all our preachers the duty of laying more especial emphasis upon the importance of the collection for the society, and on our people the duty of making more liberal contributions in support of its great enterprise.
The Committee on the Entertainment of the General Conference and Expenses of Fraternal Delegates, Judicial Conferences, etc., reported the gross sum collected for this purpose to be $38,971.82, and the entire amount necessary to defray expenses to be $39,831.52. The deficiency, $879.70, was ordered to be borrowed from the Book Concern.
Fraternal letters and representatives from other Churches were received as follows: From the British Conference, William F. Moulton; from the Methodist Church in Ireland, an address; from the Methodist Church of Canada, Albert Carman; from the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, E. Cottrell; from the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, John J. Tigert; From the Independent Methodist Churches (of Baltimore), Charles J. Baker; from the United Brethren in Christ, W. M. Beardshear; from the African Methodist Episcopal Church, J. T. Jenifer; and from the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, William H. Goler. Telegrams were received, containing fraternal greetings from the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, in session at Portland, Oregon, and from the General Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church, in session at Westminster, Md.
Reports were made by the fraternal delegates sent by the General Conference to the British and Irish Methodist Conferences, H. W. Warren and Charles J. Little; by the delegate sent to the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, F. M. Bristol; and by the delegate sent to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Joshua E. Wilson.
The bishops were requested to provide for a biennial visitation to the South American conferences, and were authorized to appoint pastors from our Church to any Methodist Church not under our care, having the same doctrines and usages, and co-operating with us in our benevolent work, when so requested. Detroit and the state of Washington were made episcopal residences.
The Conference authorized the Rocky Mountain Christian Advocate to be published at Denver in behalf of the Church, and appointed a commission for this purpose, with the proviso that neither the Church nor the Book Concern should be involved in any financial responsibility or loss. The Sunday-school Advocate was made a weekly paper, the Classmate doubled in size, and the Picture Lesson Paper ordered to be printed in colors. A commission was appointed to publish in behalf of the Church at Omaha the Nebraska Christian Advocate, on condition that the Church or the Book Concern should not be involved in any financial responsibility or loss.
Memorial services were held in commemoration of John M. Phillips, Book Agent in New York, who died January 15, 1889; Jeremiah H. Bayliss, Editor of the Western Christian Advocate, who died August 14, 1889; Benjamin St. James Fry, Editor of the Central Christian Advocate, who died February 5, 1892; and of several members of the General Conferences of 1888 and 1892, who died before May 1, 1892. Only the memoirs of Mr. Phillips, by Sandford Hunt; of Dr. Bayliss, by Adna B. Leonard, and of Dr. Fry, by Arthur Edwards, were ordered to be incorporated in the Journal.
The commission appointed by the General Conference of 1888 on the Church Constitution, made its report; and, after it was discussed, and various amendments proposed, it was finally postponed, with instructions to have the report published in the papers of the Church, and presented to the next General Conference.
Some question had arisen concerning the function of the bishops in the election of an editor or publishing agent by the Book Committee, and whether they might take part in the deliberations of the committee. The matter was brought to the notice of the General Conference, and referred to the Committee on Judiciary. After proper consideration, the committee reported that the general superintendents are not present as a part of a joint committee, nor for the purpose of joint action in any particular with the Book Committee; but they are present as a separate body, to hear the actions of the Book Committee; and their only function is to concur or refuse to concur in that action. They may take part in any action had by the Book Committee only by virtue of its request or permission. The report was adopted, and the relation of the bishops to the committee defined.
The declaration of the Conference on the subject of temperance was clear and explicit. While not dictating to the members of the Church their political action, they record it as their deliberate judgment that no political party ought to receive or expect the support of Christian men so long as it stands committed to the license policy or refuses to put itself on record in an attitude of open hostility to the saloon and the liquor interests.
The Conference recommended to the annual conferences a change in the organic law of the General Conference, by which there might be an equal number of clerical and lay delegates elected to each General Conference. It was enacted that, if the General Conference should, by a two-thirds vote, agree to this change, and it should receive the necessary three-fourths vote of the members of the annual conferences, then the several electoral conferences of 1895-96 might elect representatives in equal numbers with the ministerial, and the General Conference of 1896 might provide for their admission.
It was also recommended to the annual conferences to change the ratio of representation, so as to read in the Rule on the subject (Discipline, 1 63, § 2, line 4), “Not more than one for every forty-five, nor less than one for every ninety."
The secretary was directed to send to the secretaries of the several annual conferences blank forms for certificates of the votes cast in the respective conferences on these proposed changes, so that the result could easily be ascertained and reported to the next General Conference.
Resolutions were passed, expressive of the hearty approval of the Conference of the general purposes of the proposed Columbian Exposition, and an emphatic protest against opening its gates on Sunday.
The Commission on Education, appointed by the last General Conference, reported a paragraph to take the place of the chapter on education in the Discipline of 1888. The intention was to give more unity, breadth, and effectiveness to the educational work of the Church. The report was adopted, and the proposed substitution was placed in the Discipline.
The Epworth League, which was a combination of five separate societies of young people, was organized at Cleveland, O., in 1889, and Jesse L. Hurlbut was elected its corresponding secretary. The General Conference adopted the League, and gave it a Constitution, vesting its management in a Board of Control, and determining its officers. It also established a paper expressly for the benefit of the members of the League, named the Epworth Herald. The president of an Epworth League Chapter, if confirmed by the quarterly conference, becomes a member of that conference. The central office of the League was fixed at Chicago.