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“Moved by Stephen G. Roszel, and seconded by William Burke, that a committee be appointed to draw up such regulations as they may think best, to regulate the General Conferences, and report the same to this body. Carried."
"Moved by Bishop Asbury that the committee be formed from an equal number from each of the annual conferences. Carried."
Accordingly a committee of fourteen, two from each of the annual conferences then in existence, was formed.
On Tuesday, May 24th, they presented their report. Another report was at the time under consideration, whereupon it was “moved by the chair that the report of the Committee on Review (of manuscript hymns) lie on the table until the regulations concerning the General Conference be determined. Carried.” (Journal, 1808, p. 87.) Thus for the third time the fingers of the episcopal hand appear.
But there was no contention. A delegated Conference was inevitable. There never had been any strife over the Articles of Religion or the General Rules; and now that the cry against "British bishops” had passed out of date, there was nothing in the proposed “regulations” to excite alarm. Lee himself was in favor of them. Thus the whole paper was adopted, article by article, without debate, and the bishopric was safe.
If any one is inclined to question the right of the General Conference of 1808 to anchor the future to the past, it may be replied: The unwritten statute which affirms that "no General Conference can bind its successor," was not known at that period. Besides, the actual General Conference was closing its career; its successor would be "General” only in name. A new era was about to dawn in Methodist legislation, and so complete was the consensus of the Church in favor of this new chapter in the Discipline, that even the General Conference of 1812 did not complain of the limitation of their powers.
Another important action at the Conference of 1808 was the vote on the question of the election of presiding elders; a measure that has, in subsequent sessions of the great Council, persistently appeared and reappeared. The proposal was urged hy some of those who had sympathized with the radicals in the O’Kelley controversy, but there was not enough of that leaven in the house to leaven a majority of the lump. A further reference to this case will be made in the following chapter.
THE MINISTRY (CONTINUED).
FACING DOWN A CONFERENCE.
"No question is settled until it is settled right.”
Whether or not this proverb covers the topic of an elective presiding eldership, certain it is, that this question has a very persistent life. At the General Conference of 1820, held in the city of Baltimore, it reappeared more vigorous than ever, in spite of the rebuff it had received in 1808. And here again it is bound up with the episcopate in the most conspicuous manner.
Joshua Soule, the reputed author of the "Constitution" of 1808, was in 1820 elected bishop. Out of a total of eighty-eight votes he received forty-seven. This was on Saturday, May 13th. Six days later a special committee, to whom had been referred some papers on the election of presiding elders, made their report, the chief provision whereof was adopted by a vote of sixty-one to twenty-five. This was to the effect that the bishop presiding in an annual conference might nominate three times the number of presiding elders required, out of which lists the conference should elect the requisite number. Upon this Soule wrote a letter to the bishops, requesting the postponement of his ordination. He challenged the right of the Conference to limit the power of the episcopate, and declared that, as an incumbent of that office, he should not feel himself bound to obey the order in question. Thus the old battle was again set in order.
Soule was a man who had the courage of his opinions, and, as already seen, he was the leader of the episcopal party. As the contest went on, the majority weakened before the face of this determined man, and instead of rescinding his election, and choosing another bishop, a motion was brought forward to reconsider the action of the Conference, against which his exception had been taken. Twice this motion came to a vote, and twice it resulted in a tie, although the measure had originally been passed by a vote of nearly three to one. The second tie was decided adversely by the chair; on the ground that, as the motion to reconsider did not have a majority, it therefore did not prevail. Finally, just before adjournment, the resignation of the bishop elect was accepted, but not until after the question raised by him, as to the veto powers of the bishops, had been referred to the annual conferences.
That Soule did not lose caste by his bold stand, and that the episcopate stood heartily with him, appears from the fact that, at the final session, he was made chairman of a committee “to assist the episcopacy to revise the form of Discipline, and to conform it to the regulations and resolutions of this Conference.” At the session of 1824 it was reported that the annual conferences “had judged the election of presiding elders to be unconstitutional;" whereupon the Conference voted that the favorable action at the session of 1820 “was not of authority, and should not be carried into effect.” After this Soule was triumphantly elected to the episcopate again, along with that other majestic man from New England, Elijah Hedding.
And now it might have been supposed that the episcopate was stronger than ever. But the senior member of the Board was growing old; the next two men, George and Roberts, never made any very great impression upon the Church; Hedding lost some of his power in trying to quiet the agitation on the subject of slavery, which then threatened the peace, if not the existence of the body, and the progressive party was getting into the saddle once more. The two new bishops added in 1832, Andrew and Emory, were neither of them men of the stamina of Soule and Hedding. Andrew was an element of weakness because of his relations to slavery, and Emory was better fitted to be an author than a general superintendent. Thus the prestige of the episcopate declined, and the Conference was uppermost again.
COMMITTEE ON EPISCOPACY.
Furthermore, a new factor had gained place in the Great Council, to wit: The Committee on Episcopacy. This body may be said to have had its beginning at the General Conference of 1812; when so much of the address of Bishop McKendree as related to the episcopate was referred to a special committee. Hitherto such references had been made in an irregular way, and thus they were repeated from session to session.
On the second day of the Conference of 1836 six committees were raised, in the following order: Episcopacy, Itinerancy, Boundaries, Book Concern, Education, and Missions. On motion of Laban Clark, these were henceforth to be known and published as “standing committees.” Thus the permanent continuance and leading position of the Committee on Episcopacy was assured. Chief men of the delegations from the annual conferences, in selecting their outside work, by seniority of election, would naturally choose a place on the committee having to do with the greatest personages and the most important questions. Thus the Committee on Episcopacy grew rapidly in power and prestige, until it came to be a kind of judicial aristocracy to which, for one month in every four years, even a bishop must bow.
At the same session the Judiciary Committee was set up. This, indeed, had not much to do with the episcopate at first; its field of review being the actions of annual conferences, from which appeals had been taken to the General Conference. But the presence of such a court of appeal led to its use in other and more important matters, and when, after lay delegation, there came to be eminent legal gentlemen on its list, the Judiciary Committee began to divide the legal honors of the Church with the officers who had been accustomed to carry them all.
And perhaps this is best. The Church has always had faith in its bishops. But it had begun to be observed that the longcontinued exercise of power tends to develop what may be called the official sense: a peculiar habit of mind which leads a man to consider all subjects first as to their bearing upon his order or himself. For this reason, it may be, that fewer questions are now referred to the bishops, and more to the Judiciary Committee.
BISHOPS OF TO-DAY.
It is only in recent years that writers of history have been expected to deal with living men. To say that one had “passed into history" was equivalent to saying that he was dead. Such, however, is not the present manner in historic literature. The present age is most interested in men and women who are most alive. It will not, therefore, be regarded as discourtesy if, in these pages, the later as well as the earlier form of writing occasionally appears.
The subjects of slavery and lay delegation, to which the episcopate has held most vital relations, will be treated in chapters by themselves. Therefore, in order to preserve the unity of subjects, the most of what remains to be set forth concerning the General Conference and Episcopacy may be found in those connections. We are thus carried past the stormy period of 1840, 1844, and 1818, and brought down to the days of bishops who are well remembered by living men.
In 1852 the General Conference opened in Boston, under the presidency of Bishops Waugh, Morris and Janes. It closed with comparative peace, having added to the list of chief pastors the names of Levi Scott, Matthew Simpson, Edward R. Ames, and Osmon C. Baker. The number of annual conferences had now reached thirty-nine. Among the new additions were Wyoming and California.
In Bishop Simpson the episcopate reached its ideal. In his presence men felt themselves honored; and conferences, whether annual or general, instinctively paid him their homage and their love. But it is not fair to measure other men by him. The human race furnishes scant material out of which characters are made. That “official sense" seems never to have been developed in him. In his mind it was as much an instinct to settle cases solely on their merits as it was with the mind of his great friend Abraham Lincoln.
In 1864 the noise, or, at least, the echoes of war were heard all over the land. The General Conference met in the city of Philadelphia, and elected three new bishops: Clark, Thomson, and Kingsley. At the next session the board were desired to extend their personal supervision over the mission fields of the Church, and Kingsley was sent to circumnavigate the globe, via San Francisco, on that errand. Having visited the missions in Japan and China, he turned his face homeward, via India and Palestine. But he was destined to journey to a holier land. On the morning of April 6, 1870, he died sud