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plan was agreed upon for the raising of supplies for the propagation of the gospel, for the making up of the preachers' allowances, and to assist in the support of the widows and orphans of the preachers. The rules for the government of our seminaries of learning were ordered to be omitted from the Discipline. Cokesbury College had now ceased to exist, and there were no other schools under the control or patronage of the Conference.
On motion of Bishop Asbury, the annual conferences were directed to keep a record of their proceedings, and send a copy of the same to the General Conference. This order is still in force.
It was voted that the next session of the General Conference be held in Baltimore, beginning May 6, 1804.
It was provided that whenever any of our traveling preachers became owners of a slave or slaves, by any means, they should forfeit their ministerial standing in the Church, unless they executed, if practicable, a legal emancipation of such slave or slaves, agreeably to the laws of the state in which they lived.
Ezekiel Cooper was elected superintendent of the book business, and definite regulations were enacted concerning the publication of books, and other matters connected with the enterprise, and also as to the duties of the preachers relative thereto. The Philadelphia Conference was directed to appoint a Book Committee, who were to have general oversight of the publishing interests.
The Discipline underwent a thorough revision, and many verbal changes were made. The Notes of Bishops Coke and Asbury, printed in the Discipline of 1797, were ordered to be omitted, and published in a separate form. This, however, was not done. The Notes were not thought to be valuable, and had little interest for either the preachers or the people.
The Conference adjourned on the 20th of May.
THE General Conference of 1804 met in Baltimore, May
7th. There were seven annual conferences represented, and one hundred and seven preachers present entitled to sit as members. John Wilson was elected secretary. Bishops Coke, Asbury, and Whatcoat were the presiding officers, each taking part in the proceedings, offering resolutions, and making speeches as members. The three conferences in the extremities of the work had only twelve representatives, while Baltimore and Philadelphia conferences furnished sixty-seven.
The propriety and, indeed, necessity of making some change in the constitution of the Conference, so as to secure a more general and equitable representation, was evident; but no alteration was made in the composition of this body. All preachers who had traveled four years in the ministry from the time they were received on trial in an annual conference were entitled to seats. Those who were near could easily attend; the more distant could come only with difficulty, and the time consumed in traveling to and from the session, together with that spent in the session, left portions of the work unprovided for during many days.
The business of the session was transacted mostly in open conference, very little of it being referred to committees. Dr. Coke, after the reading of fraternal letters from England and Ireland, was granted leave to return to Europe, agreeably to the request of the British Conference, provided that he should hold himself subject to the call of three of the annual conferences, to return to America, when requested by them, and at farthest, if Providence should allow, to the next General Conference.
Several new regulations were made, among them one which required the bishops to allow each annual conference to remain in session a week at least. Prior to this rule, the bishops could adjourn a conference at any time. It was also determined that the bishops should not allow any preacher to remain in the same circuit or station longer than two years, successively.
The following rule was enacted respecting the president of an annual conference in the absence of a bishop: “In case there are two or more presiding elders belonging to one conference, the bishop or bishops may, by letter or otherwise, appoint the president; but if no appointment be made, the conference shall elect the president from among the presiding elders, by ballot, without debate.”
It was ordered that the board of official members at quarterly meetings should be called "the quarterly meeting conference.” The rule governing such bodies reads thus: “The quarterly meeting conference shall appoint a secretary to take down the proceedings of the quarterly meeting conference in a book kept by one of the stewards of the circuit for that purpose.” This rule is still in force.
It was ordered that the Book Concern be removed from Philadelphia to New York; and Ezekiel Cooper and John Wilson were elected general book-stewards, or agents.
On motion of Dr. Coke, it was ordered that the Discipline be divided into two parts, the first to contain all that relates to the spiritual and religious concerns of the Church, the other to its temporal interests.
The constitution and course of nature can not be regulated by statute, especially in matters of love and marriage, and the Conference saw fit to modify the rule respecting the marriage of Church members with persons who were not awakened, or were not connected with some branch of the evangelical Church, especially the Methodist. When a member intermarried with an “unbeliever," he was formerly expelled from the society, but now he was simply to be put back on probation, and a suitable exhortation was to be subjoined. Nothing was said as to what further penalty was to be expected at the end of the six months' probation, if the unbeliever still remained out of the Church. The Conference probably thought that an unbelieving consort would by that time be sanctified by the believing (1 Cor. vii, 14); but the following note was added: “We do not prohibit our people from marrying persons who are not of our society, provided
such persons have the form and are seeking the power of godliness; but we are determined to discourage their marrying persons who do not come up to this description; and even in a doubtful case the person shall be put back on trial.” While the rule discouraging such marriages is still retained in the Discipline, it is practically a dead letter; for the matter is left to the conscience and judgment of the parties themselves, without ecclesiastical interference.
On motion of Ezekiel Cooper, it was determined that a book-steward should not be appointed for a longer period than eight years. A number of verbal changes were made in the Discipline, which was read in open Conference, and revised section by section. In the twenty-third Article of Religion the words “Constitution of the United States” were substituted for "General Act of Confederation," and the phrase, “are a sovereign and independent nation, and," was inserted after the word "states."
The Church was always opposed to slavery in the abstract, and that domestic institution was, early in its history, the cause and occasion of much debate. Slavery was aggressive because it was profitable. Though it existed in some of the Northern states, it was strongest in the South. It was more entrenched in the social order and customs of the people in that section of the country, and was everywhere a difficult thing to cope with. The Church temporized, making only a feeble protest. At this time its utterances on the evil were measured. The Conference, on the motion of Freeborn Garrettson, resolved that the subject be left to the three bishops, to frame a section to suit the Southern and Northern states, as they in their wisdom might deem best, to be submitted to the Conference for final action. But Bishop Asbury refused to act under this resolution, and Bishop Coke was not a citizen of the United States, so the question was left open. Finally, after a great variety of motions, Ezekiel Cooper moved that a committee of one member from each conference be appointed, to consider the different motions, and report on the subject. The motion prevailed, and George Dougherty, Philip Bruce, William Burke, Henry Willis, Ezekiel Cooper, Freeborn Garrettson, and Thomas Lyell were appointed. The report of the committee, with a few amendments, was adopted, and was incorporated in the Discipline, forming section nine in the edition for that year, “Of Slavery.” While emancipation was still recommended to the owners of slaves, a failure to emancipate did not work forfeiture of membership in the Church; and the members of our societies in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia were to be exempted from the rules laid down in the section.
In accordance with the motion of Dr. Coke, which was passed by the Conference, George Roberts, George Dougherty, and Daniel Hitt were appointed a committee to determine what sections of the Discipline shall belong to the temporal portion. According to their arrangement, this part was to contain the sections defining the boundaries of the conferences, the building of churches, and the qualifications and duties of stewards, together with the sections concerning the salaries to be allowed to the preachers, the Chartered Fund, the printing and circulation of books, and slavery. It was ordered that the first or spiritual part of the Discipline be printed as a separate tract, for the benefit of the Christian slaves belonging to our Society in the South, though, as a general rule, the slaves were unable to read, and were not allowed to be taught.
Ezekiel Cooper, Alexander McCaine, and Thomas Lyell were appointed a committee to draft a letter to the English and Irish Conferences, in answer to theirs to this General Conference.
On the recommendation of the committee appointed on the Book Concern, the Conference ordered the publication of a number of books, among which were Fletcher's Portrait of St. Paul; Memoirs of Rev. Peard Dickinson; Wesley's Sermons not heretofore printed in this country; Wesley's Notes; Benson's Life of Fletcher; Wesley's Journal, Vol. II. A "Methodist Repository” was also ordered to be published, and Dr. Coke was requested to prepare one volume-provided that the general book-steward and the New York Book Committee shall have liberty to leave out such pieces as they see necessary, to insert a few chapters of American biography, experience, and revivals of religion. Dr. Coke was also requested