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HE General Conference of this year met in the Eutaw
Street Church, Baltimore, on Monday, May 1st. After the session was formally opened with religious exercises by Bishop McKendree, he informed the Conference that he would be unable to attend regularly to the duties of his office, on account of feeble health, but would render all the service he could consistent with his bodily strength. Bishop George took the chair, and the members present handed in their certificates of election. There were ninety-three delegates in attendance. Alexander McCaine was elected secretary, but not being present at the organization Lewis R. Fechtig was appointed secretary
The first business was the adoption of rules of order, those of 1816 being, with a few amendments, re-enacted. These rules, together with the names of the delegates, their places of abode, and the conferences from which they came, were ordered to be printed. Arrangements were made for preaching daily in one or more of the city churches.
A written address from Bishop McKendree was presented by Bishop Roberts, and read, and the matters treated on by the bishop were referred to appropriate committees. Bishops George and Roberts made verbal addresses concerning the various departments of Church work. The committees were
. elected as follows: On Episcopacy, Local Preachers, Instruction of Children, Slavery, Missions, Temperance, The Condition of the Church in Canada, Houses of Worship, Conference Boundaries, Preparation of a Life of Bishop Asbury, Book Concern, American Colonization Society, Candidates for Admission into the Traveling Connection and Local Ministry.
A resolution, introduced by James B. Finley and John Lane, instructing the Committee on the Book Concern to consider the propriety of establishing a branch of the book business in the West, was passed. Various memorials and petitions were presented and referred. The secretary was authorized to purchase a new trunk or chest for the preservation of the Conference Journals, documents, etc. The trustees of the Chartered Fund reported, and two vacancies in the Board were filled by the election of Alexander Cook and James Donley.
The Committee on the Book Concern was instructed to inquire into the expediency of having a tune-book compiled and published for the use of Methodist choirs and congregations. The committee was also instructed to inquire whether there are not papers to be collected, the works of Bishop Whatcoat, and that they take these papers into consideration and report on
A committee of seven, consisting of Nathan Bangs, Henry Stead, Jonathan Stamper, Daniel Fillmore, Stephen Martindale, James Bateman, and John T. Weaver, was appointed to inquire into the expediency of digesting and outlining a plan for the institution of schools or seminaries within the bounds and under the direction of the several annual conferences.
A Committee on Rights and Privileges, composed of five members, was appointed; and to it was referred the subject of locating ministers by an annual conference, without the consent of such minister. The Committee on Revisals was directed to take into consideration what shall be done with those preachers who marry women that have not the form and are not seeking the power of godliness.
The secretary of the Baltimore Conference was requested to lay before the Committee on the Life of Bishop Asbury the proceedings of that conference relative to the subject.
The appeals of William Houston, Morris Howe, and Alexander McCaine were entertained, and the actions of their respective conferences were reversed. The case of William Burke, expelled from the Ohio Conference, was taken up, and the action of the Conference was confirmed. It may be proper to state that Mr. Burke was expelled on no charge of immorality, but because of a variance with his presiding elder, and insubordination.
The Committee on Episcopacy reported, that in view of the continued bodily affliction and debility of Bishop McKendree, he be relieved of many of his episcopal duties, and allowed to travel in such directions and remain in such places as he may judge most conducive to his own health and comfort; and that it was expedient to elect and ordain one general superintendent at this session of the General Conference. The report being adopted, on Saturday, May 13th, the Conference proceeded to the election of a bishop. On counting the ballots, Joshua Soule had 47 votes and Nathan Bangs 38. Mr. Soule having the majority was therefore elected.
In the report of the Committee on Education it was recommended, and the Conference resolved, That all the annual conferences establish institutions of learning under their control; that the bishops use their influence to carry this resolution into effect; and that they may appoint preachers to be presidents, principals, or teachers in said institutions.
The Conference ordered that in future no house of worship shall be erected, or the building of the same be undertaken, until the site of ground on which such house or houses are to be placed is secured to the Church by a deed of settlement in fee simple, legally executed and recorded. Three-fourths of the money necessary to complete the building must be in hand, or subscribed, before the building is commenced. The presiding elders and preachers in charge were directed to make proper inquiries concerning the titles of our present places of worship; and in all cases where the title is imperfect, to use the most judicious and prudent measures to perfect such titles; and when vacancies exist in the boards of trustees, to have the vacancies filled as directed in the Discipline. And further, the sittings in all our churches shall be free, and no pews shall be rented or sold.
The question of electing presiding elders in each conference was introduced, and the matter discussed during several days of the session. On Friday, May 19th, Ezekiel Cooper reported the action of the Committee on Episcopacy with regard to this subject. They say:
“The committee appointed to confer with the bishops on a plan to conciliate the wishes of the brethren on the subject of choosing presiding elders, recommend to the Conference the adoption of the following resolutions, to be inserted in their proper place in the Discipline:
“Resolved, 1. That whenever, in any annual conference, there shall be a vacancy or vacancies in the office of presiding elder, in consequence of his period of service of four years having expired, or
the bishop wishing to remove any presiding elder, or by death, resignation or otherwise, the bishop or president of the conference having ascertained the number wanted from any of these causes, shall nominate three times the number, out of which the conference shall elect by ballot, without debate, the number wanted : Provided, also, that in case of any vacancy or vacancies in the office of presiding elder in the interval of any annual conference, the bishop shall have authority to fill the said vacancy or vacancies until the ensuing annual conference.
“Resolved, 2. That the presiding elders be, and they hereby are, made the advisory council of the bishop or president of the conference in stationing the preachers.”
This report was signed by Ezekiel Cooper, Stephen G. Roszel, Nathan Bangs, Joshua Wells, John Emory, and William Capers, the committee. On being read, it was put to vote, each resolution separately, and carried-sixty-one to twenty-five. These resolutions were then recommitted to the same committee, in order to be incorporated in that section of the Discipline relating to the presiding elders.
The minority were much aggrieved at this action of the General Conference, considering it an infringement on the rights of the bishops, and in violation of the Constitution. Joshua Soule, bishop-elect, was the leader of the opposition. His convictions were so strong that he refused to be ordained, alleging that he could not conscientiously submit to have the episcopal prerogative and power curtailed, and he felt that he could not therefore carry the new rule into execution. Besides, his election took place before the rule was adopted.
The Conference ordered that the Book Agents have leave to publish any book, not before published by them, which should be approved and recommended by the Book Committee in New York. It also determined that an additional book agent be appointed, whose duty it should be to reside in Cincinnati, and manage the book business in the western states, under the direction of the editor in New York-the person so appointed to be a member of the Ohio Conference. This Conference was authorized to appoint a book committee of three, to examine the accounts of the western agent, and report annually.
Nathan Bangs was elected editor and general book steward for New York, with Thomas Mason as assistant. Martin Ruter was elected for Cincinnati.
The bishops were requested to send a delegate to the British Conference at their next session, and to furnish him with the necessary instructions—the expenses of the delegate to be paid out of the funds of the Book Concern.
Joshua Soule having signified in a letter to the bishops, which was read before the Conference, that if he were ordained a bishop he would not hold himself bound by a certain resolution of the Conference relative to the nomination and election of presiding elders, the resolution following was offered:
“Resolved, That the bishops be earnestly requested by this Conference to defer or postpone the ordination of the said Joshua Soule until he gives satisfactory explanations to this Conference.”
This resolution evidently regarded Mr. Soule as guilty of contumacy. After a brief debate, Mr. Soule made some remarks, explanatory of his position, and by consent the resolution was withdrawn. It was then moved that the action of the Conference concerning the presiding eldership be reconsidered; but without coming to any decision on the subject, the Conference adjourned for the day. On the next day it was moved to postpone the reconsideration, to give time for thought and deliberation, so as to promote peace and harmony. The postponement was not agreed to, and the vote to reconsider the resolutions heretofore passed, being taken by ballot, there was a tie; 43 for to 43 against. A repetition of the ballot showed the same result.
Bishop George announced that the bishops had deferred the ordination of Joshua Soule; but on Thursday, May 25th, he informed the Conference that the ordination of the bishop elect would take place that day at twelve o'clock. Mr. Soule immediately arose, and presented a communication, resigning the office of a general superintendent, to which he had been elected. The letter of resignation was laid on the table, and at twelve o'clock the Conference adjourned. In the afternoon Mr. Soule expressed a wish that the Conference would come to a decision at once on his letter of resignation, which he had offered in the morning. On motion, it was agreed that the decision be deferred until the next day.
The Committee on the “Life of Bishop Asbury” reported,