Saturday, July 04, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 5

Waxahachie District Conference Held at Chatfield July 7-11, 1870

The MECS General Conference of 1866 authorized district conferences but left the powers and duties of such conferences fairly ambiguous. That ambiguity allowed presiding elders to make of the district conferences what they wished.

Macum Phelan reports on the Waxahachie District Conference which met in Chatfield July 7-11, 1870 under Presiding Elder Andrew Davis.

Consider first the length of the conference—five days—longer than most annual conferences meet now. There were only ten appointments in the district in 1870. How the needs of those ten appointments could occupy five days makes one wonder.

Davis organized the district conference along the same lines as General and Annual Conference by appointing ten committees. (Remember that there were only ten appointments in the district.) Some of those committees such as Committee on Boundaries and Committee on Itinerancy would have power only to recommend since both district boundaries and questions about itinerancy would be in the jurisdiction of the annual conference.

With so much time and so little real power, the district conference at Chatfield turned into a gripe session. One grievance pointed to the annual conference’s action in redrawing the district boundary lines. They suspected a sinister motive in doing so—that it was a subterfuge to allow presiding elders to serve more than the Disciplinary limit. A more objective observer would probably conclude that the North West Texas Conference needed to continually redraw district lines as the population moved west.

One result of the district conferences of the late 19th century was that annual conferences had to deal with petitions and resolutions passed by the numerous district conferences. Most of these were brushed aside, but they allowed the disaffected parties one more chance to air their grievances.

The United Methodist Church still has district conferences, but the era of five-day district conferences is over. At the one this writer attended in May, 2009, the business was conducted in thirty minutes—a far cry from the Waxahachie District Conference of 1870. (Most of the 2009 business was electing committees to manage district activities and trustees to oversee the district parsonage.)


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