This Week in Texas Methodist History October 30
Texas Conference Passes Resolution to Change Date of Jurisdictional Conference, Nov. 4, 1943
The unification of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Methodist Episcopal Church South and the Methodist Protestant Church was accomplished in 1939. Although unification had been discussed for several decades and representatives from the denominations had spent thousands of hours in deliberation, they could not foresee every circumstance that would arise after unification.
One of the main changes after unification was the method of electing bishops. Both the MEC and the MECS elected bishops at their quadrennial general conferences. The MP Church did not have bishops. The annual conferences met as committees of the whole in what they called “stationing committees” to make the appointments.
Under both the MEC and the MECS, since bishops were elected by the General Conference, the newly-elected bishops might be assigned to preside over any annual conference in the respective denomination.
If General Conferences continued to elect bishops after unification, it would be possible for an African American bishop to be assigned to preside over a conference in the South.
Such a possibility was anathema to the MECS delegates. A compromise was devised in which the power to elect bishops was taken away from the General Conference and moved to a new entity, the Jurisdictional Conference. The United States and its territories were divided into 5 regional jurisdictions. The African American churches in the MEC would be grouped into the “Central Jurisdiction.” Methodists in the South were assured that no African American bishop would preside over their annual conference—segregation was enshrined in church law.
At the 1943 Texas Annual Conference some of the preachers who had served as General Conference delegates before unification, tried to recapture some of the spirit of the old system.
Before 1939 the most exciting feature of many General Conferences in both the MEC and MECS had been the election of bishops. Some of the elections continued through scores of ballots. Adjournment was often delayed became the episcopal elections dragged on so long, as at the 1902 MECS General Conference in Dallas. Delegates often had to extend hotel stays, change their railroad tickets, and miss appointments back home.
But there was a tradeoff. General Conferences concluded with the consecration service as the newly-elected bishops received their formal induction into office. Such consecration services served as a unifying feature after the contentious election.
On Nov. 4, 1943 J. W. Mills, Paul Quillian, Guy Jones, O. W. Bradley, and F. M. Richardson presented a resolution to petition the 1944 General Conference to move the dates of Jurisdictional Conference so that they would meet BEFORE General Conference instead of AFTER.
Jurisdictional Conferences would still elect bishops, but their consecration would occur at General Conference. The conference passed the resolution, but it was ignored by the General Conference.
The resolution makes an important point—that is that Methodist bishops are “General Superintendents.” If consecration had been moved to General Conference, that point would have been reinforced.