Saturday, November 19, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History  Nov. 20

Bishop Pierce Presides at Texas Annual Conference, “Lord, Deliver Methodism from Popular Votes,”  Nov. 24, 1858

Bishop George Foster Pierce presided over the Texas Annual Conference held in Austin in November 1858.  Many readers of this blog already know that the MECS General Conference of 1866 changed the Discipline to allow lay representation in the annual and general conferences. 
Less well known is that informal lay representation had already occurred under the name “lay co-operation.”  Here is the way Bishop Pierce later described it.

Austin is beautiful located and is a prosperous town—the thriving capital of a great and growing state.  . . The session was short, pleasant, and I trust, profitable.  Here we had for the first time in the history of this Conference, ‘lay co-operation.’

Pierce then went on to list his objections to lay co-operation.  His first objection was that the increased representation would be a burden on the host community.  In this era attendees were fed and housed among the community rather than hotels. Increasing the number of delegates would also increase the number of beds and meals the host community needed to provide.  He objected to the possibility of lay delegates  “. . .representation involves the necessity of election by popular vote, from which evil may the Lord deliver Methodism.”  Thirdly, “. . . it is a mockery of the delegates, for they have neither vote   nor power—all they suggest. .. .”  Fourthly .  annual conferences do no have the right to legislate (only the General Conference has that power). Fifthly, the slippery slope argument—will every quarterly conference want lay representation?  

Bishop Pierce then pointed out the power that laity did have in the church—as stewards and trustees—they controlled the property—what else could they want?  He also argued that lay delegates would just follow instructions from their pastors anyway.

When lay delegates did appear after the disciplinary change mentioned above, Pierce’s biographer commented that he embraced the change and welcomed the lay delegates. 


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