This Week in Texas Methodist History Jan.22
President C. M. Bishop Reports on Unification Commission Meeting at Southwestern Chapel Services, January 22, 1917
Although the northern and southern branches of the Methodist Episcopal Church separated after events of the 1844 General Conference, there was a persistent feeling among many Methodists that reunion should occur. We know that the two braches did rejoin in 1939. Less well remembered is the Unification Commission that met three times in the World War I era.
The Commission consisted of fifty members—all men. There were five bishops from the MEC and MECS and ten laity and ten clergy from each of the branches. Two of the MEC representatives were African American, including the editor of the New Orleans Christian Advocate, Rev. Robert Jones, who was later elected bishop.
Two university presidents from Texas were on the Commission. Robert S. Hyer of SMU held one of the lay positions. Charles M. Bishop, his successor at Southwestern, held a clergy position.
The first meeting of the Commission occurred at Baltimore, from Dec. 28, 1916 to Jan. 2, 1917. As the new school term began at Southwestern, President Bishop chose the unification topic when he addressed the regular Thursday morning chapel service. He reported that the prospects for unification were not that good, and might take “several years, perhaps two or three.” The great barrier to unification was the MECS objection to African American bishops. Methodist bishops are “general superintendents and any one may hypothetically preside over any annual conference. The Southerners were going to block unification until they could be assured that no African American would preside over one of their annual conferences. That objection was solved by the jurisdictional system which created five regional and one racial jurisdiction from which bishops would be elected.
The topic of unification did not die after the chapel service. The San Jacinto Literary Club chose as its debate topic, “Resolved: The time has come when all the branches of the Methodist church should unite.” The negative side won the debate.