Friday, May 11, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History  May 14

C.     C. Gillespie Reports on General Conference, May 1866

The 1866 session of the General Conference of the MECS met in New Orleans for 26 days.   Previous posts have dealt with the election of bishops, including Enoch Marvin, the first pastor who served a Texas church to be elected to that office.  Five bishops were elected in part because the General Conference of 1862 had been cancelled because of the Civil War.  Two bishops, Andrew and Soule, were already on the retired list, and Bishop Early reluctantly added his name to that list at General Conference.  Early was 80 years old but declared he was much more fit than most men that age.  There was no mandatory retirement age for bishops, but Early’s friends pressured him to retire, and he did so.

In other matters, the 1866 produced a revolution in church administration, changing more disciplinary provisions than any MECS General Conference to that date.   

Houstonians received up to the minute reports on the events through the Tri-Weekly Telegram, edited by the Rev. Clayton C. Gillespie (1822-1876).  Gillespie was a member of the Texas Conference, served as presiding elder, but then received a commission as one of the “Three Methodist Colonels” and led the 25th Texas Cavalry in its inglorious surrender at Arkansas Post. (The other two Colonels were George Washington Carter and Franklin C. Wilkes.)
After the end of the war, Gillespie did not return to the itinerant ranks, but because a journalist, editing not just the Tri-Weekly Telegram in Houston, but later the Texas Christian Advocate.
As the General Conference met, he published reports from a correspondent who signed the reports” Itinerate.”   I cannot identify “Itinerate,” but the most likely candidate was I. G. John, who later became TCA editor.

Here are some of the changes wrought by the 1866 General Conference.
·        The book editor, who published the Discipline, was instructed to replace “society” with “church” throughout.   Previously the local unit of Methodists was called a “society,” not a church.
·        The class meeting was made optional.
·        The six month probationary period for membership was abolished.
·        Lay delegates were authorized for annual and general conferences.
·        The ritual for matrimony was amended to allow for exchange of rings.
·        Bishops were authorized to call special sessions of General Conference and to change the location of as previously-announced General Conference.
·        The extension of a pastor’s maximum appointment at any one church from two to four years
·        The authorization of local churches to set pastor’s salaries. (Previously all pastors received the same salary.)
·        The introduction of the liturgy into worship.
·        A name change from Methodist Episcopal Church South to Episcopal Methodist Church (this proposal was rejected by the annual conferences.)
·        Delegates instructed the Book Editor to insert a ritual for the dedication of church buildings
·        A charge to parents was included in the ritual of infant baptism.
·        A delegation was named to confer with Methodist Protestants about possible merger

Another radical proposal was rejected.  That was to give the bishops power to veto a General Conference action they deemed unconstitutional. 

The “revolution” at the MECS set the tone for the denomination until the next big revolution, that of the 1939 creation of the Methodist Church from the merger of the MEC, MP, and MECS churches. 


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